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BASEBALL 2003 | In Predicted Order of Finish By Ben
Bolch

American League West

March 30, 2003|Ben Bolch

1. OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Who's new: DH Erubiel Durazo, P Jeremy Fikac, Keith Foulke, John Halama and Mike Neu, C Mark Johnson, OF Chris Singleton.

Who's gone: 2B Ray Durham, P Billy Koch, Cory Lidle and Jeff Tam, OF David Justice, 3B Olmedo Saenz, OF/INF John Mabry, C Greg Myers.

Strengths: The A's have three of the best starting pitchers in the business -- Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder -- and an offense that should be improved with the addition of Durazo and a healthy Jermaine Dye, finally 100% recovered from a broken leg that limited his playing time last season.

Weaknesses: The back end of the starting rotation is a concern, with Ted Lilly and Halama having combined for 11 victories last season. Also, the current bullpen lineup is coming off a season in which it registered a combined 14 major league saves.

Outlook: The A's expect to make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year and would like nothing more than to topple the defending World Series champion Angels in the process. There is enough talent for a third consecutive 100-win season. One worry is whether Miguel Tejada will have incentive to replicate his MVP season numbers now that the team has told him it cannot afford him after this year.

At Edison Field: April 11-13, July 25-28, Sept. 15-17.

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2. ANGELS

Who's new: OF Eric Owens.

Who's gone: OF Alex Ochoa, Orlando Palmeiro, P Dennis Cook, Al Levine and Lou Pote.

Strengths: The Angels are eager to see what Francisco Rodriguez, a September callup who tied a record with five postseason wins, can accomplish over an entire season. Rodriguez and closer Troy Percival provide the bullpen with a devastating one-two punch. Two youthful starting pitchers, World Series Game 7 winner John Lackey and promising right-hander Mickey Callaway, also are reasons to be excited.

Weaknesses: The starting rotation may not round into shape for at least a month while Aaron Sele continues to recover from off-season shoulder surgery. Tim Salmon, 34, is not as swift in right field as he once was and may spend a chunk of the season at designated hitter because of a shaky left knee.

Outlook: The Angels proved last year that a division title isn't a prerequisite for a World Series championship. Oakland again could edge the Angels in the division, but the teams appear almost even heading. The Angels' team-oriented style of play could be the key to negating any talent advantage Oakland has. Health also may dictate whether the Angels can qualify for consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history.

At Dodger Stadium: June 20-22.

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PROJECTED LINEUP

2B Mark Ellis

1B Scott Hatteberg

SS Miguel Tejada

3B Eric Chavez

RF Jermaine Dye

DH Erubiel Durazo

LF Terrence Long

C R. Hernandez

CF Chris Singleton

STARTING PITCHERS

Tim Hudson

Barry Zito

Mark Mulder

Ted Lilly

John Halama

BULLPEN

Keith Foulke

Ricardo Rincon

Chad Bradford

Jim Mecir

Mike Neu

Jeremy Fikac

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3. SEATTLE MARINERS

Who's new: 1B/DH Greg Colbrunn, OF/INF John Mabry and Randy Winn, P Giovanni Carrara.

Who's gone: P Paul Abbott, James Baldwin, John Halama and Doug Creek, OF Charles Gipson and Ruben Sierra, SS Desi Relaford, 1B Jose Offerman.

Strengths: The everyday lineup includes three players who won a Gold Glove last season (Olerud, Boone and Suzuki). There is depth in the starting rotation and bullpen.

Weaknesses: There's a less-than-adequate power supply, and heart-of-the-order hitters John Olerud and Edgar Martinez are sluggish on the basepath.

Outlook: The Mariners hope they can revert to their form of 2001, when they won 116 games and Ichiro Suzuki became an international sensation. Injuries and a drop-off in offensive production resulted in last year's third-place finish. Jeff Cirillo and Mike Cameron, despite his four home run outburst against the Chicago White Sox, had disappointing years, and it took Bret Boone until midseason to get going. Starting pitchers Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer and Joel Pineiro, a combined 43-25 in 2002, will need to top that mark for the Mariners to get back into the playoffs.

At Edison Field: April 18-20, June 24-26, Sept. 22-24.

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PROJECTED LINEUP

RF Ichiro Suzuki

LF Randy Winn

DH Edgar Martinez

1B John Olerud

2B Bret Boone

CF Mike Cameron

3B Jeff Cirillo

C Dan Wilson

SS Carlos Guillen

STARTING PITCHERS

Freddy Garcia

Jamie Moyer

Joel Pineiro

Ryan Franklin

Gil Meche

BULLPEN

Kazuhiro Sasaki

Arthur Rhodes

Jeff Nelson

Shigetoshi Hasegawa

Ken Cloude

Giovanni Carrara

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4. TEXAS RANGERS

Who's new: C Einar Diaz, P Ryan Drese, Aaron Fultz, John Thomson, Ugueth Urbina, Ismael Valdes and Esteban Yan, OF Doug Glanville.

Who's gone: P Hideki Irabu, John Rocker and Kenny Rogers, OF Frank Catalanotto and Todd Hollandsworth, C Ivan Rodriguez.

Strengths: The Rangers feature perhaps the league's most fearsome batting order, which last season cranked out 5.2 runs a game and a league-high 230 home runs. Rookie Mark Teixeira should add to the onslaught.

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