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AL CENTRAL
Kelly Whiteside
April 01, 1996
1. CLEVELAND INDIANS
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April 01, 1996

Al Central

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JUST PLAIN HURTING?
Righthanders Alex Fernandez and Jason Bere and lefthander Wilson Alvarez were a combined 28-34 with a 4.88 ERA last season, after going 35-17 with a 3.71 ERA in 1994. Fernandez, at least, regained his winning form late last year when he went 7-0 with a 1.35 ERA in his last 11 starts.

OUTLOOK
Even if everything falls into place for Chicago, it will be tough to catch the Indians.

3. KANSAS CITY ROYALS

JOHNNY BE GREAT
The Royals believe they finally have a player with the superstar potential to succeed George Brett—Johnny Damon, 22, a centerfielder with daring speed and a sizzling bat. Last season he hit .343 at Double A Wichita and then .282 with 23 RBIs in 47 games with K.C. In fact, the Royals' new marketing campaign features a commercial with Brett and Damon battling over a remote control to see who gets to watch replays of himself.

LINEUP BE WEAK
During the off-season Kansas City traded first baseman Wally Joyner and lost shortstop Greg Gagne and third baseman Gary Gaetti to free agency. Last season those three accounted for 39% of the Royals' run production and 45% of their home runs. And even with those players, K.C. finished last in the league in runs, home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. The Royals desperately need first baseman-DH Bob Hamelin to regain the stroke that earned him the 1994 American League Rookie of the Year award; last year Hamelin batted .168 with seven homers in 72 games with K.C. and spent part of the season in the minors.

OUTLOOK
What makes Kansas City better than Minnesota and Milwaukee in this division? Righthander Kevin Appier, the staff ace who has recovered from last season's bout of tendinitis, and Jeff Montgomery, the star closer.

4. MINNESOTA TWINS

HEAVY HITTER
Kirby Puckett's uniform fits as snugly as a sausage casing, but he insists he's not out of shape. "Scales don't bother me," says Puckett, who is 5'9" and 223 pounds. "I weigh myself by my swing." To avoid another slow start—in 1995 he hit .244 in April and May—Puckett stepped into a batting cage during the off-season for the first time.

ANOTHER SAVE
After the 1989 season manager Tom Kelly told starter Rick Aguilera that the Twins needed a closer because they were losing free agent Jeff Reardon. "He knew I would do it because it was best for the team," says Aguilera, who went on to save 204 games from '90 to '95, including part of last season with the Red Sox. Once again when the Twins found themselves in a jam—their top four returning starters had a combined ERA of 5.73 last year—they turned to Aguilera, who came back to Minnesota as a free agent and will become the Twins' No. 1 starter. However, Minnesota needs a workhorse, and the 34-year-old Aguilera has not thrown more than 145 innings in any of his 11 major league seasons.

OUTLOOK
The Twins have plenty of pop in their lineup, but with an awful pitching staff they'll lose a lot of 10-9 games.

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