1. BALTIMORE ORIOLES
The irony of iron man Cal Ripken Jr.'s setting the consecutive-games-played record last summer was that while it was uplifting for the rest of baseball, the Baltimore clubhouse under rookie manager Phil Regan remained as joyful as the waiting room of a dentist's office. "There was no enthusiasm at all," pitcher Jesse Orosco says. "Now we've got a lot of goofballs and guys who like to have fun." Following their 71-73 finish, the Orioles added veteran lefthanders Randy Myers and David Wells and righthander Roger McDowell, all of whom are clubhouse cutups. More important, new second baseman Roberto Alomar adds his infectious enthusiasm on the field, not to mention the kind of offensive and defensive skills that could mean an MVP season in this power-packed lineup. New skipper Davey Johnson finished first or second in each of the eight full seasons he has managed with the Mets and the Reds.
Baltimore has added an elite offensive player each of the past three years: first baseman Rafael Palmeiro (1994), third baseman Bobby Bonilla ('95) and Alomar ('96). Its Opening Day lineup includes six players who have combined for 30 All-Star Game appearances. Should the Orioles find themselves in need of another All-Star in the second half, new general manager Pat Gillick has a track record, gained during the 18 seasons he held the same post with the Toronto Blue Jays, of making the right trade at the right time.
Baltimore hasn't won a division title since 1983. That streak should end.
2. BOSTON RED SOX
WHERE'S THE KEG?
The Red Sox are a slopitch softball team. After outslugging every club in the league except the Indians last season, Boston added more muscle to its lineup by obtaining bashers Kevin Mitchell, Mike Stanley and Wil Cordero. The heart of the order—John Valentin, Mo Vaughn, Jose Canseco, Mitchell and Mike Greenwell—all have blasted at least 22 homers and batted at least .298 in a season.
Boston's fielding will be downright scary, too. Canseco's trying to play the expansive, tricky rightfield at Fenway Park is a particularly frightening thought. The Sox made the most errors in the American League last year (120) but still easily won the East and were 25-15 in one-run games. "We covered up a lot of our mistakes with offense," says Valentin.
Boston needs only middle-of-the-pack pitching to win consistently. Good thing, too, because it doesn't figure to be much better than that. The rotation is riddled with uncertainties. Roger Clemens hasn't won more than 11 games since 1993; Tim Wakefield turned into a pumpkin down the stretch last year, going 2-7 after a 14-1 start; Tom Gordon, a Flash in the pan with 17 wins in '89, hasn't won more than 12 since then; and Aaron Sele missed the last four months of '95 with tendinitis in his right shoulder.
The Red Sox will reach the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time since 1915 and '16. They have the wild card to thank for that.
3. NEW YORK YANKEES