AL PREVIEW ORIOLES '94

THE BALTIMORE SUN

EAST

ORIOLES

1993 record: 85-77 (tied for third, AL East)

Manager: Johnny Oates

Pitching: The staff has improved in each of the past two years and might be substantially better this year. Lee Smith must replace Gregg Olson as closer, and Sid Fernandez has to more than compensate for the loss of Rick Sutcliffe. The rotation is headed by two of the AL's best young right-handers, Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald. Jamie Moyer was excellent after being called up from Triple-A, but a knee injury slowed Arthur Rhodes' progress. Alan Mills, Mark Eichhorn and Jim Poole provide a good mix to fit with Smith in the bullpen.

Offense: The Orioles added two productive hitters through free agency: first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and third baseman Chris Sabo. With left fielder Brady Anderson and center fielder Mike Devereaux hitting ahead of Palmeiro, DH Harold Baines and shortstop Cal Ripken, and with catcher Chris Hoiles, Sabo, right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds and second baseman Mark McLemore hitting behind them, the offense has no glaring weaknesses. The lineup has speed at the top and bottom, with power and consistency in the middle.

Defense: The Orioles finished third in the AL in fielding percentage (.984) but made 100 errors for the first time in five years. Anderson, Devereaux and Hammonds cover as much ground as any outfielders in the AL. The infield will be consistent, but not spectacular. Hoiles has improved, making defense another area with no glaring weaknesses.

Outlook: This is the best Orioles team in more than a decade. They have to deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, two-time World Series champions, and the toughest division in baseball, but they should contend all the way.

BOSTON RED SOX

1993 record: 80-82 (fifth, AL East)

Manager: Butch Hobson

Pitching: Roger Clemens (11-14, 4.46) started only 29 games because of injuries, but he has had a pain-free spring. His return to Cy Young form is essential. Danny Darwin (15-11, 3.26), Frank Viola (11-8, 3.14) and Aaron Sele (7-2, 2.74) give the Red Sox a solid rotation. Jeff Russell (1-4, 2.70, 33 saves) anchors a good bullpen that also includes Greg Harris (6-7, 3.77, 8 saves) Scott Bankhead (2-1, 3.50 in 40 games) and future closer Ken Ryan (7-2, 3.60). Paul Quantrill (6-12, 3.91) can start or pitch long relief.

Offense: The Red Sox's 686 runs were the third fewest in the AL. They were tied for last in homers (114) and will have to be innovative to improve. With that in mind, Otis Nixon (.269, 47 steals) was signed as a free agent to bat leadoff and play center field. Greg Blosser, who hit 23 home runs in Triple-A, had a big spring and probably will platoon in right with Billy Hatcher or Lee Tinsley. First baseman Mo Vaughn (.297-29-101) and left fielder Mike Greenwell (.315-13-72) are productive. DH Andre Dawson (.273-13-67) can't go on forever.

Defense: The Red Sox were near the bottom of the AL with 122 errors and a .980 fielding percentage. Nixon helps in center. Catcher Dave Valle, who has a strong arm, replaces Tony Pena.

Outlook: The Red Sox contended for much of last year without an effective Clemens, so they can't be dismissed. But the offense has to improve considerably for them to finish higher than third.

DETROIT TIGERS

1993 record: 85-77 (tied for third, AL East)

Manager: Sparky Anderson

Pitching: The Tigers gave up more runs (837) than any AL team other than the Oakland Athletics (846). They are gambling that free-agent acquisition Tim Belcher, Bill Gullickson (13-9, 5.37 ERA) and Mike Moore (13-9, 5.22) will bounce back. David Wells (11-9, 4.19) was effective early last year. The best hope for improvement is John Doherty (14-11, 4.44), who is only 26. Mike Henneman (5-3, 2.64, 24 saves) is a durable closer.

Offense: Batten down the hatches. The Tigers led the universe with 899 runs and aren't any weaker this year. First baseman Cecil Fielder had an off year (.267-30-117) that most hitters would take as a career season. Catcher-first baseman-outfielder Mickey Tettleton (.245-32-110), third baseman Travis Fryman (.300-22-97), shortstop Alan Trammell (.329-12-60), second baseman Lou Whitaker (.290-9-67) and left fielder Tony Phillips (.313, 113 runs) provide threats throughout the lineup. Center fielder Eric Davis hit six home runs in 23 games after joining the club in midsummer.

