AL West; BASEBALL 2000; Teams listed in predicted order of finish

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Mariners

That was then: Seattle had its second straight sub-.500 season, never climbing out of third place after early July. The Mariners opened spacious Safeco Field and closed both the cozy Kingdome and the Ken Griffey era.

This is now: Protesters at the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle rallied in December over fair trade; imagine how upset they'd have been if they knew how little the Mariners would get two months later for Griffey.

Upside: Aaron Sele, with 37 wins the past two seasons, joins one of baseball's best rotations, with Freddy Garcia (17 wins) and Jamie Moyer (59-25 since 1996). John Olerud, who has a career .406 on-base average, combines with Edgar Martinez (.447 OBA) to provide lots of base runners. Arthur Rhodes and Kazuhiro Sasaki (Japan's all-time saves leader) make the bullpen an asset.

Downside: Starting outfielders Jay Buhner, Mike "Not Hammerin' " Cameron and Mark McLemore combined for just 41 homers -- eight fewer than Griffey. Olerud is the only lefty hitter with power.

Don't miss : superstar Alex Rodriguez's last year in Seattle. It's likely A-Rod is going A-Way.

Don't be surprised : if Buhner, who averaged 41 home runs from 1995 to 1997, comes back strong after two injury-marred seasons. He had a great spring.

Don't expect : this team to lead the AL in homers for a fifth straight year. The '99 club went from 75 homers in 39 Kingdome games to 47 in 42 Safeco games. Like Mike Holmgren's Seahawks, this team is trading in the bomb for a hit-and-run-and-shoot West Coast offense.

Web site unseen: www.juniorwho.com

Rangers

That was then: Texas won 95 games and its third division title in four years, then scored just one run for the second straight year in being swept by Yogi Berra's Yankee heirs in the Division Series. "It's like deja vu all over again," pitcher Rick Helling said.

This is now: It's deja new. The reworked Rangers have added athleticism and left-handed pitching. They've deleted their career home run leader (Juan Gonzalez) and 1999 leaders in wins (Aaron Sele), stolen bases (Tom Goodwin) and doubles (Todd Zeile).

Upside: Kenny Rogers, Darren Oliver and Justin Thompson make Texas less vulnerable to left-handed-hitting lineups, such as the Yankees'. MVP Ivan Rodriguez set an AL record for most home runs by a catcher, not bad for someone whose biggest asset is his defense and throwing.

Downside: Thompson, coming off August shoulder surgery, might not be healthy until June. Reliever Mike Venafro might have the same circulation problem that ruined Steve Bedrosian's career.

Don't miss : April 7-19. Texas plays 12 straight games against above-.500 teams, including nine against the Yankees and Indians. A team that spent just four days out of first place in 1999 could get a different perspective this year.

Don't be surprised : if manager Johnny Oates becomes a scapegoat should Texas fail to advance past the first round of the playoffs.

Don't expect : Rafael Palmeiro to win the Outstanding DH Award and Gold Glove in the same season again. Palmeiro's knee is better, but just in case, Texas added an even better fielding first baseman: David Segui.

Web site unseen: www.juangone.com

Athletics

That was then: The American League's feel-good team, Oakland ended a string of six straight losing seasons, improving 13 games from 1998 and contending for the wild card until late September.

This is now: Baseball America's Organization of the Year is stocked with emerging stars and prospects. Earl Weaver would love this powerful, patient team: The A's drew 770 walks, most in the majors in 50 years, meaning lots of runners were aboard when Oakland hit its 235 homers, second most in the league.

Upside: Jason Isringhausen was 9-for-9 in save opportunities. Midseason pickup Kevin Appier will be with the team all season; his career ERA at Network Associates Coliseum is 1.87. Triple-A World Series MVP Terrence Long burst into the center-field picture with a huge spring.

Downside: Oakland allowed 96 unearned runs, 25 more than any other AL West team. A predominantly left-handed-hitting lineup is vulnerable to rotations like Texas', which this year is filled with left-handed pitchers.

Don't miss : the nine-game homestand that starts the season. Oakland was 52-29 at the Coliseum last season, and a good start can convince this young team it's ready for big things.

Don't be surprised : if Tim Hudson has a breakthrough season. He beat Pedro Martinez in a key August game at Fenway Park and led the team in strikeouts despite not being called up until June 7.

Don't expect : Matt Stairs to be here long. The veteran power hitter is expendable now that Jeremy Giambi was acquired from Kansas City to join brother Jason.

Web site unseen: www.y2ka's.com

Angels

That was then: In a preview of things to come for Anaheim, Gary DiSarcina broke his arm the first day of spring training and Mo Vaughn severely sprained his ankle Opening Day. The supposed pennant contender lost a major-league-high 1,451 games to injury -- and a whopping 92 games to opponents.

This is now: Upbeat manager Mike Scioscia has the support of a clubhouse that chafed under the fired Terry Collins, but he doesn't have enough pitching, even with the trade for 18-game winner Kent Bottenfield.

Upside: Tim Salmon, who missed 2 1/2 months with a wrist sprain, is swinging freely, making it unlikely the Angels will again be last in batting average and second-to-last in runs. A healthy Vaughn could break the franchise home run record of 39. Ben Molina threw out 40 percent of runners trying to steal against him.

Downside: Closer Troy Percival's ERA has gone up for five straight seasons, and arm strain is a concern. Troy Glaus hit 29 home runs but has to cut down on his 143 strikeouts.

Don't miss : the season-opening series against the Yankees. The Angels aren't very good against most of the American League, but they're somehow 12-9 against New York's juggernaut the past two seasons.

Don't be surprised : if Bottenfield reverts to form. He had 18 total wins his previous six seasons and was shut down late in 1999 with arm strain.

Don't expect : Disney to make a movie about this bunch. "The Bad News Bears" already has been done.

Web site unseen: www.fallenangels.com

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