AL East

March 29, 1996|By Buster Olney

Orioles

Where they're coming from: There were great expectations for the Orioles last year, none of which they came close to matching. The team floundered from the start and never really recovered, despite trades for right-hander Scott Erickson and slugger Bobby Bonilla. After the O's finished 71-73, in third place in the East, general manager Roland Hemond resigned and assistant general manager Frank Robinson and manager Phil Regan were fired.

Where they're going: They should be improved, under GM Pat Gillick and manager Davey Johnson. The Orioles went through a major make-over during the off-season.

Key newcomers: Key newcomers: (Light) All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar; pitchers David Wells, Kent Mercker, Roger McDowell and Randy Myers; third baseman B. J. Surhoff; and outfielders Mike Devereaux and Tony Tarasco.

What must go right: The Orioles don't have much depth in their rotation or bullpen, so they must succeed with what they have. Particularly critical are the performances of starters Kent Mercker and Jimmy Haynes and closer Randy Myers. Brady Anderson must set the table for Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro, and catcher Chris Hoiles must throw well enough to keep his job.

What could go wrong: The rotation could crumble. The outfield defense, shaky during spring training, could hurt the club. And there is always the possibility of injuries, something for which the Orioles are ill-prepared.

X-factor: Armando Benitez, who is coming off a terrific spring training. If he pitches well, the bullpen goes from being a question mark to a potential strength.

Key stat: Last year, Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar committed a total of only 11 errors.

Boston Red Sox

Where they're coming from: They shocked most of the baseball world by winning the East last year, and winning easily, finishing 86-58. They got an MVP season from first baseman Mo Vaughn and MVP-type performances from shortstop John Valentin and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

Where they're going: That will depend on the starting rotation. There are two knowns about the Red Sox this year: They are going to score a lot of runs, with a lineup that might be suited better for a softball league, and they will make a lot of errors. If Aaron Sele's arm is healthy and Wakefield can find his knuckleball, this will be a very good team. If not, they're in trouble.

Key newcomers: Key newcomers: (Light) Wil Cordero takes over at second base for Luis Alicea, and Kevin Mitchell will be in right field, replacing Troy O'Leary.

What must go right: The bullpen did well last year, with pitchers such as Joe Hudson and Mike Maddux coming out of nowhere to play key roles. The Red Sox need repeat performances from all of them.

What could go wrong: The Red Sox led the league in errors last year, but rarely did the defense hurt them; many of the mistakes came without runners on base, or when the score was one-sided. But their defense probably will be even worse than it was in '95, and it could cost them games.

X-factor: Wakefield. When he's right and his knuckleball isn't spinning, he's one of the top pitchers in the game. When his knuckleball is bad, he does not help the Red Sox in any way. All or nothing, and at the end of last season, Wakefield was nothing.

Key stat: In the first three months of the season, Wakefield gave up just eight homers. In August, he gave up 10.

New York Yankees

Where they're coming from: They were the wild-card entry, finishing at 79-65. They played well the last couple of weeks and led the Mariners 2-0 in the first round of the playoffs before losing in five games.

Where they're going: Back into oblivion, now that owner George Steinbrenner has become fully involved. They made a handful of moves that made little sense during the off-season, and although the Yankees have collected some big names, the pieces don't fit.

Key newcomers: Among those confusing acquisitions -- catcher Joe Girardi, first baseman Tino Martinez (signed to a five-year contract) and left fielder Tim Raines. They also signed pitchers Kenny Rogers and Dwight Gooden.

What must go right: The pitching staff, the strength of this team, must come together. The Yankees have the best right-handed relief in the game, but that must compensate for the lack of left-handed relief. At least two starters from a group of four who are question marks (Rogers, Gooden, Jimmy Key and Melido Perez) must have good years.

What could go wrong: The offense may sputter. Ruben Sierra must drive in 90-110 runs, because the Yankees don't have a lot of big boppers. Martinez must have a big year, and Bernie Williams must contribute.

X-factor: (Light) Two Yankees will be under major media scrutiny -- Derek Jeter, the talented rookie shortstop, and Rogers, who signed a $20 million deal. A poor start from Rogers and he'll immediately be the subject of tabloid headlines, and in Texas, he was regarded as unusually sensitive.

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