There is no obvious last-place team in this division. "And no team to pick first, not even Toronto," says Detroit Tiger manager Sparky Anderson, who smiles, winks and adds, "but watch out for Baltimore." Following a season in which they won 89 games and were in the American League East race until the final two weeks, the BALTIMORE ORIOLES appear ready to unseat the world champion Blue Jays. Here are the reasons why:
•Mike Mussina. He's the pick here to win the American League Cy Young Award. Remarkably poised and polished for a 24-year-old, Mussina is the most complete pitcher to enter this league in 10 years. He was 18-5 last season with a 2.54 ERA.
•Ben McDonald. Despite a 13-13 record, a 4.24 ERA and being tagged for the most extra-base hits in baseball, Big Ben, 25, had an important year in 1992 because he pitched injury-free for the first time in his three-year major league career.
•The American League East's best defense, the division's best bullpen and sellout crowds at Camden Yards every night to inspire them.
•A more productive middle of the lineup. Shortstop Cal Ripken, coming off his worst major league season, now gets protection in the order from new DH Harold Baines, a much-needed lefthanded bat. Glenn Davis is healthy after three injury-filled seasons, which is good news because Oriole first basemen drove in 63 runs last year, an American League low.
•Jeffrey Hammonds. The team's top draft choice in 1992, Hammonds is a star of the future. He'll start the season in the minors but may well be the O's regular rightfielder by the All-Star break.
•The experience of the '92 pennant race. "Last year we didn't know what we had," says first base coach Davey Lopes. "Now we know. We're legit."
Ace righthander Jack Morris says, "I used to love to play general manager. You know, second-guess every move. But with free agency the way it is, with players moving around so much, I don't think I want to be the one who has to make those decisions." For the TORONTO BLUE JAYS, that responsibility belongs to general manager Pat Gillick, who spent the winter making tough calls and now has a team with more question marks than it has had since 1982—the last season Toronto had a losing record.
"Usually it's one opening in the pen, one in the outfield," says reliever Duane Ward. "Now it's two infield, one outfield, three pitchers." Six months after winning the World Series, there is uncertainty at those positions as well as doubts about clubhouse chemistry and the Jays' hunger to win it all again.
But how can there not be uncertainty after the Blue Jays lost so many players to free agency? Lefthander Jimmy Key, a fixture in the rotation for eight years, is gone. Closer Tom Henke and his 34 saves are gone, and no proven setup man for Ward, the new closer, has been found. Designated hitter Dave Winfield, who accounted for 108 RBIs and invaluable lineup presence, is gone; so is Candy Maldonado, with his 20 home runs. Third baseman Kelly Gruber and shortstop Manny Lee have disappeared as well.