Volume 90, Issue 97

Thursday, March 27, 1997

labels


SPORTS
 

Baseball Preview '97

AL EAST


The defending world champion New York Yankees will once again be the team to beat, presuming they can keep newly-acquired southpaw David Wells out of any bar room shenanigans. By adding a solid arm in Wells – who has a 10-1 career record at Yankee Stadium – to a rotation of David Cone and Andy Pettite, general manager George Steinbrenner may have assembled the best arms in the league. The men in pin stripes are strong throughout the lineup and if the squabbles between management and Cecil "Big Daddy" Fielder are minimized, the Yanks will win the division by 10.

Coming in a distant second will be the birds from Baltimore who sport the best infield in the league with Cal Ripken, Mike Bordick, Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro. Unfortunately, for Orioles fans, Brady Anderson will never hit 50 dingers again and the team will never match last season's 257-homer performance. The pitching staff is weak aside from top starters Mike Mussina and free agent acquisition Jimmy Key. They will not win enough games to make up for the ineffectiveness of wash-ups Scott Erickson and Shawn Boskie. The Orioles will be a longshot for a wild-card spot.

In Toronto, GM Gord Ash has pulled the wool over the eyes of the Blue Jays' faithful with the off-season signing of "Rocket" Roger Clemens. Nearing the end of his career, Clemens is only good for publicity and a 10-win season. As for the rest of the staff, Pat Hentgen and Juan Guzman will return to earth this year and mediocre numbers will reflect it. Although Alex Gonzalez and Carlos Delgado give the fans some hope for the future, at present this aging club has nothing going for it.

The Red Sox will be lucky enough to fight for third, if their pitching can remain consistent and they get huge numbers from slugger Mo Vaughn. Detroit? – Foh-getabout-it. The Tigers have nothing.

AL CENTRAL


The tightest of the three American League races will be in the central division\ this year between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox. The acquisition of Matt Williams will make up for the loss of Albert Belle who jumped ship to the rival Chisox.

On Tuesday the Indians traded fleet-footed outfielder Kenny Lofton and pitcher Alan Embree to the Braves for outfielders Dave Justice and Marquis Grissom – bolstering the Indians' attack. The only weak link on the team is at second base, where 35-year-old ex-Blue Jay Tony Fernandez has been given the job. Fernandez is injury-prone and has a bad attitude.

The power of Frank Thomas and Albert Belle will be the only hope for the White Sox now that Robin Ventura has gone down with an ankle injury. Ventura will be sidelined for two to three months and will be sorely missed. Even with his injury, the explosiveness of their bats will give them the wild card entry come October.

The rest of the division is too weak to compete this year in this two-team-dominated division. The Kansas City Royals lack the fire power to stay in contention and not even a great year from pitching ace Kevin Appier will keep them close.

Milwaukee's Brew Crew might as well start drinking now, since management did nothing to improve a sub-.500 team. Pitching prospect Scott Karl has some promise but is still too green and needs grooming. The Brewers will finish fourth.

The outlook in Minnesota is even bleaker as the Twins must prepare to start their first full year without Kirby Puckett. The team lacks just about everything and after this year, Paul Molitor will realize that Cooperstown, New York is much more inviting than the Minneapolis Metrodome.

AL WEST


Seattle is definitely the cream of the crop in the American League this year and the Mariners are set to destroy anybody that gets in the way of a World Series berth. Led by Ken Griffey Jr., sophomore phenom Alex Rodriguez, Jay Buhner and a pitching staff of Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson, the Mariners are going to be an unstoppable freight train. Rodriguez will show why he should have received the MVP award last season. As long as Randy Johnson stays healthy, the Mariners should be battling it out with the Atlanta Braves come October. If the team makes it to the World Series, it'll be its first appearance in 21 years of existence.

The only team in the West that might challenge the Mariners will be the Texas Rangers – filled with tons of hitting in the middle of their order by Rusty Greer, Juan Gonzalez, Will Clark and Dean Palmer. If they were in any other division in the American League, the Rangers would definitely have a shot at the playoffs. Picking up closer John Wetteland in the off-season was a solid move to ensure a few more wins, but the Rangers' starting staff does not have the horses to seriously threaten the Mariners' stranglehold.

Other then for a tan, ball-slappers Jim Edmonds and Tim Salmon are the only two reasons to go to the Big "A" this year in Anaheim. The Angels' pitching staff looks good on paper, but Chuck Finley, Mark Langston and Jim Abbott's best years are behind them.

Only a sad Oakland team will keep the sorry bunch of Angels out of the division basement. A lack of pitching will be the downfall of the once proud Oakland organization and assuming Mark McGwire can remain healthy all year, a home run watch will be the highlight of the A's season.

