1. CALIFORNIA ANGELS
MVP TO BE
Rightfielder Tim Salmon looked like the best all-around player in Arizona this spring. He's primed for an even better year than last season, when he became the first American League outfielder since Fred Lynn in 1979 to hit at least .330 with 34 or more homers and a minimum of 105 RBIs.
NOT AGAIN THIS YEAR
After leading the American League West most of last season, the Angels suffered the fastest collapse of a 10�-game lead in major league history—35 days—and failed to make the playoffs. "The 1974 Red Sox were up by seven games with about a month to play, and we lost by seven games to the Orioles," says California coach Rick Burleson, who played on that Boston team. "The next year we said it would never happen again. We won the pennant. This Angels team is the same way."
THE PEN IS MIGHTY
Lee Smith, the major league record holder for career saves, who suffered a ruptured tendon in his right knee in the off-season, should be ready for Opening Day. If he's not, righthander Troy Percival, the game's best middle reliever in 1995, is ready to step in. "No hitter wanted any part of Percival last year," says former California reliever John Habyan, who is now in camp with the Colorado Rockies. Righthander Bryan Harvey, once a top closer, is slowly recovering from major elbow surgery. If he bounces back, the Angels' bullpen will be even tougher.
New second baseman and leadoff man Randy Velarde has a lifetime regular-season batting average of .500 (18 for 36) against Seattle Mariners ace Randy Johnson, who beat the Angels three times in 1995, including in the playoff for the division title. Last season California batted .197 against Johnson.
Mark Langston, the ace of the Angels' rotation, the division's best, relaxed in spring training by playing electric guitar in the clubhouse. He's friends with Bruce Hornsby and members of the band Rush, but when they asked Langston to jam with them, he was too intimidated and declined. "When Bruce asked me," says Langston, "my hands started sweating."
This is the best team in California's 36-year history. In the American League only the Indians have better pitching. "The Angels are the team to beat in the division," says Mariners manager Lou Piniella.
2. SEATTLE MARINERS
BIG UNIT AND THE SECOND UNIT
With No. 2 starter Chris Bosio out until May with a knee injury, the Mariners' rotation will consist of Johnson, Sterling Hitchcock, Bob Wolcott, Edwin Hurtado and Paul Menhart. Johnson has 99 career wins, while those four other pitchers have 66 career starts. Last year Seattle starters other than Cy Young-winner Johnson (18-2, 2.48 ERA) were 37-42 with a 5.59 ERA.
Twenty-four of the Mariners' first 28 games are against teams that had losing records last year.