Defense: Trammell and Whitaker have mileage, but they still operate fluidly. Fryman has a strong arm and is a superstar in the making. But the Tigers were among the AL's worst defensive teams a year ago, with 132 errors and a .979 fielding percentage, so they get no better than a below-average rating.

Outlook: If the Tigers can score 950 runs, or if they can hold opponents to 700, they have a chance, but don't count on either happening.

NEW YORK YANKEES

1993 record: 88-74 (second, AL East)

Manager: Buck Showalter

Pitching: The rotation is filled with promise and uncertainty. Left-hander Jimmy Key (18-6, 3.00) is the ace, and two other lefties are key: Jim Abbott (11-14, 4.37 ERA), who has struggled this spring, and Terry Mulholland (12-9, 3.25), who was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies. The rotation will be filled out by another lefty, Bob Ojeda (2-1, 4.40 with the Cleveland Indians), and Melido Perez (6-14, 5.19). Bob Wickman (14-4, 4.63), and Scott Kamieniecki (10-7, 4.08) are in reserve. Wickman, Xavier Hernandez, Steve Howe and Jeff Reardon will get shots at closing.

Offense: The Yankees led the AL with a team batting average of .279 and were third in runs (821). DH Danny Tartabull (.250-31-102) was productive but always seems to be in the doghouse. First baseman Don Mattingly (.291-17-86) might not be what he once was, but he's more than good enough. The same can also be said about third baseman Wade Boggs (.302-2-59). Catcher Mike Stanley (.305-26-84) was a surprise, and right fielder Paul O'Neill (.311-20-75) is a very good hitter. Left fielder Luis Polonia (.271, 55 steals) should be a capable leadoff hitter.

Defense: The Yankees were fourth in the AL in double plays (168). That is a vital part of their defense because several pitchers, especially Key, depend heavily on ground-ball outs. O'Neill is a good fielder with an exceptional arm, but center fielder Bernie Williams (strained left groin) is erratic and Polonia can't throw. Stanley's bat makes up for his glove behind the plate.

Outlook: The Yankees can win it all -- but to do so they have to fill in some blanks, especially in the bullpen.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

1993 record: 95-67 (first, AL East)

Manager: Cito Gaston

Pitching: Despite what was considered a shaky staff, the Blue Jays were fifth in the AL in ERA (4.21). They face even more questions this time around. Closer Duane Ward (2-3, 2.13, 45 saves) is out with biceps tendinitis. Todd Stottlemyre (11-12, 4.84) may inherit the role, at least temporarily. Danny Cox is sidelined until midseason, and Mark Eichhorn is now with the Orioles. Dave Stewart (12-8, 4.44) needs to be better, and Pat Hentgen (19-9, 3.87) has to prove his rookie year wasn't a fluke. Juan Guzman (14-3, 3.99) will try to put a poor exhibition season behind him, and Al Leiter (9-6, 4.11) must remain injury-free. Rookie Paul Spoljaric is the fifth starter.

Offense: Only the Tigers scored more runs than the Blue Jays (847). Right fielder Joe Carter (.254-33-121) might miss some games early in the season with a broken thumb, but the Blue Jays do not lack for threats. First baseman John Olerud (.363-24-107) has emerged as one of the game's top hitters. Designated hitter Paul Molitor (.332-22-111) showed no signs of wearing down, and second baseman Roberto Alomar (.326-17-93) is one of baseball's premier players. Toss in third baseman Ed Sprague (.260-12-73) and center fielder Devon White (.273-15-52, plus 34 steals) and you have a potent mix.

Defense: Alomar is a hands-down Gold Glove winner. Probable shortstop Alex Gonzalez is talented, though erratic. Sprague and Olerud are competent at the corners. Nobody covers more ground than White, and Carter is overlooked defensively. Catcher Pat Borders is sound.

Outlook: Until somebody beats them, which is possible in a very strong division, it's tough to pick against the Blue Jays. They will find a way to play meaningful games in September.

CENTRAL

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

1993 record: 94-68 (first, AL West)

Manager: Gene Lamont

Pitching: Their group of top four starters is the best in the AL and can rival the Atlanta Braves'. The ace is Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell (22-10, 3.37), but Alex Fernandez (18-9, 3.13) is ready to come into his own. Wilson Alvarez (15-8, 2.95) can be unhittable at times (as the Orioles can attest), and Jason Bere (12-5, 3.47 after his recall from Triple-A) is a budding star. Roberto Hernandez (38 saves) is a solid closer, and Paul Assenmacher replaces Scott Radinsky (out with cancer) from the left side.

