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Toronto, Oakland Will Conquer Their AL Divisions

Column by Danny Su

Sports Staff

American League East

Boston and Toronto both have the same team they did last year, with each team adding a top quality pitcher. So nothing is going to change. Toronto will win the division in the last week of the season.

1. Toronto Blue Jays

This team is better than ever before. Jack Morris, Jimmy Key, Todd Stottlemyre, Juan Guzman, and Dave Steib are the best starting five in the division. Tom Henke, Duane Ward, David Wells, and Mike Timlin are the best in the bullpen.

At age 40, Dave Winfield still hit 28 homers last year. And he will probably hit more this year now that he plays half of his games in the homer dome. Joe Carter and Kelly Gruber will provide additional power. Devon White, Roberto Alomar, and rookie Derek Bell should drive catchers crazy on the base path.

2. Boston Red Sox

A year ago someone asked who were the best right and left handed starting pitchers. I answered "The Rocket" and "Sweet Music." Now that Boston has both Roger Clemens and Frank Viola on the same pitching staff, could this be the year that the Red Sox win the World Series? I don't think so because the Sox lack pitching depth, can't steal bases, and have a power shortage.

Although Joe Hesketh finished with a 12-4 record last year, I don't expect him to last through the season. The last time he pitched over 100 innings was in 1985.

The bullpen may encounter some problems. Jeff Reardon had 40 saves last year, but his back could flare up anytime. Jeff Gray is recovering from a stroke, and Danny Darwin's comeback is uncertain. Greg Harris may be ambidextrous, but he was overused last year and could become another Rob Murphy.

Phil Plantier will get more playing time, and although Mike Greenwell does not live up to his superstar billing, he's still the best in front of the Green Monster. Tom Brunansky hit 16 home runs and drove in 70 more, but his average went down to .229. Jack Clark, the DH, strikes out too often and hits into too many double plays, but may hit 20 home runs.

Wage Boggs and Jody Reed were number one and two in total bases last year. You know you have a power shortage when your leadoff hitter and light-hitting second baseman led the team in total bases. Luis Rivera and Tim Naehring are competing for the shortstop job. Rivera is a good hitter, but led American League shortstops with 24 errors last year. Naehring has an excellent glove, but must overcome back surgery and his hitting problem. First base may be occupied by Mo Vaughn, but Vaughn has not proven himself in the majors yet.

The Sox will stay in the race until September, when the pitching staff will collapse. It will be difficult for them to win games when Clemens and Viola are not pitching.

3. Detroit Tigers

Detroit led the league in home runs and runs scored last year. But the Tigers have no pitching. Their team ERA of 4.51 last year is not going to improve -- they didn't add anyone new and lost John Cerutti, Jerry Don Gleaton, and Jeff Kaiser.

4. New York Yankees

The person that will benefit the most from the signing of Danny Tartabull is Don Mattingly. Mattingly had his best seasons when Winfield was batting behind him and protecting him. I look for Mattingly to return to all-star form.

5. Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers can't win the division without pitching.

6. Baltimore Orioles

The only bright spots for the Orioles are Carl Ripken Jr. and their defense, which was first in fielding percentage.

7. Cleveland Indians

Although you can turn a frog into a prince in fairy tales, you can't do it in real life. The Indians aren't going anywhere but the cellar .

American League West

The AL West is the toughest division in baseball. Last year, 14 games separated first place from last place, and the last place team had a .500 record. This year should be no different. Look for Oakland to take the division back.

1. Oakland Athletics

The starting rotation of Dave Stewart, Bob Welch, Mike Moore, and Ron Darling is one of the best in the league this season. An outfield of Jose Canseco, Dave Henderson, and Rickey Henderson provides both speed and power. The infield of Mark McGwire, who is having a very good spring, Lance Blankenship, Walt Weiss, Carney Lansford, and Terry Steinbach is solid defensively. Harold Baines will provide much needed power and consistency from the left side of the plate. The bullpen of Dennis Eckersley, Gene Nelson, Rick Honeycutt, and Joe Klink will not blow many leads. This team has talent, depth, and speed.

2. Chicago White Sox

The speed of Tim Raines, Lance Johnson, Ozzie Guillen, and Steve Sax will score plenty of runs for the White Sox. And the tandem of Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura is ready to put up numbers matching those of Bonds and Bonilla. The starting rotation is only average. But the bullpen is secure with Bobby Thigpen.

3. Texas Rangers

The Rangers led the league in runs scored last year with 814, but they also led the league in runs given up, also 814. Things won't change much this year. Last year the Rangers finished 10 games behind the Twins because Jeff Russell blew 10 save opportunities. They will catch the Twins this year, but they won't catch the A's.

4. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners gave up their bullpen for Kevin Mitchell. And their once proud starting rotation of Scott Bankhead, Brian Holman, Randy Johnson, and Erik Hanson is half gone. The outfield of Mitchell, Ken Griffey Jr., and Jay Buhner is formidable.

5. Minnesota Twins

I don't think Chili Davis is going to repeat what he did last year. Neither will the Twins.

6. California Angels

After failing to sign free agents Danny Tartabull, Bobby Bonilla, and Otis Nixon, Whitey Herzog settled for Alvin Davis, Hubie Brooks, and Von Hayes. Herzog's moves only proved that the Angels will always trade away young talents for old washed-up players. Remember Dave Parker? How about Tony Armas, Don Sutton, Dave Winfield, and Bert Blyleven?

The strength of the team is its pitching. Last year, Jim Abbott, Chuck Finley, and Mark Langston combined for a 57-28 record. But the Angels still finished last at 81-81. In the bullpen, Brian Harvey had 46 saves, striking out 101 in 79 innings.

With the departure of Wally Joyner, Lee Stevens will take over first base. Second base is occupied by Luis Sojo, who can neither run, hit, nor field. Dick Schofield returns at shortstop, and Gary Gaetti will cover third.

California has one of the better leadoff men in left field, Luis Polonia. Junior Felix is capable of superstar status if he stays off the disabled list. Brooks will be the designated hitter.

Rookie Chad Curtis is having a very impressive spring. He hit .316, drove in 61 runs, and stole 46 bases last year in AAA ball. I won't be surprised if Herzog trades Curtis, Felix, and some other young pitchers to the Pirates for Barry Bonds.

7. Kansas City Royals

The Royals made lots of noises in the winter meeting, but they didn't improve much. Kevin McReynolds can't match Danny Tartabull's production. And nobody can replace Bret Saberhagen.