Some March predictions wilt while others thrive

On Baseball

July 07, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

The All-Star break is a time to look back, take stock in first-half performance and look ahead. It's a time to confess, to compare preseason predictions with what has actually taken place on the field.

What was written here in March: The Orioles would win the American League East, barely fighting off Boston.

Reality: The Orioles still have a shot. The Red Sox are to the AL East race what the Libertarian Party is to the presidential elections.

The excuse: Heck, Boston general manager Dan Duquette misjudged the team, too.

What was written here in March: The Mets' Paul Wilson would be National League Rookie of the Year.

Reality: Two words -- no chance.

The excuse: Never again will I rely on hype published in the New York Post.

What was written here in March: The NL Central would line up this way -- Astros, Cardinals, Reds, Cubs and Pirates.

Reality: Right on the money -- Astros, Cardinals, Reds, Cubs and Pirates.

The explanation: Pure luck.

What was written here in March: The Yankees' Derek Jeter would be AL Rookie of the Year.

Reality: He's going to win it.

The explanation: Except for Chicago's James Baldwin, there are no other viable candidates.

What was written here in March: Jose Canseco will be the best designated hitter in the division, Bobby Bonilla the second-best.

Reality: Bonilla isn't a designated hitter. Period. Just ask him.

The excuse: We'll let Orioles manager Davey Johnson and Bonilla handle that one.

What was written here in March: The Detroit Tigers would have the worst starting pitching and worst bullpen in the AL East.

Reality: The Tigers have the worst starting pitching and bullpen in history.

The excuse: It's pretty darned hard to predict record-breaking performances.

What was written here in March: Greg Maddux would win the NL Cy Young Award, and Tom Glavine would finish second.

Reality: John Smoltz is the second coming of Denny McLain, the last 30-game winner.

The excuse: You can't pick every Braves pitcher.

What was written here in March: It will be hard for Manny Alexander to get playing time.

Reality: Check the end of the Orioles' bench. He never plays.

The explanation: Really went out on a limb there, eh? Alexander plays behind a guy who hasn't missed a game in more than 14 years.

What was written here in March: The predicted order of finish in the AL Central -- Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota, Kansas City, Milwaukee.

Reality: Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Kansas City.

The excuse: Hey, who would ever guess an NL team, the Royals, would be allowed into the AL?

What was written here in March: Mike Mussina would win the AL Cy Young Award, ahead of Randy Johnson and Jack McDowell.

Reality: Mussina is having a solid year, with 11 wins, but he's behind front-runners Charles Nagy and Roberto Hernandez.

The excuse: Mussina would win the Cy Young Award -- if you had to pick among Mussina, Johnson and McDowell.

What was written here in March: The Braves, Dodgers and Mariners would win their respective divisions.

Reality: The Braves and Dodgers are in first, Seattle is in second place.

The excuse: Like anyone in Baltimore thought Johnny Oates would manage a division winner.

Big test for Benitez

Tomorrow is an extremely important day for the Orioles: Armando Benitez, he of the 95-mph fastball, will have a magnetic resonance imaging exam on his right elbow in Birmingham, Ala. If the tests indicate that the condition of his elbow -- his injury has been diagnosed as a small tear in a ligament -- hasn't improved, then Benitez faces reconstructive surgery and will be out for a year. Even after he comes back, there's no guarantee he'll be throwing 95 mph anymore. Benitez would become the second Orioles pitching prospect to have reconstructive surgery, the other being Billy Percibal. A third prospect, Brian Sackinsky, may eventually need the procedure as well.

O's building from bottom

It's no secret the Orioles lack top-flight, polished major-league prospects in Triple-A and Double-A, the kind of players who anchor an organization. But slowly, the Orioles are building a base of talent, mostly pitchers, in Single-A and in rookie leagues.

Start with Single-A Frederick, a team that staff members believe possesses five or six legitimate pitching prospects: Chris Fussell, Julio Moreno, Sidney Ponson, Alvie Shepherd (the No. 1 pick in 1995) and Nerio Rodriguez (a converted catcher); and a superior outfield prospect in Wady Almonte. (The Keys also had Eugene Kingsale, a speedster who is out for the year after separating his nonthrowing shoulder.)

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