- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

1. CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Projected lineup
CF Kenny Lofton
2B Ray Durham
DH Frank Thomas
RF Magglio Ordonez
1B Paul Konerko
3B Jose Valentin
LF Carlos Lee
C Sandy Alomar/Mark Johnson
SS Royce Clayton
Rotation: Mark Buehrle, Todd Ritchie, Jim Parque, Jon Garland, Jon Rauch
Closer: Keith Foulke
2001 record: 83-79, 3rd place
Manager: Jerry Manuel (5th season, 333-314 record)
Key additions: OF Kenny Lofton (FA/Indians), RHP Todd Ritchie (trade/Pirates), OF Brian Simmons (released/Blue Jays)
Key losses: DH Harold Baines (retired), DH Jose Canseco (FA/Expos), LHP Cal Eldred (FA), RHP Josh Fogg (trade/Pirates), RHP Sean Lowe (trade/Pirates), 3B Herbert Perry (trade/Rangers), OF Chris Singleton (trade/Orioles), LHP David Wells (FA/Yankees), RHP Kip Wells (trade/Pirates)
Key questions: What is Thomas' health status (he played in only 20 games last year)? Does Lofton have one more big year in him? Will Ritchie provide veteran leadership for a young staff?
Key stat: Thomas' career on-base percentage (.438) is sixth-best in baseball history.
The lowdown: After leading the AL with 95 wins in 2000, the Sox dealt with several key injuries and fell back to the pack last year. With everyone back healthy (most importantly Thomas), Chicago will be right in the thick of what could be a great three-team race. Based on their experience at the top of the order and their solid pitching staff, the South Siders should be the favorites to outlast the young Twins and the rebuilding Indians.

2. MINNESOTA TWINS

Projected lineup
LF Jacque Jones
SS Cristian Guzman
1B Doug Mientkiewicz
3B Corey Koskie
CF Torii Hunter
DH David Ortiz
RF Brian Buchanan
C A.J. Pierzynski
2B Luis Rivas
Rotation: Eric Milton, Brad Radke, Joe Mays, Rick Reed, Kyle Lohse
Closer: Eddie Guardado/Mike Jackson
2001 record: 85-77, 2nd place
Manager: Ron Gardenhire (1st season)
Key additions: RHP Mike Jackson (FA/Astros)
Key losses: OF Chad Allen (FA/Orioles), RHP Todd Jones (FA/Rockies)
Key questions: Was last season a fluke, or are these guys legitimately good? Can veteran set-up man Guardado succeed as closer? Will a new owner come sweeping into town and save the team?
Key stat: Twins were 47-29 vs. AL Central last year, 29-39 against the East and West.
The lowdown: A groundswell of public support in the Twin Cities saved the franchise from Bud Selig's contraction plans; now the young Twins are out for revenge. They proved it's possible to contend in a small market last year before faltering in the second half and falling behind Cleveland. With the second-best young pitching trio in the game (the A's Hudson/Mulder/Zito group is slightly better), rock-solid defense and speed all around the field, the Twins are poised to become America's team … and Selig's worst nightmare.

