AL West


California Angels

Where they're coming from: Few people will remember that the Angels bettered their 1994 record by 32 games or that they won the last five games on their regular-season schedule. California's legacy is this: It led the Mariners by 12 1/2 games on Aug. 20, yet didn't win the West. The Angels lost a one-game playoff and finished at 78-67.

Where they're going: They might not be in first place for 125 games again, but they'll end up there.

Key newcomers: Second baseman Randy Velarde, rookie third baseman George Arias and starting pitchers Steve Ontiveros (out with an elbow injury) and Scott Sanderson.

What must go right: Shortstop Gary DiSarcina must stay healthy; they were 16-29 without him. The Angels -- second in runs and homers in the AL last season -- must continue to score big. Tim Salmon (105 RBIs), Jim Edmonds (107 RBIs) and Garret Anderson (69 RBIs) have to live up to blockbuster "Angels in the Outfield" billing. Mark Langston (15-7), Chuck Finley (15-12) and Jim Abbott (11-8) must repeat as baseball's most heavenly trio of left-handers.

What could go wrong: Lee Smith, 38, who was 37-for-41 in save tries, could fail to bounce back from off-season knee surgery; then again, hard-throwing setup man Troy Percival could step in after leading the league in relief holds and giving up just 4.5 hits per nine innings, a major-league record for pitchers with at least 50 innings. Ex-Yankees part-timer Velarde could fail to fill the leadoff void left by Phillips (119 runs). Defensive standout Arias, who won the third base job from Tim Wallach in spring training, vTC might not be ready to jump from Double-A.

X-factor: Last season's collapse could play on the Angels' minds, but won't necessarily translate into trouble; just ask the Angels' neighbors, the Dodgers, who fell apart in 1951 and 1962, yet won pennants in 1952 and 1963.

Key stat: This time, the Angels are ready for a one-game playoff with Seattle: Velarde is 18-for-36 lifetime against Randy Johnson.

Seattle Mariners

Where they're coming from: Seattle was first in the West at 79-66, reaching the playoffs for the first time -- and just in time. The late-season heroics energized the community and built support for a new stadium that will keep the Mariners in the Pacific Northwest.

Where they're going: Back to reality. They'll compete, but without Mike Blowers, Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson, Bill Risley, Tim Belcher, Vince Coleman and Andy Benes, lack depth to catch the Angels again.

Key newcomers: First baseman Paul Sorrento, pitcher Sterling Hitchcock, third baseman Russell Davis.

What must go right: Presidential candidate Ken Griffey, who missed 72 games last season with a broken wrist, must make good on his campaign promises after Martinez and Blowers were left off the ticket. Jay Buhner (40 homers) and Edgar Martinez (first in the AL in batting and on-base average and second in slugging) must come up big again.

What could go wrong: Trading middle relievers Nelson (Catonsville) and Risley could keep the Mariners from getting the ball to Norm Charlton. The mixture of Darren Bragg, Rich Amaral and Alex Diaz could be yet another failed left-field experiment.

X-factor: 27-3 in Randy Johnson's starts, Seattle was the first team to win 90 percent of a pitcher's starts since the A's were 27-3 in starts by Lefty Grove in 1931. But Johnson is scheduled to start three of the first eight games and could lose steam after being overworked in 1995. Budget cuts and Chris Bosio's knee injury have resulted in an untested rotation that includes Hitchcock, Bob Wolcott, Paul Menhart and Edwin Hurtado.

Key stat: By dealing Martinez and Blowers, the Mariners are the first team to trade 100-RBI and 95-RBI men in the off-season since the Senators got rid of Zeke Bonura (114) and Al Simmons (95) after 1938; Washington dropped 10 1/2 games in the standings.

Texas Rangers

Where they're coming from: The Rangers improved from 52-62 to 74-70 in Johnny Oates' first season in Texas and finished in third. The franchise, which started in Washington, has gone 35 years without reaching the postseason.

Where they're going: Make that 36.

Key newcomers: Pitcher Ken Hill, center fielder Darryl Hamilton, closer Mike Henneman.

What must go right: Juan Gonzalez (46 homers in 1993), Dean Palmer and Will Clark must stay healthy and help the Rangers finish higher in runs scored than 1995's 11th. Hill (10-8, 4.62 ERA), expected to replace Kenny Rogers (17-7) as ace, must regain his 1994 form.

What could go wrong: Benji Gil, one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, needs surgery for a herniated disk and is out two months. Roger Pavlik (10-10), whose cross-body delivery is arm strain waiting to happen, has -- guess what? -- a sore elbow. The Rangers could struggle against Seattle again; the Rangers are 4-19 against the Mariners in 1994-1995.

X-factor: Oates' attention to detail helped the Rangers improve their fielding percentage from last in the league (.976) to fourth (.982) -- which was third-best in team history. But they'll be hard-pressed to repeat that with Palmer and Juan Gonzalez healthy all season.

Key stat: Oates and the Braves' Bobby Cox are the only managers in the majors with winning records each of the past four seasons.

Oakland Athletics

Where they're coming from: The Athletics, dominant at the start of the decade, have gone from A's to F's. They finished fourth at 67-77 and were watched by fewer fans at home than in any year since 1980.

Where they're going: The club has slashed its payroll 37 percent, and bottom-line thinking results in bottom-line finishes.

Key newcomers: Owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann; manager Art Howe; and outfielders Pedro Munoz, Allen Battle and Phil Plantier.

What must go right: Center fielder Ernie Young, who as of Thursday led the AL with eight spring home runs, must keep it up when the real games start.

What could go wrong: It already is going wrong. Mark McGwire, who in 1995 hit a home run every 8.13 at-bats -- the best percentage ever for a player with 300 or more at-bats -- is out with an injured foot. Schott, a Santa Clara pitcher in the 1950s, may be tempted to make a comeback once he sees his rotation.

X-factor: Terry Steinbach (.278, 15 homers) was voted the league's top catcher in a poll of GMs last season and will be key in working with the young pitchers. But he's also the only healthy trade bait for owners eager to cut payroll.

Key stat: Key stat: Todd Van Poppel, 24, has 17 career wins. The other projected early-season starters -- Carlos Reyes (4), Ariel Prieto (2), and Doug Johns (5) -- have just 11.

Olney's AL picks


Albert Belle, Indians

Roberto Alomar, Orioles

Ken Griffey, Mariners

Frank Thomas, White Sox

Rafael Palmeiro, Orioles

Cy Young

Mike Mussina, Orioles

Randy Johnson, Mariners

Jack McDowell, Indians

Jose Mesa, Indians

Orel Hershiser, Indians

Rookie of the Year

Derek Jeter, Yankees

Jimmy Haynes, Orioles

Jose Herrera, A's

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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