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BASEBALL '98

American League

March 29, 1998|MIKE DIGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WEST (In order of predicted finsih)

SEATTLE MARINERS

WHO'S NEW: 1B--David Segui. OF--Glenallen Hill. P--Bill Swift, Tony Fossas, Jim Bullinger.

WHO'S GONE: 1B--Paul Sorrento. P--Norm Charlton. INF--Mike Blowers. OF--Roberto Kelly.

STRENGTHS: How many teams have a No. 9 hitter who had 20 home runs last year? The Mariners, with Russ Davis, are one such team. There's very little speed, but with Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Segui and Jay Buhner, Manager Lou Piniella won't need to flash many stolen-base signs.

WEAKNESSES: Piniella is confident his bullpen will be better, but Heathcliff Slocumb has been so shaky this spring that Bobby Ayala might open as the team's closer. Randy Johnson heads a strong rotation, but one major injury to a starter could be devastating to a staff with little depth.

PROJECTED LINEUP: 2B--Joey Cora, SS--Rodriguez, CF--Griffey, DH--Martinez, 1B--Segui, RF--Buhner, LF--Hill, C--Dan Wilson, 3B--Davis. SP--Johnson, Jamie Moyer, Jeff Fassero, Ken Cloude, Swift. RP--Slocumb, Ayala, Mike Timlin, Paul Spoljaric, Fossas.

OUTLOOK: Johnson is still unhappy the Mariners have not traded him or signed him to a contract extension, and that probably will be a distraction all season. But Seattle still has one of baseball's most lethal offenses.

ANAHEIM ANGELS

WHO'S NEW: DH--Cecil Fielder. P--Jack McDowell. 2B--Norberto Martin. C/INF--Phil Nevin. C--Matt Walbeck.

WHO'S GONE: 2B--Tony Phillips. P--Mark Langston, Dennis Springer. INF--Luis Alicea, Jack Howell. OF--Rickey Henderson. C--Chad Kreuter.

STRENGTHS: A rotation of Chuck Finley, Ken Hill, McDowell, Allen Watson and Jason Dickson is the deepest and most talented since Langston, Finley, Jim Abbott and Kirk McCaskill pitched for the Angels in 1991. Closer Troy Percival should return to his dominating 1996 form, and the Angels have the potential to score many runs.

WEAKNESSES: The loss of injured catcher Todd Greene, a 25-homer threat, and second baseman Randy Velarde will take a chunk out of the offense. What the Angels lack in speed they again will have to make up for with aggressive, smart baserunning and clutch hitting.

PROJECTED LINEUP: 1B--Darin Erstad, CF--Jim Edmonds, 3B--Dave Hollins, RF--Tim Salmon, DH--Fielder, LF--Garret Anderson, C--Walbeck/Nevin, 2B--Martin, SS--Gary DiSarcina. SP--Finley, Hill, McDowell, Watson, Dickson. RP--Percival, Mike James, Mike Holtz, Rich DeLucia, Shigetoshi Hasegawa.

OUTLOOK: Velarde, sidelined all of 1997 because of elbow reconstruction surgery, might return in April, but Greene, recovering from shoulder surgery, might be out a month or two. Without Greene, the Angel offense might be a notch below Seattle's.

TEXAS RANGERS

WHO'S NEW: SS--Kevin Elster. P--Aaron Sele. INF--Luis Alicea. OF--Roberto Kelly.

WHO'S GONE: SS--Benji Gil. C--Jim Leyritz. INF--Bill Ripken. OF--Damon Buford.

STRENGTHS: Texas' rotation is deep and capable, though not intimidating. Having a sound Juan Gonzalez for a whole season will boost the offense, and the bench was upgraded with the addition of Alicea and Kelly.

WEAKNESSES: Tom Goodwin has more stolen bases in the last three years than any other player, but his .314 on-base percentage last season was awful for a leadoff hitter. Will Clark has been on the disabled list five times in the last two seasons, and Mark McLemore had off-season surgery on both knees.

PROJECTED LINEUP: CF--Goodwin, 2B--McLemore, LF--Rusty Greer, RF--Gonzalez, 1B--Clark, C--Ivan Rodriguez, DH--Lee Stevens, SS--Elster, 3B--Fernando Tatis. SP--John Burkett, Darren Oliver, Sele, Rick Helling, Bobby Witt/Roger Pavlik. RP--John Wetteland, Danny Patterson, Xavier Hernandez.

OUTLOOK: This team still has the talent to make it a three-way race in the West, but it cannot afford major injuries.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

WHO'S NEW: P--Tom Candiotti, Kenny Rogers, Mike Fetters. OF--Rickey Henderson. 3B--Mike Blowers. SS--Kurt Abbott.

WHO'S GONE: OF--Jose Canseco. INF--Scott Brosius. C--Brent Mayne.

STRENGTHS: The A's don't have much home run power, but they have a lot of contact and line-drive hitters and should have decent extra-base power. The bullpen has improved to a point where teams actually were inquiring about trades for A's relievers this spring.

WEAKNESSES: Oakland is young and, aside from Henderson, who is returning for his fourth stint with the A's, there is little speed. The rotation drops off considerably after Candiotti and Rogers, and those two aren't that great, either. The defense stinks.

PROJECTED LINEUP: LF--Henderson, CF--Jason McDonald, RF--Ben Grieve, DH--Matt Stairs, 1B--Jason Giambi, 3B--Blowers, 2B--Scott Spiezio, C--A.J. Hinch, SS--Abbott. SP--Candiotti, Rogers, Jimmy Haynes, Brad Rigby, Mike Oquist/Ariel Prieto. RP--Fetters, Bill Taylor, T.J. Mathews, Mike Mohler, Buddy Groom.

OUTLOOK: Grieve, a rookie-of-the-year candidate, has a sweet left-handed stroke that will give A's fans reason to be optimistic about the future, but the present looks bleak. A 70-win season would be a major achievement.

CENTRAL

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