3. CLEVELAND INDIANS

Projected lineup
RF Matt Lawton
SS Omar Vizquel
DH Ellis Burks
1B Jim Thome
3B Travis Fryman
LF Russell Branyan/Brady Anderson
2B Ricky Gutierrez/Jolbert Cabrera
C Einar Diaz
CF Milton Bradley
Rotation: Bartolo Colon, C.C. Sabathia, Chuck Finley, Danys Baez, Ryan Drese
Closer: Bob Wickman
2001 record: 91-71, 1st place
Manager: Charlie Manuel (3rd season, 181-143 record)
Key additions: OF Brady Anderson (released/Orioles), OF Alex Escobar (trade/Mets), 2B Ricky Gutierrez (FA/Cubs), IF Mike Lansing (FA/Red Sox), OF Matt Lawton (trade/Mets), RHP Mark Wohlers (FA/Yankees)
Key losses: 2B Roberto Alomar (trade/Mets), RHP Dave Burba (FA/Rangers), OF Marty Cordova (FA/Orioles), OF Juan Gonzalez (FA/Rangers), OF Kenny Lofton (FA/White Sox), LHP John Rocker (trade/Rangers), RHP Steve Woodard (released/Rangers)
Key questions: Can Gutierrez and Cabrera make up for the loss of Alomar at 2B? Can Sabathia build off his spectacular rookie season? Is Lawton the answer at the top of the lineup?
Key stat: Indians had AL's second-highest starting rotation ERA (5.26) in 2001.
The lowdown: Is it possible to rebuild an entire franchise and still compete for a division title? New Indians GM Mark Shapiro is attempting to do just that. Needing to slash payroll by order of owner Larry Dolan, Shapiro traded future Hall of Famer Alomar and let Gonzalez, Lofton and Burba depart via free agency. Instead, the once offense-heavy Tribe will try to win with pitching, headlined by Colon, Sabathia and youngsters Baez and Drese.

4. DETROIT TIGERS

Projected lineup
CF Jose Macias
2B Damion Easley
LF Bobby Higginson
1B Dmitri Young
3B Dean Palmer
RF Robert Fick
DH Craig Paquette
SS Shane Halter
C Mike Rivera/Mitch Meluskey
Rotation: Jeff Weaver, Steve Sparks, Jose Lima, Mark Redman, Nate Cornejo Closer: Matt Anderson
2001 record: 66-96, 4th place
Manager: Phil Garner (3rd season, 145-179 record)
Key additions: IF Craig Paquette (FA/Cardinals), 1B Dmitri Young (trade/Reds)
Key losses: OF Roger Cedeno (FA/Mets), 1B Tony Clark (released/Red Sox), SS Deivi Cruz (released/Padres), OF Juan Encarnacion (trade/Reds), RHP Chris Holt (released)
Key questions: Can new GM Dave Dombrowski restore some sense of legitimacy to this woeful organization? Will they be better off without underachieving Cedeno, Clark, Cruz and Encarnacion? Are there any surprise youngsters who can step up and make a name for themselves?
Key stat: Average attendance at Comerica Park was only 24,016 in the stadium's second season.
The lowdown: Detroit hasn't had a winning record since 1993 and hasn't made the playoffs since 1987, and that dubious stretch doesn't figure to come to an end anytime soon. Owner Mike Ilitch (better known for building the Little Caeser's pizza empire than winning ballclubs) has made plenty of poor decisions over the years, but the hiring of former Marlins GM Dombrowski was a step in the right direction. It may not produce results this year, but given time, the Tigers could get back over the .500 hump.

5. KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Projected lineup
LF Chuck Knoblauch
SS Neifi Perez
CF Carlos Beltran
1B Mike Sweeney
RF Michael Tucker
3B Joe Randa
DH Raul Ibanez
C Brent Mayne/A.J. Hinch
2B Carlos Febles
Rotation: Jeff Suppan, Paul Byrd, Darrell May, Dan Reichert, Chad Durbin
Closer: Roberto Hernandez
2001 record: 65-97, 5th place
Manager: Tony Muser (6th season, 309-416 record)
Key additions: OF Chuck Knoblauch (FA/Yankees), LHP Darrell May (FA/Japan), OF Michael Tucker (trade/Cubs)
Key losses: C Gregg Zaun (FA/Astros)
Key questions: Can Knoblauch re-establish himself as a top leadoff hitter? Can the team find a way to sign Sweeney to a long-term deal? Can a makeshift pitching staff keep them competitive?
Key stat: Royals were 11-24 in one-run games last year.
The lowdown: Like the Tigers, the once-proud Royals haven't been in contention in years. They always seem to develop good young talent but can't hang on to them (see Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye). Sweeney, the heart of this team, is up next - he'll be a free agent after this season, and there have been few signs he's going to stay in K.C. There have also been rumors that the Royals could be a contraction candidate in 2003, further emphasizing the need for progress this year.


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