Offense: Start with AL MVP first baseman Frank Thomas (.317-41-128) from the right side and third baseman Robin Ventura (.262-22-94) from the left and go from there. Julio Franco (.289-14-84 with the Texas Rangers) gives the White Sox a veteran DH. Left fielder Tim Raines (.306-16-54) still is an effective leadoff hitter, center fielder Lance Johnson (.311, 35 steals) provides speed and catcher Ron Karkovice (20 home runs) helps in the power department. Darrin Jackson takes over in right. The team has 36 homers in 31 exhibition games.

Defense: The White Sox finished in the middle of the pack in errors (112) and double plays (161), but shortstop Ozzie Guillen, Johnson and Ventura provide a great nucleus. Karkovice threw out a phenomenal 50 percent of the runners who tried to steal against him.

Outlook: This is the best-balanced team in the AL and should be the league's biggest favorite.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

1993 record: 76-86 (sixth, AL East)

Manager: Mike Hargrove

Pitching: The Indians gambled $9 million on ex-Oriole Dennis Martinez (15-9, 3.85 ERA with the Montreal Expos). He will pitch Opening Day, but management hopes that another right-hander, Charles Nagy (2-6, 6.29), re-emerges as their No. 1 pitcher after an injury-filled season. The rotation should be filled out by free agent Jack Morris (7-12, 6.19 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays), ex-Oriole Jose Mesa (10-12, 4.92), Towson State alumnus Chris Nabholz (9-8, 4.09 for Montreal) and Mark Clark (7-5, 4.28). Left-hander Derek Lilliquist (4-4, 2.25, 10 saves) is the best reliever in a shaky bullpen that also includes ex-New York Yankee Steve Farr.

Offense: Ex-Oriole Eddie Murray (.285-27-100 with the New York Mets) was added as a DH to stabilize one of the best lineups in the league. The Indians scored 790 runs (fifth in the AL) last year. Outfielder Albert Belle (.290-38-129) is one of the most fearsome hitters in baseball. Second baseman Carlos Baerga (.321-21-114) is compiling Hall of Fame numbers for a middle infielder, and center fielder Kenny Lofton (.325, 116 runs, 70 stolen bases) is a catalyst. The club announced yesterday that Manny Ramirez, Baseball America's 1993 Minor League Player of the Year, will get 75 percent to 80 percent of the playing time in right field.

Defense: The addition of shortstop Omar Vizquel should solidify the infield. Baerga is adequate. Belle can be a liability, but Lofton runs down a lot of pitchers' mistakes. The Indians were last in the AL in fielding percentage (.976).

Outlook: The Indians have been a young team on the rise for a few years and are now expected to contend. Martinez and Murray should help, but Cleveland still is short on pitching.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

1993 record: 84-78 (third, AL West)

Manager: Hal McRae

Pitching: Any chance the Royals have of winning relies on the success of their pitching staff. Third in the AL with a 4.04 ERA, the Royals need to be even better. Kevin Appier (18-8, 2.56 ERA) was even better than his record a year ago. David Cone (11-14, 3.33) should be adjusted to the AL by now. If he can control base runners, he could register close to 20 wins. Hipolito Pichardo (7-8, 4.04) did a decent job and has room to improve. The same is true of Baltimore-born Chris Haney (9-9, 6.02). Tom Gordon (12-6, 3.58) has a live arm and good breaking ball. Jeff Montgomery (7-5, 2.27, 45 saves) is a strong closer.

Offense: They were last in the league in runs, and that was with George Brett, who retired at the end of last season. The assets are center fielder Brian McRae (.282-12-69), first baseman Wally Joyner (.292-15-65) and catcher Mike Macfarlane (.273-20-67). A change of scenery can help left fielder Vince Coleman (.279, 38 steals for the Mets).

Defense: This is the last year on artificial surface for the Royals, who have used it to offensive and defensive advantage. They had the second-lowest errors total in the AL last year (97). But only four teams made fewer double plays (150). Joyner is excellent, and the team is strong up the middle with McRae, second baseman Jose Lind and shortstop Greg Gagne.

