Al East

April 04, 1999

Clubs listed in predicted order of finish

Yankees

That was then: New York lost four of its first five games, then saved Joe Torre's job by becoming the first team this century to play .700 ball the first four months of a season. Its 125 overall wins were a record.

This is now: The $88 million Yankees have a great chance to become only the sixth team to win three World Series in four years. They haven't lost any key players and get a Rocket boost from two-time defending Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, who hasn't lost since May.

Upside: Forget complacency; Clemens wants his first ring as much as ex-Yankees prospect John Elway wanted his first NFL title. Chuck Knoblauch and Chili Davis will produce more. Rapprochement with Yogi Berra -- as if he's ever used the word rapprochement.

Downside: Andy Pettitte's elbow is sore. Merging with the New Jersey Nets may hurt the team's aura.

Inside pitch: The biggest plunge for a defending AL champion was the Tigers' 19 1/2 games from 1984 to 1985. If the Yankees fall by that much, they would still win 94 games, which would have been the league's best record last year.

Outside chance: This team might win all its games. Then, maybe, in a metropolitan area of 18 million, it might draw 3 million fans.

Coming distractions: Torre, the team's ballast, is out up to three months after surgery for prostate cancer. Already owner George Steinbrenner has called Hideki Irabu a "fat toad." Darryl Strawberry has complained that he "doesn't know who is running what."

Now playing: "Damn Yankees," "Joe vs. the Volcano"

Blue Jays

That was then: Toronto fell out of the race early, dumped veterans, then challenged for the wild card with an AL-best 34-18 finish. The Jays were the only winning team with a payroll under $47 million.

This is now: Tim Johnson was fired for falsely portraying himself as a Vietnam veteran, making Jim Fregosi the first manager hired during spring training since 1954. He inherits an 88-game-winner that recently traded Roger Clemens called "noncompetitive."

Upside: Fregosi calls the rotation "by far the best I've ever managed." New assistant GM Dave Stewart brings workhorse Joey Hamilton from the Padres. Homer Bush (.380 in limited duty with the Yankees) is a big upgrade at second base.

Downside: Paul Quantrill, second in the AL in appearances, is lost indefinitely to an injury suffered while snowmobiling. The team struck out an AL-high 1,132 times.

Inside pitch: The strong finish could be the start of something big. The 1997 Yankees (who finished 30-20), 1995 Indians (36-14) and 1993 White Sox (32-18) all made the playoffs the following year.

Outside chance: Fregosi, the first manager ever hired by a team he lost to in the World Series, might consider bringing back Mitch Williams. Just for laughs, of course.

Coming distractions: David Wells, who led the AL in shutouts and winning percentage, is quite a replacement for Clemens. But though his ample body is in Toronto, his heart remains in New York.

Now playing: "Apocalypse Now," "New Avengers in Canada"

Orioles

That was then: The Orioles had aging legs but a lot of bounce. Team Trampoline had winning streaks of six, seven and nine games and losing streaks of six, eight, nine and 10. The 79-83 dismount was a 19-game tumble from 1997.

This is now: A team that bought 79 wins with a record $73 million payroll rang out the old and rang in some more old. Of the 25 projected players on the roster, 22 of them will be at least 30. The Orioles had the majors' best spring ERA but lowest batting average.

Upside: Albert Belle led the majors with 99 extra-base hits. Mike Timlin converted 18 of 19 saves after the break. Catcher Charles Johnson should slow the Camden carousel; the Orioles allowed 182 steals, the AL's most since 1987.

Downside: Will Clark is coming off his best year since 1991 but has yet to homer at Camden and may be a falloff defensively at first base.

Inside pitch: Now that Cal Ripken's 2,632-game streak is over, the major-leaguer with the longest active run is Belle, at 334. And clubhouse attendant Ernie Tyler has worked 3,076 straight at home.

Outside chance: Belle might challenge Mark McGwire's major-league home run record. He hit 31 homers after the All-Star break and has more at Oriole Park than any other visitor.

Coming distractions: Protests of the second Cuba exhibition. Belle's history of conflict. Ray Miller's job security if the team falls flat again. Ripken's role as an everyday but not every-single-day player -- and his option for 2000.

Now playing: "The Year of Living Dangerously," "The Money Pit"

Red Sox

That was then: Boston rallied in its home opener with seven runs in the ninth inning, capped by Mo Vaughn's grand slam. The Mo-mentum carried the Red Sox to the AL's second-best record and the wild card. They lost in the Division Series to the Indians.

This is now: Vaughn left acrimoniously, leaving a leadership void that soft-spoken AL MVP runner-up Nomar Garciaparra, 25, might have to fill.

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