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In Predicted Order of Finish By Ben Bolch

American League East

March 30, 2003|Ben Bolch

1. NEW YORK YANKEES

Who's new: P Juan Acevedo, Jose Contreras, Chris Hammond and Antonio Osuna, OF Hideki Matsui and Bubba Trammell, INF Todd Zeile.

Who's gone: 3B Ron Coomer, P Ramiro Mendoza, Orlando Hernandez and Mike Stanton, OF Shane Spencer, John Vander Wal and Rondell White.

Strengths: As usual, Yankee pitching should be dominant if everyone stays healthy and committed. Mariano Rivera had three stints on the disabled list last year, and will start on the DL again this season because of a groin injury. The Yankee hallmarks of power and experience remain constants.

Weaknesses: The Yankees led the AL last season in run production (5.57 runs a game) -- and strikeouts (1,171). With Roger Clemens already 40 and David Wells set to turn 40 in May, the Yankees have to wonder about the durability of their starting rotation.

Outlook: Still the front-runner in the East if everyone has comparable years and Japanese sensation Matsui and Cuban defector Contreras contribute as expected. The Yankees can only hope that Robin Ventura and Jorge Posada, who disappeared in the second half last season, can rebound. The Yankees must improve their fielding after committing 127 errors last year, third most in the league.

At Edison Field: April 22-24, July 29-31.

*

PROJECTED LINEUP

2B Alfonso Soriano

SS Derek Jeter

1B Jason Giambi

CF Bernie Williams

LF Hideki Matsui

C Jorge Posada

RF Raul Mondesi

3B Robin Ventura

DH Nick Johnson

STARTING PITCHERS

Roger Clemens

Andy Pettitte

Mike Mussina

David Wells

Jeff Weaver

BULLPEN

Mariano Rivera

Steve Karsay

Juan Acevedo

Chris Hammond

Antonio Osuna

Jose Contreras

*

2. BOSTON RED SOX

Who's new: P Chad Fox, Ramiro Mendoza and Mike Timlin, DH Jeremy Giambi, 3B Damian Jackson, 2B Bill Mueller and Todd Walker, 1B Kevin Millar and David Ortiz.

Who's gone: P Rolando Arrojo, Rich Garces, Dustin Hermanson and Ugueth Urbina, DH Carlos Baerga, 1B Tony Clark and Brian Daubach, 2B Rey Sanchez, OF Rickey Henderson.

Strengths: The Red Sox are capable of producing a lot of runs while shutting down opponents behind starters Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield, who went a combined 52-17 in 2002.

Weaknesses: The infield defense could be disastrous, especially considering the loss of the sure-handed Sanchez at second base. Nomar Garciaparra led AL shortstops in errors last season, and Shea Hillenbrand tied Robin Ventura for most errors among AL third basemen.

Outlook: The Red Sox could go the way of their closer-by-committee system. With Urbina gone to Texas, Manager Grady Little is going to use a combination of Mendoza, Fox, Alan Embree, Bobby Howry and Timlin as early as the seventh inning of tight games. One key to overtaking the Yankees could be the performance of bottom-of-the-rotation starters John Burkett and Casey Fossum.

At Edison Field: April 25-27.

*

PROJECTED LINEUP

CF Johnny Damon

2B Todd Walker

SS Nomar Garciaparra

LF Manny Ramirez

1B Kevin Millar

DH Jeremy Giambi

3B Shea Hillenbrand

RF Trot Nixon

C Jason Varitek

STARTING PITCHERS

Pedro Martinez

Tim Wakefield

Derek Lowe

John Burkett

Casey Fossum

BULLPEN

Ramiro Mendoza

Alan Embree

Chad Fox

Bob Howry

Mike Timlin

*

3. TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Who's new: INF Mike Bordick, OF Frank Catalanotto, C Greg Myers, P Doug Creek, Cory Lidle, Aquilino Lopez, Tanyon Sturtze and Jeff Tam.

Who's gone: P Chris Carpenter, Felix Heredia, Esteban Loaiza, Steve Parris and Luke Prokopec, OF Jose Cruz Jr., SS Felipe Lopez.

Strengths: The Blue Jays feature a solid offensive lineup including Shannon Stewart, Carlos Delgado, Eric Hinske, Josh Phelps and Vernon Wells. The bullpen, anchored by closer Kelvim Escobar, is much improved over last season with the additions of Creek, Tam and Lopez. Manager Carlos Tosca and his staff have made fundamentals a point of emphasis, a real weakness in the past.

Weaknesses: Starting pitching is thin beyond ace Roy Halladay, though Lidle will provide needed innings and Mark Hendrickson has had a solid spring, finishing with a 1.04 earned-run average. The free-swinging Blue Jays endure more than their share of strikeouts. They'll live with it as long as the homers keep coming.

Outlook: A club on the rise but still chasing both New York and Boston in the East. Having finished third in each of the past five years in the division, they are looking to move up. Second isn't out of the question if the Red Sox fail to live up to expectations.

At Edison Field: May 9-11, August 1-3.

*

PROJECTED LINEUP

LF Shannon Stewart

3B Eric Hinske

CF Vernon Wells

1B Carlos Delgado

DH Josh Phelps

RF Frank Catalanotto

SS Chris Woodward

2B Orlando Hudson

C Ken Huckaby

STARTING PITCHERS

Roy Halladay

Cory Lidle

Mark Hendrickson

Tanyon Sturtze

Justin Miller

BULLPEN

Kelvim Escobar

Cliff Politte

Doug Creek

Trever Miller

Jeff Tam

Aquilino Lopez

*

4. BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Who's new: P Omar Daal, Rick Helling and Kerry Ligtenberg, SS Deivi Cruz, OF B.J. Surhoff.

Who's gone: P Chris Brock, Yorkis Perez and Josh Towers, SS Mike Bordick, INF Luis Lopez, OF Chris Singleton, 1B Chris Richard.

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