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Meanwhile, back in the AL East . . . Powerful Tigers prove best against West as rivals prepare for intradivision play

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MINNEAPOLIS -- The 1993 season turns a month old today, and the Orioles finally will get a chance to take the measure of an American League East opponent when they open a four-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays at SkyDome.

Through the miracle of this year's oddly configured 14-team schedule, there were only four intradivision series in each of the two AL divisions through the first month. The Orioles, Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers have yet to play a division rival.

The Tigers have voiced no complaint. They have mopped up on the AL West, winning 16 of their first 26 games to rise to the top of the standings. The division as a whole has done well, too, compiling a 79-73 record against the West -- a record that improves dramatically when you remove the Orioles' 10-15 record from the equation.

What does all this mean? Maybe nothing, except that the competition won't get any lighter. The Orioles will play a series against each of their six divisional rivals over the next 22 days, beginning with three of the top four teams in the standings.

It could be a daunting challenge, considering the circumstances. The club will be without last year's top run producer -- Mike Devereaux -- and may have to wait a while to get designated hitter Harold Baines back into the lineup.

The first thing the Orioles will have to do is get acclimated. They have been testing the West so long, it probably would be a good idea to bring them up to date on what's going on in their division.

Monsters of the Motor City

Remember in spring training when the Tigers were experiencing such a pitching shortage that manager Sparky Anderson was reduced to making jokes about it?

"We're going to have to train some of our guys to wind up and not throw the ball," Anderson said after the club went 0-15-1 in one stretch during the exhibition season. "Something would still happen. It just wouldn't be as bad."

Now, it is the opposite. Opposing pitchers are the ones who have to worry about letting go. Two weeks into the season, the Tigers could add up the runs from three of their games and total more (57) than the Orioles had scored in their first 15 games.

The Tigers' pitching crisis has not materialized. They entered yesterday's game ranked fourth in the league with a 3.60 team ERA, and all continues to go well.

How well? The Tigers called up former Oriole Dave Johnson from Triple-A Toledo on Tuesday, and he registered his first victory since Aug. 20, 1991, the same night.

Jays tough under pressure

The defending World Series champion Blue Jays have every reason to wonder if they can continue to compete. They lost free-agent acquisition Dave Stewart to a serious arm injury in April, and now are wondering if a rotator-cuff injury will cost them the services of 20-game winner Jack Morris.

The pitching situation is so uncertain that manager Cito Gaston is yet to announce a starter for Saturday's game. He would be in deep trouble if right-hander Pat Hentgen (4-1, 2.08) had not come into his own.

This is just what the Blue Jays did not need after an off-season exodus that left them scrambling to fill enough holes to defend their first title. In addition, there is talk that center fielder and offensive catalyst Devon White will have to take an extended rest to allow a rib-cage strain to clear up.

Promising Yankees

Who would have thought a few weeks ago that it would be New York Yankees fans questioning the most hotly debated trade of the off-season?

Left-hander Jim Abbott was acquired from the California Angels for prospects J. T. Snow, Russ Springer and Jerry Nielsen during the winter meetings in a deal that left the Angels' front office under fire for months. But Snow took the heat off with an outstanding performance in April that helped carry the lightly regarded Angels to the top of the AL West.

Abbott, meanwhile, lost four of his first five starts and suffers from poor offensive support. The Yankees have gravitated to the upper reaches of the standings on the outstanding performances of free-agent acquisition Jimmy Key (1.16 ERA) and promising right-hander Bob Wickman (3-0).

Cleveland rebounding

The Indians continue to regroup after the boating accident that killed two pitchers, but they might be turning the corner. The club carried a four-game winning streak into last night's game against the Seattle Mariners and has enough offense to be competitive.

Outfielder Albert Belle is leading the league with 10 home runs, 28 RBI and 67 total bases, second-year center fielder Kenny Lofton ranks among the league's top hitters (.344) and is tied for the league lead with 13 stolen bases, and second baseman Carlos Baerga remains among baseball's best all-around players.

But pitching problems persist. The staff ERA going into last night was 4.93, which ranks 11th in the league, and the Indians are the most vulnerable team in baseball when it comes to the long ball, having allowed 30 homers in the first 26 games.

Boston backing off?

The Boston Red Sox were one of the surprise teams of the early season. They started 11-5 and were getting enough good pitching to raise hope of a dramatic one-year turnaround. But storm clouds are gathering.

Outfielder/DH Andre Dawson was signed as a free agent to solidify the offensive lineup, but there has been talk he soon might require arthroscopic knee surgery. That would be a major blow to a club that entered last night's game ranked 10th in average runs per game (4.0).

The pitching staff remains solid -- ranking second in the league with a 3.13 team ERA -- but the depth of the starting rotation remains questionable.

Brewers bust

It didn't figure to be a promising season in Milwaukee after the Brewers lost team leader Paul Molitor and 16-game winner Chris Bosio to free agency. The situation went from bad to worse when center fielder Robin Yount had to undergo knee surgery.

Considering the circumstances, the Brewers' 11-14 record after 25 games didn't look that bad -- especially to the Orioles.

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