2B - The Michigan Daily - SPORTSMonday - Monday, April 8, 1996
1996 Major League Baseball Preview:
The more tings chage, the more they stay the same
Major league baseball presents 1st full slate of games in 2 years, but the results won't be out of the ordinary
By Donald Adamek
Daily Sports Writer
Atlanta is the odds-on World Series
favorite - again. Cleveland should be
their strongest opposition-again. But
unlike the past couple of years, there
should be a full 162-game baseball sea-
son - finally.
This season might see a repeat of the
World Series, but there are other
changes. The strike zone has been ex-
panded, but there are doubts that the
umpires, who are modeling new uni-
forms, will enforce it. Baseball purists,
already saddened that this is the final
season before inter-league play, are
looking ahead to Fox's television cov-
erage with apprehension.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST: This is
baseball's strongest division, with three
potential playoff teams. New York and
Baltimore made key off-season moves,
and the defending champion Red Sox
are still strong. Toronto and Detroit are
in the beginning of rebuilding cam-
paigns and will fightit out forlast place.
George Steinbrenner was a busy
owner overthe winter. After his team's
first playoff appearance in 14 years, he
craved more. One new general man-
ager, one new field manager, several
new position players and even a new
spring training home later, the Yan-
kees' strength will be their starting ro-
tation. David Cone anchors the junior
circuit's strongest pitching staff. Kenny
Rogers was the most important addi-
tion, who along with Jimmy Key,
Dwight Gooden and Andy Pettitte pro-
vides quality pitching five-deep in the
The Orioles raidedthe free-agent mar-
ket in the off-season also. David Wells,
Kent Mercker and Randy Myers were
all added to a pitching staff that was
already strong with Mike Mussina. To
win the division, Baltimore will need
big production from its hitters, includ-
ing free agent pick-up Roberto Alomar
and ironman Cal Ripken Jr.
Boston added little in the winter.
Kevin Mitchell adds more home runs to
an offensive juggernaugt, but the rota-
tion is weak after Roger Clemens. Bos-
ton won last year due to several players
having career years. The same won't
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL: This is
a bit easier to call. The Indians will
dominate again. Kansas City and Chi-
cago might challenge for a wild card,
but they have about as much chance of
winning the division as Minnesota and
Milwaukee, which have no chance.
Cleveland only has one worry: Will
the geriatric Orel Hershiser and Dennis
Martinez be able to stay healthy enough
to keep pitching deep into October?
Even if they don't, the rotation is solid
with Jack McDowell, Charles Nagy and
Julian Tavarez, who is ready to move
out of the bullpen and into stardom.
With the Indians' offense, it almost
doesn't matter who is on the mound.
Albert Bell, Kenny Lofton, Eddie
Murray and crew are even stronger than
last year due to the addition of Julio
Chicago has a shot at the wild card if
its pitching can return to form after a
disappointing 1995. The White Sox are
hoping that Kevin Tapani can provide
the veteran leadershipthat has been miss-
ing in the rotation since McDowell's
departure. Without a veteran, young-
sters Jason Bere, Wilson Alvarez and
Alex Fernandez struggled. With a
steadying influence present, they may
be ready to ride Frank Thomas's bat to
a wild card birth.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST: The weak-
est division in baseball. Oakland and
Texas will roll over, with California
and Seattle likely to fight to the wire
Last year the Mariners proved they
were more than a two-man team when
Ken Griffey Jr. went down for the stretch
run. Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez and
Paul Sorrento give Seattle enough of-
fense to overcome a lack of depth at
pitching, where Randy Johnson is the
only dependable starter.
The Angels fell apart the second half
of last year but still have a lot of young
talent. Tim Salmon, J.T. Snow and Jim
Edmonds give the Angels scoring
punch, accented by veteran Chili Davis.
Chuck Finley, Mark Langston and
Michigan alum Jim Abbott give Cali-
fornia pitching depth, with Lee Smith
and Troy Percival ready to close. The
Angels are hoping that the additions of
old California favorites Jack Howell
and Dick Schofield will provide the
steadying influence that was lacking
near the end of last season.
The Senior Circuit's looking forback-
to-back World Series wins for the first
time in ten years. Their best candidate:
the defending champion Braves.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST: If some-
body stops Atlanta, it won't be from
their own division. New York and
Florida are much improved but not ready
to compete yet. Philadelphia - even if
half its team weren't on the disabled list
- would still be too weak, as is
Montreal, which will trade away any
player that shows any hint of talent, lest
he also ask for money.
The Braves lost one-fifth of their
vaunted starting rotation but are still the
strongest team in the majors with Greg
Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and
Steve Avery on the mound. Now that they
are past their postseason jinx and closer
Mark Wohlers has established himself as
a top-notch closer, Ted Turner's club will
walk away with the East.
