Al West Preview

April 02, 1993|By Peter Schmuck

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

1992 record: 86-76 (third)

Manager: Gene Lamont

Pitching: They can't expect 20-game winner Jack McDowell to do it himself. Right-hander Kirk McCaskill has to be better than a .500 pitcher (12-13 last year) and promising Wilson Alvarez and Alex Fernandez have to grow into front-line starters, but the White Sox do have a potentially solid pitching staff. Relief shouldn't be a problem after a 1992 season in which Bobby Thigpen, Roberto Hernandez and Scott Radinsky combined for 39 of the club's 52 saves.

Hitting: First baseman Frank Thomas is coming off another great season (24 homers, 115 RBI) and Robin Ventura is living up to his early press clippings (16 homers, 93 RBI). The White Sox added Ellis Burks and hope to have a healthy Bo Jackson in the lineup two or three times a week. If designated hitter George Bell can bounce back from off-season knee surgery, the White Sox will have as much sock as anyone.

Defense: They ranked in the bottom half of the AL in fielding (.979) last year and have not made any major roster changes.

Outlook: If the young starting pitchers improve and the White Sox get consistent production from their star-studded lineup, they should rise to the top. If not, Lamont could be gone by June.

TEXAS RANGERS

1992 record: 77-85 (fourth)

Manager: Kevin Kennedy

Pitching: The farewell tour of future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan will be a major preoccupation this season, but the Rangers have to draw attention to the entire pitching staff if they are to make a legitimate run at the AL West title. Kennedy knows what he's going to get from Ryan and 21-game winner Kevin Brown, but he'll have to wait and see if newcomers Craig Lefferts and Charlie Leibrandt will be productive enough to help carry the club through the long, hot Texas summer. The addition of free-agent relief stopper Tom Henke gives the bullpen added credibility.

Hitting: The Rangers always seem to have a dangerous lineup, even though their .250 team batting average ranked 12th in the league last year. With Jose Canseco, home run champion Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro, and possibly a healthy Julio Franco at designated hitter, the team that ranked third in the AL in home runs (159) last year could lead that department this season.

Defense: The loss of outfielder Kevin Reimer will hurt the Rangers' chances of repeating as the AL's worst defensive team. So will the acquisition of second baseman Bill Ripken and shortstop Manuel Lee. The club's up-the-middle defense will be solid, which should help the pitching.

Outlook: There is no time better than the present for the Rangers to make a run at the top of the standings. They have never won a championship. They have not finished better than third since 1986. This team could be different, but the Rangers still have to be considered a long shot.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

1992 record: 96-66 (first)

Manager: Tony La Russa

Pitching: The A's suffered some major losses during the off-season. Free-agent right-hander Mike Moore signed with the Detroit Tigers. Dave Stewart joined the Toronto Blue Jays. La Russa has a knack for finding his way around this kind of problem, but he has his hands full this year. The starting rotation may be adequate to remain in contention, but only if everything goes right.

Hitting: Despite the discussion about the trade that sent Jose Canseco to the Rangers for Ruben Sierra, Bobby Witt and Jeff Russell, Sierra can be the same kind of force as Canseco. The question is whether the A's can compete after losing so many key players to free agency.

Defense: Oakland ranked 10th in AL fielding. Kevin Seitzer will help out at third after Carney Lansford's retirement, but the rest of the defense should be largely unchanged.

Outlook: La Russa lost nearly half of his roster to free agency, but he'll find a way to be competitive again.

MINNESOTA TWINS

1992 record: 90-72 (second)

Manager: Tom Kelly

Pitching: Last year, they lost Jack Morris. This year, John Smiley. Kelly hopes Jim Deshaies can help. The bullpen is solid, with Rick Aguilera (41 saves last year) and middlemen Carl Willis and Mark Guthrie coming off solid years.

Hitting: The Twins added some punch with the free-agent acquisition of veteran Dave Winfield. The club gets good production from outfielders Kirby Puckett, Shane Mack and Pedro Munoz, and has to hope that Kent Hrbek can make more of a contribution than last year.

Defense: Kelly has put the kind of emphasis on defense in Minnesota that the Orioles long have stressed. His club ranked behind only the Brewers and Orioles in fielding (.985) and was one of four teams to make fewer than 100 errors (95). But the off-season losses of shortstop Greg Gagne and third baseman Mike Pagliarulo don't help.

Outlook: The Twins have only to get consistent pitching to be at the top of the standings. That's a big if, but they have slipped into the World Series under cover of Teflon twice in the past six years.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

1992 record: 72-90 (sixth)

Manager: Hal McRae

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