–John Intini

NL EAST


Can the league stand to see Ted Turner and Jane Fonda in the stands for yet another World Series? As long as the media mogul keeps baseball's best rotation intact, the Fall Classic should see more of the obnoxious tomahawk chop. Any of the three Brave starters, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz or Tom Glavine can win the Cy Young Award in any given year and the recent addition of centrefielder Kenny Lofton will give the Braves a better leadoff man and increased speed on the bases.

Florida thinks it can buy itself a pennant and the Marlins might actually have. Their brass went on a shopping spree over the off-season, acquiring free agents Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla and Jim Eisenreich. The fish have at least three potential 20-game winners in Kevin Brown, Alex Fernandez and Al Leiter. Mix them with slugger Jeff Conine and triple-crown threat Gary Sheffield and this Florida squad has an excellent chance to join Atlanta in the post-season.

Yet again, Expos coach Felipe Alou has been given a cast of unknowns and is expected to fill the stands of the Big O. It'll take a lot of discounted hot dogs and showers of Oh Henry bars to get people back night after night. Montreal fans care more about hockey and smoked meat, so in the best interest of the league, the team should just pack up and go to New Orleans.

One has to feel sorry for Carlos Baerga. He had a shot at a World Series ring with Cleveland, but now he's stuck with the lowly Mets. If John Olerud puts up big numbers, New York should edge the Phillies in the battle of the basement dwellers.

The only exciting things to watch at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium this summer will be Gregg Jefferies and the Philly Phanatic psycho-mascot. This team should be just about boring enough to lull the City of Brotherly Love to sleep.

NL CENTRAL


With a combination of both power and speed generated by the likes of Ron Gant, Ray Lankford and Brian Jordan, it looks like the St. Louis Cardinals have the tools to win themselves a division pennant. The Benes brothers, Todd Stottlemyre and Donovan Osborne comprise a solid pitching staff and with Tony LaRussa, the best manager in baseball at the helm, the Cardinals are destined for success. Providing that leadoff hitter Delino DeShields can reach first base consistently, this team will swipe bases and a championship.

With the likes of Jeff Bagwell, Houston has someone who can send the ball into orbit. Craig Biggio is the league's best second baseman and fans should expect Derek Bell to hit above .300 again. Unfortunately, even though the Astros have two young quality closers in Billy Wagner and John Hudek, they will rarely have a game to save by the time born-again loser Sid Fernandez and company are done.

The Cubs' fans are the most diehard in the majors. If Sammy Sosa's 40-homer year was no fluke, Cubbie faithful will finally have something to watch other than outfield ivy. The team has also assembled a decent pitching staff in Mel Rojas, Terry Mulholland and Kevin Tapani via free agent signings. Mark Grace is the heart of the team and although future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg has left his best days behind him, he is still a capable second baseman.

Cincinnati had its shot in 1995, but just like Reds owner Marge Schott, the team blew up. The squad has chosen to get rid of one pain in the ass, Kevin Mitchell, in favour of another, Ruben Sierra. While the team has all-star calibre players in Hal Morris, Barry Larkin and Reggie Sanders, this may not be enough. The Reds will need 1995 Cy Young runner-up Pete Schourek to get back to his old form, after elbow surgery last season.

NL WEST


They're young, talented and exciting. The Los Angeles Dodgers are the team to watch in the National League this year. Ramon Martinez, Hideo Nomo, Ismael Valdes, Tom Candiotti and Pedro Asacio give Los Angeles a pitching staff to brag about – a wicked rotation that rivals Atlanta's. To make matters worse for opponents, Todd Worrell shuts down any hopes of a ninth-inning comeback. The Dodgers also have an impressive lineup in Mike Piazza, Eric Karros and Raul Mondesi.

It'll be a huge surprise if last year's National League MVP Ken Caminiti can put up the same numbers following major shoulder surgery. Nevertheless, after years of dwelling in the cellar, the Padres have a decent cast of players. Tony Gwynn is the purest hitter in baseball and free-agent signee Greg Vaughn should generate more run production. However, San Diego's pitching will be a huge question mark.

Just like the Padres, the Colorado Rockies don't have the pitching to go with their bats. Expect football-esque scores when playing these boys. With Eric Young, Ellis Burks, Dante Bichette, Larry Walker and Andres Galarraga, the Rockies may boast the most offensive weapons in the majors. It's too bad the thin air at Coors Field works against the team's pitchers, otherwise the league's worst pitching staff might win a few more shootouts.

If Barry Bonds thinks he's the best player in baseball, the Giants should trade him so that he can prove it. Bonds is unhappy with the firing of his father, team hitting coach, Bobby Bonds. Bobby wasn't the only one to leave town though, as San Francisco dumped Matt Williams and Shawon Dunston. This team has fallen into the San Andreas and it ain't getting out any time soon.

–Alex Chiang


To Contact The Sports Department: gazsport@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997