AL East

Baseball 2000

Teams listed in predicted order of finish

April 02, 2000

Yankees

That was then: The Yankees won 16 fewer games than in 1998 but went 11-1 in the postseason, eliminating the Rangers and Red Sox before beating the Braves to become the first team to sweep consecutive World Series since Joe DiMaggio's teams of 1938 and 1939.

This is now: Can history threepeat itself? These Yankees can become just the fourth team to win three consecutive world championships, and the first since the 1972-1974 Athletics.

Upside: Clubhouse leader Derek Jeter has 795 hits his first three seasons, more than Pete Rose or Ty Cobb. Baseball's deepest bullpen gives up less than one homer every 10 innings. Roberto Kelly, a .343 hitter against left-handers since 1995, should feast on opponents' plans to keep right-handed pitchers out of Yankee Stadium.

Downside: Age. Roger Clemens, 37, pitched just one complete game after accumulating 20 the previous four years. David Cone, 37, had a 4.95 ERA when used on four days' rest. Paul O'Neill, 37, and Tino Martinez, 32, have backslid the past two seasons.

Don't miss : the six games against the Indians in May. The teams won't meet again until October.

Don't be surprised : if closer Mariano Rivera goes 12 months without allowing a run. Since July, he has gone 55 straight scoreless innings, plus 12 1/3 in the postseason.

Don't expect : this team to fold. Until 1996, only seven teams had come from three or more runs behind in the seventh inning to win a World Series game; the Yankees have done it four times in their past 11 Series games.

Web site unseen: www.damn- yankees.com

Blue Jays

That was then: A streaky team, Toronto started 12-4, lost 31 of 46, recovered to take the wild-card lead in early August, collapsed again, then finished 17-8 in September-October. The Jays finished third, 10 games out of the wild card.

This is now: During the winter, Toronto dealt star outfielder Shawn Green and starter Pat Hentgen and released .328 hitter Tony Fernandez. Now, according to hefty lefty David Wells, the Blue Jays don't "have much hope" and have to "pray for a miracle."

Upside: Ex-Dodger Raul Mondesi, who has had two 30-homer, 30-steal seasons, could benefit from the reduced pressure and closer fences to reach 40-40. Billy Koch, who didn't debut until May 5, set an AL record with 31 rookie saves and reached 102 on the radar gun. Carlos Delgado, who has 50-homer potential, was third in the league in RBIs despite missing 10 games to injury.

Downside: Wells, 36, led the league in hits allowed and Kelvim Escobar in doubles allowed. Chris Carpenter is coming off elbow surgery.

Don't miss : the return of Cito Gaston, who managed this franchise to two World Series titles. He's one of five new coaches brought in this year -- and a logical replacement for Jim Fregosi if the Jays fail to fly.

Don't be surprised : if Jose Cruz fulfills his great promise. He hit .355 in September and was MVP of the Caribbean World Series.

Don't expect : this team to be mature enough to make the playoffs. The Jays were 63-37 against losing teams but 21-41 against teams they'll have to beat to be considered one of the elite.

Web site unseen: www.borderlinecontender.com

Red Sox

That was then: Boston earned a wild card, finishing four games back at 94-68, its best record since 1986. The Red Sox beat the world-champion Yankees eight of 11 times in the regular season but couldn't do it in the Championship Series after rallying past Cleveland in the Division Series.

This is now: The Sox, who have made the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1915-1916, go for three in a row.

Upside: Sure, Pedro Martinez gave up 18 runs in his last 11 2/3 exhibition innings, but he's still the guy who won the AL pitching Triple Crown with 23 wins, a 2.07 ERA (the league average was 5.03) and 313 strikeouts. Carl Everett had 108 RBIs, 49 more than the team's 1999 center fielders. Nomar Garciaparra hit an AL-best .357, including a major-league-best .389 against playoff clubs.

Downside: With Tom Gordon out for the year, Derek Lowe will close; Lowe's 3.17 ground-ball/fly-ball ratio is the majors' best, but his AL-high 109 middle-relief innings will be missed. Bret Saberhagen is out at least until mid-May.

Don't miss : Sept. 29-31 at Tampa Bay. Martinez goes for Win No. 30, perhaps with the AL East title on the line.

Don't be surprised : if Ramon Martinez, a former 20-game winner who returned from rotator cuff surgery to post a strong September, gives Boston's rotation the best 1-2 punch in baseball.

Don't expect : pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, who worked wonders with Jeff Fassero in Montreal, to get much from a starter whose 7.37 ERA last season was the worst for a major-leaguer with 150 innings since 1937.

Web site unseen: www.mvpedro.com

Orioles

That was then: Team Turmoil was 8 1/2 games out of first place on April 25 and never recovered. Not even a 13-game winning streak could salvage a season marred by a mis-allocated $84 million in payroll, clubhouse dissension and dugout- front office bickering.

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