Fielding, not hitting, is the Tigers' strong suit, and the slickest gloves belong to Third Baseman Aurelio Rodriguez and Shortstop Brinkman. Newcomers John Knox and Gary Sutherland may be alternated at second, while Norm Cash hopes to play 130 games at first. But rookie Ron Cash (no relation) crashes in after some impressive .300 minor league stops, plus a .410 average in 14 late-season games with the Tigers. Freehan is fine behind the plate but no terror at it. Willie Horton, Mickey Stanley and Northrup return in the outfield.
For all the talk of Tug McGraw, Mike Marshall and Roland Fingers, the best relief pitcher in baseball last year was John Hiller, who won 10 games, saved 38 others and appeared in 56% of Detroit's wins while compiling a 1.44 ERA. For starters the Tigers have 23-game winner Joe Coleman, 16-game winner Lolich, Fryman and Lerrin LaGrow. But pitching can't do it all. The team may fall below .500 for only the second time in a decade.
Milwaukee, the town the Braves abandoned in 1966, became a million-fan city again as the young Brewers played spirited ball for a good part of the season only to finish fifth, 23 games behind Baltimore. "Most of us have been together for three years," says the $100,000 first baseman, George Scott, ""and we should be a lot better ball club."
In order to become one the Brewers will have to show improvement in their pitching. Hoping to do just that, they picked up Clyde Wright from California, where he had won 22, 16 and 18 games before last year's dip to 11-19. Wright joins 20-game winner Jim Colborn and Jim Slaton (13-15) to give the Brewers three genuine starting pitchers—riches they have not known since birth as the Seattle Pilots five years ago. Ready to help Scott at bat (.306, 107 RBIs) are Centerfielder Dave May (.303, 25 home runs) and Third Baseman Don Money (.284). Ex-Angel Outfielder Ken Berry (.284) is a top defensive man. Because they could not turn up a productive DH the Brewers are giving Felipe Alou, soon to be 39, a chance.
Moving in to share Shea Stadium with the Mets following a fourth-place—and folding—year at Yankee Stadium, New York is a ragged team. And sound baseball man though he is, quiet Bill Virdon will not awaken echoes of charismatic Yankee managers of the past—or near-managers like Dick Williams, who was New York's first choice. Nevertheless, the Yankees do have some hitting in the bats of Centerfielder Bobby Murcer (.304), Catcher Thurman Munson (.301), First Baseman-Outfielder Ron Blomberg (.329 against righthanders; lefties he wasn't exposed to) and ex-Royal Outfielder Lou Piniella (.285 lifetime). Munson's homer total of 20 should go up at Shea.
But for the Yanks to be taken seriously, Pitchers Pat Dobson (9-8), Sam McDowell (5-8) and Steve Kline (4-7) will have to complete some games and Fritz Peterson will have to reverse his 8-15 record. At least George (Doc) Medich did a fine job in his first full year with New York, finishing at 14-9. Sparky Lyle's contract dispute leaves that marvelous relief pitcher something of an enigma. Wayne Granger, "Fireman of the Year" with Cincinnati in 1969 and 1970, will not suffer from underwork.
Cleveland's last-place Indians hit more homers (158) than any other team in the league, while its pitching staff yielded more than any other in the majors (172). Unfortunately, that imbalance may well carry over into '74. Among the lustiest homer-hitters are Charlie Spikes (23), Oscar Gamble (20), George Hendrick (21), Buddy Bell (14) and Dave Duncan (17). Hendrick, the 24-year-old centerfielder, is a name to put in your hat for the future. Frank Robinson says he could become the best player in baseball, if "truly motivated." But the golden boy of the Indians right now is the 22-year-old Bell, who led the club in seven categories while successfully making the switch from the outfield to third base.
Ah, yes, those pitchers who threw the gopher balls. Prominent among them were Gaylord Perry (19-19) and Dick Tidrow (14-16). They have been joined by Gaylord's brother Jim (14-13 with Detroit). But whether the ball stays in for them or goes out will be overshadowed by larger doings in Baltimore and Boston.