Outlook: The Royals must rely on pitching, and it isn't as good as the White Sox's. Second place would seem to be the ceiling.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

1993 record: 69-93 (seventh, AL East)

Manager: Phil Garner

Pitching: Once-dominant left-hander Ted Higuera (1-3, 7.20) has pitched well this spring in his annual comeback attempt from injury. Cal Eldred (16-16, 4.01 ERA) was the best starter a year ago. Jaime Navarro (11-12, 5.33) and Bill Wegman (4-14, 4.48) both slumped badly. Ricky Bones (11-11, 4.86) also is in the rotation. Closer Doug Henry had 17 saves but a 5.56 ERA.

Offense: In his first year as manager, Garner used a running game to generate offense. But he lost Paul Molitor to free agency before last season and Robin Yount to retirement after last season, and it figures to be a struggle. The Brewers had the second-lowest batting average in the AL last year (.258) and might lose center fielder Darryl Hamilton (.310, 21 steals) to elbow surgery. Left fielder Greg Vaughn (.267-30-97) is a legitimate power hitter, and former Minnesota Twins catcher Brian Harper will help in left. A comeback by shortstop Pat Listach (.244, 18 steals) is essential.

Defense: The Brewers' decline last year wasn't limited to any particular area, as witness their next-to-last standing in fielding percentage (.979). Listach's return to shortstop and the addition of Jody Reed at second base should improve that number.

Outlook: There's not much to look forward to at County Stadium other than beer and brat.

MINNESOTA TWINS

1993 record: 71-91 (tied for fifth, AL West)

Manager: Tom Kelly

Pitching: A year ago, the Twins ranked next to last in the AL with a 4.71 ERA and it could get worse. Kevin Tapani (12-15, 4.43 ERA), though a disappointment, was the best starter on the team. Scott Erickson (8-19, 5.19) is better than his numbers but needs an off-speed pitch. Jim Deshaies, Mike Trombley and Carlos Pulido are likely to fill out the rotation. Rick Aguilera (4-3, 3.11, 34 saves) has saved 30 games in four straight seasons and may be traded.

Offense: The lineup isn't what it used to be. Right fielder Kirby Puckett (.296-22-89) still is holding up his end, but the rest of the cast has faded. First baseman Kent Hrbek (.242-25-83) and DH Dave Winfield (.271-21-76) put up decent numbers last year but can't be expected to duplicate them. Second baseman Chuck Knoblauch (.277, 29 steals) is productive at the top of the order and center fielder Shane Mack (.276-10-61) helps in the middle but is bothered by shoulder problems.

Defense: This is the strongest part of the Twins' game, but it's far from outstanding. The infield of Hrbek, Knoblauch, shortstop Pat Meares and third basemen Chip Hale and Scott Leuis is adequate. Rookie catcher Matt Walbeck will provide better defense than the departed Brian Harper, but not nearly as much hitting. The 1993 switch of Mack to center field and Puckett to right field doesn't appear to have helped.

Outlook: The race between the Twins and Brewers could be the closest in the AL this year.

WEST

CALIFORNIA ANGELS

1993 record: 71-91 (tied for fifth, AL West)

Manager: Buck Rodgers

Pitching: Left-handers Mark Langston (16-11, 3.20 ERA) and Chuck Finley (16-14, 3.15) are the aces. Unproven Phil Leftwich and two pitchers cast off by other teams, John Dopson (Finksburg) and Mark Leiter, will fill the rotation. Closer Joe Grahe (4-1, 2.86, 11 saves) was effective when he wasn't hurt. The team's spring ERA is over 7.00.

Offense: Rookie outfielder Tim Salmon (.283-31-95) and DH Chili Davis (.243-27-112) were productive, but the team finished with the third-lowest batting average (.260) in the AL and outscored only the Kansas City Royals (684-675). Chad Curtis (.285, 48 steals) and Eduardo Perez (.250-4-30 in 52 games) show promise.

Defense: The defense is similar to the offense and pitching: unproven and not much to get excited about. Curtis covers a lot of ground in center field. Ex-Oriole Harold Reynolds has range at second base.

Outlook: Newly acquired Bo Jackson is likely to provide more publicity than the rest of the team.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

1993 record: 68-94 (seventh, AL West)

Manager: Tony La Russa

Pitching: The A's are counting on comebacks by three veterans: starters Bob Welch (9-11, 5.29 ERA) and Ron Darling (5-9, 5.16) and reliever Dennis Eckersley (2-4, 4.16, 36 saves). Bobby Witt (14-13, 4.21) and two 22-year-olds, Steve Karsay (3-3, 4.04) and Todd Van Poppel, (6-6, 5.04) fill out the rotation.

