The Red Sox are younger and stronger defensively than the Yankees, but Boston pitching is at best imponderable. Bill Campbell (13-9, 31 saves) was Fireman of the Year in 1977, but needed two cortisone shots in September. His elbow acted up again this spring. Newcomers Eckersley, who is a far better pitcher than his 14-13 record in Cleveland indicated, and, to a lesser degree, Drago (6-4, 3.41 ERA at California and Baltimore) and Burgmeier (6-4, 5.10 at Minnesota) should give Campbell needed rest. Bill Lee (9-5) came off the injury list to pitch well in September, but Luis Tiant (12-8) dislocated a finger this March. Bob Stanley (8-7) has a year's major league experience under his belt; Reggie Cleveland (11-8) may have too many under his. The stopper should be Eckersley or Torrez, if he can come up with a start to match his annual hot finish. He won seven in a row down the stretch for the Yankees, but because of unfamiliar catchers—this is his sixth team in eight years—he tends to begin slowly. Torrez has a 2-4 record and 4.89 ERA at Fenway Park; nonetheless, he has pitched well there in four of seven starts. He and Eckersley are both better than the departed Ferguson Jenkins, but for the. Red Sox that may not be improvement enough.
"For the first time since 1967 Baltimore has no chance to win anything," read a sentence in this space last year. Despite the surprising Orioles' near-pennant in 1977, that forecast now seems apt for 1978. True, Baltimore matched Boston's 97-64 record last season, though the Orioles had lost three important men to free agency. Players such as Rookie of the Year Eddie Murray (.283, 27 homers, 88 RBIs), Centerfielder Al Bumbry (.317), Rightfielder Ken Singleton (.328, 24 homers, 99 RBIs) and Pitcher Mike Flanagan (15-10) stepped in and performed admirably. Now Baltimore must do without three more free agents, Pitchers Ross Grimsley (14-10), Drago and Outfielder Elliott Maddox (.262), as well as Pitcher Rudy May (18-14), who was traded. Nevertheless, Manager of the Year Earl Weaver sees ways to improve: a couple of more wins from Jim Palmer (20-11); better early-season work from Flanagan, who started off 2-8; and more productivity from Second Baseman Doug DeCinces (.259, 19 homers, 69 RBIs). Don Stan-house (1.39 ERA in relief) and Joe Kerrigan (11 saves), both acquired from Montreal in the Rudy May deal, will strengthen the bullpen. But Murray, Bumbry, Singleton, who is coming off elbow surgery, and First Baseman Lee May (27 homers, 99 RBIs), who has an arthritic hip, could be less imposing. The Orioles should again be plenty strong, but the Yankees and Red Sox have improved too much and Baltimore has too many shortcomings in two traditionally strong areas, pitching and defense, for another run at the division title. Weaver must depend too heavily on young starters Dennis Martinez (14-7, 4.10 ERA) and Scott McGregor (3-5, 4.42) for Baltimore to again top the league in complete games (65). And its pace-setting fielding percentage was misleading. The Orioles have excellent defense only when the ball is hit at Shortstop Mark Belanger, especially now that former DH Murray has become the third baseman.
Detroit and Milwaukee will stage a lively battle for fourth place, and the team that wins should also reach the .500 mark. Detroit finished 14 games under that last season but was without Pitchers Mark Fidrych and Dave Rozema, who was 15-7 as a rookie, for long spells. Both are now fit. As Fidrych says with his unique logic, "You're either 100% or 0%." A third pitching phenom, Jack Morris, has an ailing shoulder, but the Tigers have picked up Jim Slaton from Milwaukee and Jack Billingham from Cincinnati. Slaton has won 10 or more games and pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past five seasons. Billingham's sinker will be more effective on the American League's grass infields. Other strong points should be an improved double-play combination, no matter who among several candidates replaces Tom Veryzer at short and Tito Fuentes at second, and another season of proficient hitting by Ron LeFlore (.325, 39 stolen bases), Steve Kemp (18 homers, 88 RBIs) and Rusty Staub (22 homers, 101 RBIs). First Baseman Jason Thompson (.270, 31 homers, 105 RBIs), who looks ready to blossom into stardom at 23, was the talk of spring training, where he hit .329 with six home runs in 23 games.
Milwaukee has free-swinging sluggers galore. Last year Cecil Cooper, Don Money, Sixto Lezcano, Sal Bando, former Tiger Ben Oglivie and much-heralded free agent Larry Hisle accounted for 132 home runs and 533 strikeouts. The defense and relief pitching are adequate but the starters are awfully young. Jerry Augustine, Moose Haas and Lary Sorensen all are 24 or less. Fortunately, the Brewers' new manager is George Bamberger, a very successful pitching coach at Baltimore.
Coming home to rebuild the Indians, President Gabe Paul found he will not have to worry about the publicity department as long as that unabashed drummer, Manager Jeff Torborg, is around. "First Baseman Andre Thornton is a great person, a spiritual leader," says Torborg, "and he hit 28 homers. Duane Kuiper and Buddy Bell are as good as anyone at second and third. Injuries to Rick Manning in center and Johnny Grubb in left hurt us immensely, and we won't have those problems again." Torborg does have a pessimistic side. "We didn't run last year because we had no speed," he says. Since then the Indians have not gained much fleet-ness, and they have lost First Baseman-Outfielder Bruce Bochte and Pitcher Jim Bibby to free agency. There is little power behind Thornton, little pitching behind Wayne Garland (13-19), Rick Wise (11-5 at Boston), Mike Paxton (10-5 with the Red Sox) and Jim Kern (18 saves), and little behind Cleveland—except Toronto.
The Blue Jays lost 107 games in their inaugural season and will have trouble breaking into double figures this year. Nonetheless, season-ticket sales are ahead of 1977's record pace for an expansion team. Oh, Canada...Well, there are some players worth watching, among them Outfielder Bob Bailor, whose .310 average was the highest by a rookie in either league last year, and Designated Hitter Rico Carty, acquired from Cleveland to replace the departed Ron Fairly's experience and power. The best the penurious, slow-building Blue Jays could do in the reentry draft was Luis Gomez. The big news in Toronto is still baseball, but not good baseball.