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In Predicted Order of Finish By Ben Bolch

American League Central

March 30, 2003|Ben Bolch

1. CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Who's new: P Bartolo Colon, Tom Gordon, Billy Koch and Rick White, C Sandy Alomar, OF Armando Rios and Brian Daubach.

Who's gone: P Rocky Biddle, Keith Foulke, Antonio Osuna, Jim Parque and Todd Ritchie, C Mark Johnson, 1B Jeff Liefer, SS Royce Clayton.

Strengths: The White Sox significantly upgraded their starting rotation and bullpen. Colon essentially gives the team two aces. Koch give the team a front-line closer to go with Gordon and returner Damaso Marte.

Weaknesses: With the exception of the switch-hitting D'Angelo Jimenez and Jose Valentin, the White Sox lineup has no left-handed hitters. The defense is suspect, and the bottom of the rotation is unproven.

Outlook: The White Sox should make a run at dethroning Minnesota, the defending Central Division champions. Koch gives the bullpen instant credibility coming off a season in which he won 11 games and had 44 saves for Oakland. Frank Thomas' new contract, which pays him $5 million this year and gives him the option of testing the free-agent market after the season, should keep him happy and productive. Thomas is finally sound after a triceps injury kept him out most of the 2001 season and limited his production in 2002.

At Edison Field: Aug. 11-14.

At Dodger Stadium: June 6-8.

*

PROJECTED LINEUP

2B D'Angelo Jimenez

SS Jose Valentin

DH Frank Thomas

RF Magglio Ordonez

1B Paul Konerko

LF Carlos Lee

3B Joe Crede

CF Aaron Rowand

C Sandy Alomar Jr.

STARTING PITCHERS

Mark Buehrle

Bartolo Colon

Jon Garland

Esteban Loaiza

Josh Stewart

BULLPEN

Billy Koch

Gary Glover

Tom Gordon

Damaso Marte

Rick White

*

2. MINNESOTA TWINS

Who's new: P Mike Fetters and Kenny Rogers, SS Chris Gomez.

Who's gone: P Mike Jackson and Bob Wells, DH David Ortiz.

Strengths: The Twins are expected to remain strong on defense after committing the fewest errors (74) and posting the top fielding percentage (.987) in baseball last season. The team boasts five starting pitchers who have been All-Stars at some point in their careers, though Eric Milton probably will be sidelined for at least the first half of the season while recovering from surgery on his left knee.

Weaknesses: The Twins are young, with no player besides Brad Radke in the opening-day lineup over 30 years old. The team may not have solved its inability to hit left-handed pitching, a real sore spot last season.

Outlook: With the recent acquisition of left-hander Rogers, the Twins have to like their chances to repeat as Central champions. Good things are also expected from All-Star closer Eddie Guardado, who registered 45 saves last season as the leader of a bullpen that ranked fourth in the league. One issue the team tried to address in spring is its past troubles on the basepaths. The Twins had the worst stolen base percentage in the majors last year, often running themselves out of potentially big innings.

At Edison Field: July 11-13, Aug. 26-28.

*

PROJECTED LINEUP

LF Jacque Jones

SS Cristian Guzman

CF Torii Hunter

3B Corey Koskie

DH Matthew LeCroy

1B Doug Mientkiewicz

RF Michael Cuddyer

C A.J. Pierzynski

2B Luis Rivas

STARTING PITCHERS

Brad Radke

Joe Mays

Kyle Lohse

Rick Reed

Kenny Rogers

BULLPEN

Eddie Guardado

LaTroy Hawkins

J.C. Romero

Johan Santana

Tony Fiore

*

3. CLEVELAND INDIANS

Who's new: P Brian Anderson, Jason Bere and Aaron Myette, 1B Travis Hafner, OF Shane Spencer.

Who's gone: P Ryan Drese, Charles Nagy and Jaret Wright, C Einar Diaz, 3B Travis Fryman, 1B Jim Thome and Lee Stevens.

Strengths: Starting pitchers Ricardo Rodriguez and Jason Davis provide the Indians with two young, promising arms to backup No. 1 starter C.C. Sabathia. Omar Vizquel is one of the best shortstops in the game -- can the Indians resist the temptation to trade him for prospects?

Weaknesses: The Indians are leery of a power outage after losing Thome, who last season hit a club-record 52 home runs, in a bidding war with the suddenly deep-pocketed Philadelphia Phillies. Anderson and Bere are coming off forgettable years with National League teams.

Outlook: The Indians are bracing for a return to gloomier times after winning six Central Division titles and two American League pennants from 1995-2001. Thome was only the latest in a string of high-profile departures that have decimated the team's star wattage over the last few seasons. Two prospects, second baseman Brandon Phillips and Hafner, will need to develop quickly for the Indians to finish above third in their division.

At Edison Field: May 6-8.

*

PROJECTED LINEUP

CF Milton Bradley

SS Omar Vizquel

LF Matt Lawton

DH Ellis Burks

RF Karim Garcia

1B Travis Hafner

3B Casey Blake

C Josh Bard

2B Brandon Philllips

STARTING PITCHERS

C.C. Sabathia

Ricardo Rodriguez

Brian Anderson

Jason Davis

Jason Bere

BULLPEN

Danys Baez

Carl Sadler

David Riske

Jose Santiago

Jake Westbrook

*

4. KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Who's new: P Albie Lopez, 2B Desi Relaford, C Mike DiFelice, OF Benny Agbayani.

Who's gone: 2B Luis Alicea, P Paul Byrd, Chad Durbin, Roberto Hernandez and Jeff Suppan, C A.J. Hinch, OF Chuck Knoblauch and Mark Quinn, SS Neifi Perez.

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