American League East

April 02, 2004|By ROCH KUBATKO

Orioles

Manager: Lee Mazzilli

2003 finish: 71-91 (fourth)

On deck: Tired of six straight losing seasons, all of them ending in fourth place, the Orioles spent $121.5 million on shortstop Miguel Tejada, catcher Javy Lopez, pitcher Sidney Ponson and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. The lineup is much better, but the same can't be said of a rotation filled with unproven starters. And what about a dugout with an unproven manager?

Man on a mission: Palmeiro didn't like the Rangers making him a designated hitter last season and implying he couldn't play first base regularly. He's 220 hits shy of 3,000 and out to prove that the end isn't in sight.

How it shakes out: The jury is out on Mazzilli, but change usually is good. Ponson never has been a No. 1 starter, and nobody can be sure that the young arms behind him will be consistent enough to win games and prevent the bullpen from burning out. How the starters fare will go a long way toward determining whether the Orioles can pass Toronto.

April

4-8 vs. Red Sox

9-11 at Devil Rays

13-15 at Red Sox

16-18 at Blue Jays

20-22 vs. Devil Rays

23-25 vs. Blue Jays

26-29 vs. Mariners

30 at Indians

May

1-2 at Indians

3-5 vs. White Sox

7-9 vs. Indians

11-13 at White Sox

14-16 vs. Angels

18-20 at Mariners

21-23 at Angels

25-27 vs. Yankees

28-30 at Tigers

June

1-3 at Yankees

4-6 vs. Devil Rays

8-10 vs. D'backs

11-13 vs. Giants

15-17 at Dodgers

18-20 at Rockies

22-24 vs. Yankees

25-27 vs. Braves

28-30 at Royals

July

1 at Royals

2-4 at Phillies

5-7 vs. Devil Rays

9-11 vs. Royals

15-18 at Devil Rays

19-20 at Royals

21-22 at Red Sox

23-25 vs. Twins

26-28 vs. Red Sox

29-31 at Yankees

August

1 at Yankees

3-4 vs. Mariners

6-9 vs. Rangers

10-12 at Angels

13-15 at Blue Jays

16-18 vs. Athletics

20-22 vs. Blue Jays

23-26 at Athletics

27-29 at Rangers

31 at Devil Rays

Sept./Oct.

1-2 at Devil Rays

3-5 at Yankees

6-8 vs. Twins

10-12 vs. Yankees

13-16 at Blue Jays

17-19 at Twins

20-23 at Red Sox

24-26 vs. Tigers

27-30 vs. Blue Jays

1-3 vs. Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Manager: Terry Francona

2003 finish: 95-67 (second, wild card)

On deck: Boston will score runs, and it shouldn't give up many in the ninth with closer Keith Foulke on board. It also has a tremendous 1-2-3 punch in the rotation with Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Derek Lowe. But it's never a smooth ride for the Red Sox, whose clubhouse could unravel at any moment.

Man on a mission: Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra probably wonders what he's still doing in Boston after the club made multiple attempts to acquire Alex Rodriguez. He would like nothing more than to have a monster season before becoming eligible for free agency and make Red Sox Nation forget he batted .170 in September and had a poor postseason.

How it shakes out: On paper, this team is good enough to win it all. But Francona might not have the same touch as Grady Little, who became the AL Championship Series scapegoat after holding the team together through the usual turmoil.

New York Yankees

Manager: Joe Torre

2003 finish: 101-61 (first, AL champion)

On deck: It's time to find out whether a team can lose starting pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, and still make it back to the World Series. Who knows whether Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez are suitable replacements, or if outfielder Gary Sheffield can stay in the lineup with his thumb injury? Also keep an eye on Alex Rodriguez's move to third base, and the pressure that it puts on shortstop and team leader Derek Jeter.

Man on a mission: Jason Giambi's power numbers had better not shrink as much as his body, or the steroid whispers might get louder. Though he hit 41 homers last year, his .250 batting average gives the appearance that he had a down season.

How it shakes out: This could be Torre's last season, and owner George Steinbrenner won't make it comfortable for him. Look for the Yankees to hold off the Red Sox unless they're overrun with injuries.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Manager: Lou Piniella

2003 finish: 63-99 (fifth)

On deck: The Devil Rays were one of the more active teams this winter, but that doesn't necessarily translate to victories. Does anyone feel good about this rotation? Or having Danys Baez as the closer after he led the league in blown saves and relief losses with the Indians? Tino Martinez should provide leadership in his declining years.

Man on a mission: Piniella has compared left fielder Carl Crawford to a young Barry Bonds, with possibly more range. Crawford's only 22, and he led the league in steals last season. He could win a batting title one day.

How it shakes out: Athletics pitcher Tim Hudson noted last year that the Devil Rays played harder "than any last-place team I've ever seen." At least that's something. The outfield defense should be spectacular with Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and new right fielder Jose Cruz. Aubrey Huff might be the best-kept secret in baseball. And this still is a last-place team.

Toronto Blue Jays

Manager: Carlos Tosca

2003 finish: 86-76 (third)

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