April 04, 1991|By KENT BAKER


* RECORD LAST YEAR: 86-76, second, 2 GB

* PITCHING: The Blue Jays have a solid four-man rotation of Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key, Todd Stottlemyre and David Wells and a canyon-deep bullpen headed by Tom Henke and free agent Ken Dayley. This staff had the fewest complete games in the majors (6) last season but also allowed the fewest walks (445) in the league.

* OFFENSE: The Blue Jays were at or near the top in virtually every team batting category. But to stay there, they must receive production from the leadoff spot and the influx of newcomers. SS Tony Fernandez, 1B Fred McGriff and OF-DH George Bell are gone in the front office's chemistry overhaul. But any attack that starts with 3B Kelly Gruber (31 HR, 118 RBI) and OF Joe Carter (24 HR, 115 RBI in San Diego) has mighty potential. OF Devon White has flourished in Florida batting first, and C Pat Borders, 1B John Olerud and OF Mark Whiten are emerging stars.

* DEFENSE: Outfield problems fueled Toronto's demise, but Carter replacing Bell in left, plus White playing center field, will mean dramatic improvement. Whiten and Glenallen Hill are strong in right. The question is whether Manuel Lee can replace Fernandez's grace at short. Roberto Alomar at second base and Gruber at third are solid.

* OUTLOOK: First. But the Blue Jays have a lot of new pieces, and it may take them a while to find the proper fit. Again the most talented team in the division.


* RECORD LAST YEAR: 76-85, fifth, 11 1/2 GB

* PITCHING: A lot depends on the return to form of Jeff Ballard and Bob Milacki, who combined for only seven victories last season, down from 32 in 1989. Ben McDonald could be a Hall of Famer before he's finished, and Dave Johnson just continues to baffle hitters. Candidates for the fifth spot include Jose Mesa and Jeff Robinson. The inspiration of the spring, 39-year-old Mike Flanagan, will begin the season in the bullpen, joining closer Gregg Olson and setup man Mark Williamson.

* OFFENSE: Last year the Orioles finished next to last in the league with a .245 batting average and in runners left on base (1,230). They appear to have gotten help in 1B Glenn Davis and veteran OF-DH Dwight Evans. But 3B Craig Worthington must rebound or face replacement by Leo Gomez, SS Cal Ripken has to relax in a firmer lineup, C Chris Hoiles must hit in the big leagues and OF Mike Devereaux or Brady Anderson must produce at the top of the order. Randy Milligan has vowed not to let the shift from first base to left field bother his hitting.

* DEFENSE: This team has been terrific for two seasons (180 errors over that span, a major-league record). SS Ripken set another big-league record with three errors and brother Bill at second base was almost as good. The outfield still has capable )) speed despite the loss of Steve Finley.

* OUTLOOK: Second. This is an up-and-coming team that stayed healthy in 1989 and stunned the baseball world. Avoiding injuries is the key to finishing this high.


* RECORD LAST YEAR: 88-74, first

* PITCHING: The Red Sox starters led the league with a 3.32 ERA and 69-48 record and prospered despite a terrible bullpen last year. But Greg Harris, Tom Bolton and Dana Kiecker must come through again behind Roger Clemens (21-6, 1.93 ERA) because Mike Boddicker left for the Kansas City Royals. They are counting on Danny Darwin and erratic left-hander Matt Young to pick up the slack. Closer Jeff Reardon has recovered from back troubles.

* OFFENSE: This is the strength of the Red Sox, although they don't hit homers like they used to and are the slowest team in the league. DH Jack Clark should upgrade the 106-homer total (tied for 11th in the league). Put him fourth in a lineup that includes 3B Wade Boggs, a potential MVP in OF Ellis Burks, OF Tom Brunansky, OF Mike Greenwell, C Tony Pena and a Rookie of the Year candidate in 1B Mo Vaughn, and you have a potent force. If SS Tim Naehring can overcome back problems, they could have league's best lineup.

* DEFENSE: This is an underrated category on the Red Sox, who have strong defenders in Burks, Reed, Boggs, Brunansky and Pena. Greenwell is average, the shortstop (either Naehring or Luis Rivera) can be expected to have an occasional lapse, and Vaughn needs some work at first base.

* OUTLOOK: Third. It may be too much to expect the back-line starting pitchers to produce heavily again. But the Red Sox will hit and probably play a lot of 9-8 games.


* RECORD LAST YEAR: 79-83, third, 9 GB

* PITCHING: A staff short of starters, especially since free agent Jack Morris defected to his hometown Minnesota Twins. The Tigers signed Bill Gullickson because he eats up innings. But they still are depending on oldsters Frank Tanana, Dan Petry and Walt Terrell and recycled John Cerutti, who lost his job in Toronto. The saving grace is the workmanlike bullpen headed by Mike Henneman and Jerry Don Gleaton.

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