The Mets were hyped up this year by
the New York media but are still a year or
Ryne Sandberg's return from his two-year retirement should spark the Chicago
Cubs to their first division title since 1989.
I £. Aza m a eas m mus mm m m
(Left to right) Colorado's Dante Bichette (10), Vinny Castilla and Andres
Galarraga (14) are out to prove that 1995 was no fluke year for the Rockies.
two away from challenging Atlanta.
Young pitchers Jason lsringhausen, Paul
Wilson and Bill Pulsipher are the future
of the team and may someday replace the
Braves' staffas the tops in the majors. But
the pitchers are too inexperienced to have
much chance of making the playoffs this
season under the best of circumstances,
and with the season-ending injury to
Pulsipher, New York has something less
than those "best circumstances" facing it.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL: This.di-
vision should have the hardest-fought
race in the majors this year. Pittsburgh
doesn't have a shot, but every other team
is in position to win.
Cincinnati looks like it is trying to
defend its 1990 World Series title, not the
Central division championship it won last
year. Old Reds Eric Davis and Chris Sabo
have returned to aid last year's National
League MVP, Michigan alum Barry
Larkin. New manager Ray Knight is go-
ing to be hard-pressed to repeat after
losing Wells to free agency and Jose Rijo
to injury. Pete Schourek and John Smiley
will have to be in top form, or Marge
Schott could start some salary dumping
moves around midseason.
Houston enters the season as the favor-
ite but has as many questions as answers.
The Astros' biggest offseason move was
re-signing secondbaseman Craig Biggio,
who provides a potent one-two punch
with slugger Jeff Bagwell. But Houston
needs its pitching staff to come through,
which is somewhat doubtful. Doug
Drabek's age is catching up with him and
Darryl Kile's control was lacking last
year. Ifone of these two can come through
along with a good year from Greg
Swindell, and if Jeff Bagwell can stay off
the disabledlist, Houston will win. But if
it doesn't happen, the Astros will spend
another October pondering what could
Chicago comes off of its first winning
season in the '90s hungry for a division
title. The starting rotation surprised many
last year. JamieNavarro and Frank Castillo
are solid starters, but for the team to win
it needs good years out of Jim Bullinger,
Steve Trachsel and Kevin Foster, who
have all shined at times but lacked consis-
tency. The Cubs' biggest move in the
offseason was the return of second
baseman Ryne Sandberg from retirement.
All eyes will be on his return, but the key
to the team's winning is solid pitching
from the starters and middle relievers.
St. Louis made a lot of noise in
winter but should prove to have a lou r
bark than bite. Tony LaRussa came to the
senior circuit after 17 years of managing
the White Sox and A's. His transition to
the National League could prove rocky,
as he attempts to disprove the belief that
managing in the American League is easy
compared to the National League. At the
least, he won't have to worry about meet-
ing his team, since he brought a ton o
players over from Oakland. His ancient
pitching staff could carry the Cardinal*
the top - or could be collecting social
security by October.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST: Anothertight
race. The Los Angeles and San Diego are
improved, and Colorado will continue to
smash offensive records. Only San Fran-
cisco lacks the talent to compete.
The Dodgers already had a pitching
staff to be reckoned with. Hideo Nomo,
Ramon Martinez and Tom Candi
should keep the earned runs to a m-
mum. Tommy Lasorda decided to try to
combat the unearned runs, and improved
the defense greatly with the additions o
Mike Blowers and Greg Gagne. Apletho
of errors early on has them looking' lik
the Dodgers ofold,butthey should stayi
contention due to former Rookies-of the
YearRaul Mondesi, Eric Karros and Mik
Piazza. The award machine that is.Lo
Angeles's minor league system has un
veiled its bid for a fifth straight Rooki
the Year in Todd Hollandsworth.
The Padres have improved their team
by allowing their young pitchers to de
velop and signing a couple of Americ
League veterans. Andy Ashby has qui
etly turned into a very good starter an
along with Joey Hamilton and Trevo
Hoffman forms an unheralded but skille
staff. Tony Gwynn's quest for a .4
batting average might be completed wit
new acquisitions Ricky Henderson
Wally Joyner added to the line-up.
The Rockies will still demolish the ball
in the nonexistent atmosphere of Denver
but their opposition will too. With Bre
Saberhagen and Bill Swift on the disabl
list, Colorado pitchers will be hamme
regularly and often.
This year should provide a couple o
dominant teams in Atlanta and Cleve
land, but will also have great pennan
races in most divisions.
Last season, Cleveland's Albert Belle became the first player to hit 50 home runs
and 50 doubles as he led the Indians to their first pennant since 1954.
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9 - CLOSE