Offense: The A's have been in a steady decline, for various reasons, since trading Jose Canseco in 1992. They were last in the AL with a .254 batting average a year ago, when they scored only 715 runs. But if first baseman Mark McGwire (.333-9-24) has fully recovered from his heel injury, as it appears, and right fielder Ruben Sierra (.233-22-101) rebounds, the A's could bounce back in a hurry. The return of left fielder Rickey Henderson (traded to Toronto last summer for Karsay and Jose Herrera) could signal a last hurrah for the A's.

Defense: Workmanlike would be the best way to describe this aspect of the A's game. McGwire gives a big target at first base and catches the ball in the dirt as well as anybody.

Outlook: The dismantling of the A's was swift and severe a year ago, but realignment could help get them back to respectability in a hurry. If everything goes right, they could win and La Russa's reputation as a genius would return.

SEATTLE MARINERS

1993 record: 82-80 (fourth, AL West)

Manager: Lou Piniella

Pitching: The Mariners were fourth in the AL in ERA (4.20) -- and would have been better if Dave Fleming (12-5, 4.36 ERA) hadn't opened the season on the disabled list. Randy Johnson (19-8, 3.24) might be the most dominant pitcher in the game, and free-agent acquisition Greg Hibbard (15-11, 3.96 with the Chicago Cubs) is effective. If Chris Bosio (9-9, 3.45) and rookie Roger Salkeld can stay healthy, the Mariners' rotation could bring home the division flag. Catonsville's Jeff Nelson (5-3, 4.35) is an imposing 6 feet 8 in the bullpen. Bobby Thigpen or ex-Cincinnati Red Bobby Ayala might be the closer.

Offense: Center fielder Ken Griffey (.309-45-109) is an impact player and at only 24 might even get better. The return of third baseman Edgar Martinez, the AL batting champion in 1992 who missed virtually all last year with a knee injury, is a plus, but Mike Blowers (.280-15-57) played well in his absence. In addition, there are right fielder Jay Buhner (.272-27-98), left fielder Eric Anthony (.249-15-66 with the Astros) and first baseman Tino Martinez (.265-17-60 in 109 games). New catcher Dan Wilson, a former Red, is weak with the bat.

Defense: The Mariners had the AL's best fielding percentage (.985) and fewest errors (90). Griffey is as good as they come in center field, but Omar Vizquel's glove will be hard to replace at shortstop.

Outlook: If Piniella finds a closer, the Mariners could win the division.

TEXAS RANGERS

1993 record: 86-76 (second, AL West)

Manager: Kevin Kennedy

Pitching: Even though they ranked sixth in the AL with a 4.28 ERA, right behind the world champion Toronto Blue Jays, the Rangers are not well-armed. Kevin Brown (15-12, 3.59 ERA) has to step it up a notch with Roger Pavlik (12-6, 3.41) starting the season on the disabled list. Kenny Rogers (16-10, 4.10) has to duplicate his big year. Newly acquired Bruce Hurst, if healthy, and rookie Rick Helling fill the rotation. Closer Tom Henke (5-5, 2.91, 40 saves) will need setup help from the likes of Rick Honeycutt (1-4, 2.81 with the Athletics) and Jay Howell (3-3, 2.31 with the Atlanta Braves).

Offense: They led the majors with 181 home runs and were fourth with 835 runs. And that was without DH Jose Canseco (.255-10-46) for 102 games. Left fielder Juan Gonzalez (.310-46-118) is a home run machine, and third baseman Dean Palmer (.245-33-96) is not a bad imitation. First baseman Will Clark (.283-14-73) isn't likely to hit as many home runs as the departed Rafael Palmeiro, but will provide a consistent bat ahead of the lineup's big boppers.

Defense: The Rangers are unsettled in the middle of the infield. Ivan Rodriguez is a Gold Glove catcher, but the rest of the cast is only passable.

Outlook: If the Rangers get the pitching, and it doesn't have to be exceptional, they'll will.

HENNEMAN'S SELECTIONS

* MVP: Ken Griffey, Seattle Mariners

* Cy Young Award: Alex Fernandez, Chicago White Sox

* Rookie of the Year: Jeffrey Hammonds, Orioles

* Manager of the Year: Lou Piniella, Seattle Mariners

* Most improved team: Oakland Athletics

* Manager on the hot seat: Kevin Kennedy, Texas Rangers

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