Volume 2, Number 4 -- April, 1997
By Dave Lind
The largest jewel of the winter shopping season was snapped up the Chicago White Sox when they signed bad boy Albert Belle to a jaw-dropping $11 million over the next five years. Pitchers around the league have spent many a sleepless night ever since fretting at the prospect of facing Frank Thomas and Belle, The Big Hurt and the Big Baby, back-to-back.
Frightening though that may be, however, it is not the reason the White Sox will win the AL title. Bat-for-bat Cleveland actually puts a better lineup on the field day-in, day-out. The reason the Tribe will be sitting home watching the Fall Classic is simple: Pitching.
Along with Belle, the White Sox landed Jaime Navarro and Doug Drabek to help offset the free agent losses of Alex Fernandes and Kevin Tapani. Toss in Wilson Alvarez, who is ready to elevate himself to staff-ace status this year, and James Baldwin, who looks to build on a solid rookie season a year ago, and the ChiSox look like the team to beat in the AL.
Which is not to say that the Tribe will not be heard from. Cleveland has completely retooled from a season ago and could actually be better than the 1995 team which went to the World Series. Gone are Belle, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, and Dennis Martinez, while in their place are now Matt Williams, Dave Justice, Marquis Grissom and Jack McDowell. Offensively, its probably a wash. No one player can replace the 50+ home run bat of Belle, but between Williams and Justice, balls should still be flying out of Jacobs Field at a steady clip. The drop-off from Lofton to Grissom is negligible, as is the difference between McDowell and Martinez. The major improvement will be noticed on defense, particularly at third base, where Williams' rock-solid, Gold Glove standard of play should quickly endear him to the Cleveland faithful.
The top team in the East looks to be Baltimore, where the losses of Bobby Bonilla, Eddie Murray, and Todd Zeile should bring their high-powered offense back to Earth somewhat. Still, the club should be more balanced this season as Jimmy Key bolsters an already-capable pitching staff and Eric Davis continues the comeback story he began last season in Cincinnati.
The West looks to be a dogfight between Seattle and Texas in a race that should go right down to the wire. Conventional wisdom says that, in a tight race, pitching will prevail. Unfortunately for prognostication purposes, both teams have deep, talented rotations that make life easy on the bullpen. For Seattle this is critical, because their bullpen is not a strong one would like to see in a pennant contender. The deciding factor here should be (who else) Randy Johnson. If the Big Unit is right, he's worth at least two or three games down the stretch, and in a race this tight, that should be the difference.
What about last year's Champs, the New York Yankees? Well, the tides of fortune rise and fall quickly in the world of sports. All too often, last year's Champ is next year's doormat. In other words, Yankee fans, "You got your title, enjoy it. You won't be seeing another any time soon."
Offensively the Yanks are as tough as ever. Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams continue their rise to stardom, supported by steady veterans Paul O'Neill, Wade Boggs, and Tino Martinez. The decision by Cecil Fielder to drop his trade demand helped, but the offense is still not quite good enough to match up with the O's, the ChiSox, or the Tribe. The difference will have to be made up on the mound.
The pitching staff starts out will with David Cone and Andy Pettitte, then bogs down a bit with David Wells before downright fizzling with Doc Gooden and Kenny Rogers. The Yankees lost John Wetteland over the winter and with him, lost any sense of late-inning intimidation the bullpen once had. The staff is good, but not good enough.
Overall, hell, the rest of the league is playing for what little pride is left them by the big boys. This is the second #$%@-%& prediction column my #%@$&% editor has had me write today and my fingers are tired! If you want to know more, go buy a #$$@*&# Sporting News and... Ack! Ow! Quit hitting...
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Lind has been somewhat overworked this week and we apologize for his outburst. We hope this in no way affects your opinion of our fine magazine or its otherwise hard-working staff.)
Chicago def. Seattle
Cleveland def. Baltimore