Baltimore has all the trappings of the old Yankee dynasty—big, strong hitters, splendid fielders, a row of faceless pitchers who win 15 games apiece and, most of all, marvelous-looking rookies trying vainly to break into the lineup. But the Orioles are conning off their first pennant, and the knack of winning two in a now is hand to pick up. Especially when the defender is challenged by the likes of the Tigers, rich themselves in hitting and threatening now to come up with first-class pitching, too. The Twins had a post-pennant hangover the first part of last year but came back strongly later on, and now they have Dean Chance, too, if less power. The White Sox can cause trouble with their impressive pitching, and so can the Indians, but there the league seems to split in half. For the Yankees and the Angels to move up, everything has to break right. The Athletics seem to have plenty of pitching and the Red Sox plenty of hitting, but both lack balance, while the Senators, though balanced enough, lack both pitching and hitting.
Baltimore's pitching may not be as good as its World Series performance indicated, which has become the accepted thing to say, but Baltimore's hitting certainly is. In the Series, against great pitching, the hitters produced what was needed when it mattered, and the same thing went on all last season. Although MVP Frank Robinson was slowed this spring by his recent knee operation, he hit the ball hard. Manager Hank Bauer says all he wants from Frank is an average Robinson year, which means about 34 homers, 103 RBIs and a .304 percentage. It's the other Robinson, Brooks, who presents some worry. MVP himself in 1964, he hit .306 last year until July 22, then only .206 thereafter. It was obvious that he was tired. This year he will be rested now and then. Injury-prone Boog Powell slumps at times and strikes out a lot (125), but his .287-34 HRs-109 RBIs indicates he is ready for full stardom. Although Luis Aparicio stole only 25 bases, he had a productive year (97 runs). Andy Etchebarren knocked in some key runs, but he must raise his .221 average. Curt Blefary has hit 45 homers in two seasons of platooning; he can catch, play first and the outfield. Dave Johnson and Paul Blair are just arriving as hitters, and rookie Mike Epstein (.309, 29 HRs, 102 RBIs at Rochester) is in the wings.
No team in either league is better in the field, and with young fielding genius Mark Belanger around, the Orioles won't suffer if Aparicio or Brooks Robinson sit out a few games. But who knows about the pitching? Steve Barber, Jim Palmer and Wally Bunker all suffered with sore arms last year, which leaves Dave McNally (13-6) as the ace of the staff. Rookie Tom Phoebus looked solid in spring training, and the bullpen of Eddie Fisher, Stu Miller, Moe Drabowsky and Eddie Watt is strong, though Watt suffered a serious eye injury in Florida. Help may come from Dave Leonhard and Bill Dill-man, a rookie, and good. John Miller and Frank Bertaina will spot-start.
On their hitting, fielding and depth, the Orioles are obviously the team to beat. What could beat them are postpennant letdown and a renewed epidemic of tendonitis among the pitchers.
Tony Oliva always bats at least .300, Harmon Killebrew generally hits 40 home runs and Zoilo Versalles says he's ready to play the way he did when he was the MVP in 1965. After that, however, the offense degenerates into a lot of question marks like Earl Battey, who drove in only 34 runs last season. Manager Sam Mele likes to play a set lineup every game, but the new look in Minnesota—a lack of punch—may force him to go back to platooning. Mele would prefer to use good fielders Bob Allison (a right-handed hitter) in left and Ted Uhlaender (a left-handed hitter) in center; if either one of them hits, both will stay in the lineup. But if both hit as poorly as they did last year, then Mele will platoon them with left-handed Sandy Valdespino and right-handed Andy Kosco. Or he will try to trade for an outfielder. Either Rich Rollins, a veteran, or Ron Clark, a rookie, will play third, and Cesar Tovar will play second unless the Twins decide speedboy rookie Rod Carew is ready. Russ Nixon is the only experienced pinch hitter on the bench. With Jim Hall and Don Mincher traded away, and Oliva the only genuine left-handed threat, it is not hard to see why the Twins pushed back their right-field fence.
Dean Chance won 20 in 1964, Jim Grant won 21 in 1965 and Jim Kaat won 25 in 1966. They are the big men on what probably is the best pitching staff in the league, including Chicago's Chance, a farm boy, should pitch better in quiet Minnesota than he did in swinging southern California. Dave Boswell, who won 12 games before injuring his shoulder last August, is the other starter. Mele also has Jim Perry and Jim Merritt as extra starters or long-relief men, and Ron Kline (six wins, 20 saves and a 2.40 ERA with the Senators last year) and Al Worthington (six wins, 11 saves) in the bullpen. In other words, the pitching is fine, but except for Versalles—if he returns to his 1965 pennant-winning form—Minnesota's fielding is not impressive.
In changing over from a bat-heavy team with nothing but runs in mind, the Twins may have given away too much hitting for extra pitching strength. The pennant seems slightly out of reach.