Al West Preview

April 25, 1995|By Andy Knobel

SEATTLE MARINERS

Where they're coming from: Deprived of their dome-field advantage after ceiling tiles fell at the Kingdome, the Mariners won nine of their final 10 and were two out when the roof came down on the season. They finished third at 49-63.

Where they're going: To the franchise's first playoff berth -- thanks to the mild, mild West.

Key newcomers: 2B Joey Cora (.276), C Chad Kreuter (15 HRs in 1993).

What must go right: Five-time All-Star Ken Griffey (.323, 40 HRs) pleaded with management to keep P Randy Johnson and OF Jay Buhner; he must respond with a thank-you by strapping his supporting cast onto his back for a ride into the postseason. 1992 batting champ Edgar Martinez, injured the past two years, must return to form.

What could go wrong: Five-foot-9 leadoff hitter Darren Bragg, a .350 Triple-A hitter, is the 35th man to play left field alongside Griffey; he figures to last longer than the tallest, one-inning novelty Randy Johnson, but not by much. Chris Bosio (4-10) and Dave Fleming (6.46 ERA) must bounce back from subpar seasons.

X-factor: Johnson, the AL leader in complete games, shutouts and strikeouts, is off the trading block for now. But if the team starts slowly, Big Unit's big salary may go in a big trade.

Key statistic: Lou Piniella, who managed the Reds' Nasty Boys bullpen, has another thrilling threesome: Bobby Ayala (major-league-best 76 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings), Bill Risley (61 strikeouts in 52 1/3 ) and rookie Ron Villone (94 in 79 1/3 in Double-A).

TEXAS RANGERS

Where they're coming from: The Rangers stumbled into the strike with six straight losses. They were 52-62, the only team in major-league history to finish first with a losing record. GM Tom Grieve and manager Kevin Kennedy were fired.

Where they're going: To an all-Orioles, all-the-time format, featuring GM Doug Melvin, manager Johnny Oates, coaches Jerry Narron, Dick Bosman and Ed Napoleon, P Mark Williamson, DH Mickey Tettleton, LF Mark McLemore, 3B Mike Pagliarulo, 3B Rick Schu and OF Bruce Dostal.

Key newcomers: Tettleton (97 walks), OF Otis Nixon (42 steals), P Bob Tewksbury (62 walks over three seasons), P Kevin Gross (3.60 ERA) and many others.

What must go right: Leadoff hitter Nixon must help the Rangers better their 3-13 record on artificial turf. Tewksbury and Gross must turn around the rotation.

What could go wrong: Juan Gonzalez (46 HRs in 1993) could fail to recover from the herniated disk that will cost him at least two weeks; a McLemore/Billy Hatcher platoon fills in. Aging relievers Jeff Russell (5.09) and Roger McDowell (5.23) could fail as right-handed complements to Darren Oliver, who held left-handed batters to a .119 batting average.

X-factor: New manager Oates' absence to be with his ailing wife, Gloria, may delay the make-over of the Rangers from an all-or- nothing team that scored 10 or more runs 18 times but was held to two or fewer runs 26 times. The Rangers had the league's worst fielding percentage and need time with Oates, under whose tutelage the Orioles shined defensively.

Key statistic: The strike saved the Rangers from 13 games against the Indians, Orioles and Yankees, a combined 60 games over .500.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Where they're coming from: Oakland was an AL-worst 19-43 on June 13, but went 32-20 the rest of the way for a 51-63, second-place finish.

Where they're going: Nowhere, despite a payroll of $37 million. Oakland hasn't improved an offense that was last in the league in on-base average and slugging average, and the pitching staff hasn't gotten better, just older.

Key newcomers: P Todd Stottlemyre (4.22) and four former A's: P Dave Stewart (5.87 ERA), P Rick Honeycutt (7.20), C Brian Harper (.291), IF Mike Gallego (.239).

What must go right: Manager Tony La Russa, who spurned off-season advances by three teams, must find the key to the Wayback machine for Dennis Eckersley, Stewart and Honeycutt, who have a combined age of 118 and had a combined 1994 ERA of 5.68. 1B Mark McGwire, who has only 219 at-bats since 1992, must return to health.

What could go wrong: Players who broke through late in their careers -- Steve Ontiveros (AL ERA champion), Geronimo Berroa (65 RBIs), Stan Javier (75 runs) -- could revert to form. One, Billy Taylor, eighth in the AL in strikeout rate, is out for the season.

X-factor: What other former A's can GM Sandy Alderson bring back? "We're researching our archives for former A's players that are not deceased," he said.

Key statistic: Rickey Henderson, 36, swiped only 22 bases but isn't washed up. He was on a 123-run pace with a .411 on-base average.

CALIFORNIA ANGELS

Where they're coming from: The Angels were first in late May but finished last at 47-68. "We stink," manager Marcel Lachemann said on Aug. 2; few could argue when California lost four of its next five.

Where they're going: Don't pin your hopes on a team 14th in the AL in runs scored and 12th in ERA.

Key newcomers: All-time saves leader Lee Smith, OF Tony Phillips (19 HRs), P Mitch Williams (7.65 ERA).

What must go right: Mark Langston (4.68 ERA) and Chuck Finley (4.32) must come up big under Lachemann, a former pitching coach. Tony Phillips (.409 on-base average) must get on base a lot more than Chad Curtis (.317 OBA) did for Chili Davis (26 HRs) and Tim Salmon (23 HRs).

What could go wrong: Williams could face Joe Carter in the ninth inning of a key game. 3B Damion Easley could hit .215 again, not the .313 he reached in 1993, thus joining a long list of failed prospects.

X-factor: Smith could be the man who led the majors in saves, or the one whose ERA after the All-Star Game was 8.53. Either way, he and Williams should keep fans off the freeway until home games end.

Key statistic: The Angels have had five seasons in their 34-year history in which a pitcher -- any pitcher -- saved 25 games. Smith has done it 12 years in a row.

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