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20 Questions to chew on this spring

Published Oct. 10, 2005

Last year, nobody had the answers.

You read all the predictions, watched all the special reports, listened to all the experts, but who knew last spring what the fall would bring?

The Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins were supposed to be also-rans, two teams that would be lucky to improve upon their 1990 last-place finishes.

Who knew they would finish first in their divisions, win their league pennants and stage a captivating World Series?

One hundred and seventeen days after that Series, it's time to start over.

Spring training begins today.

This morning, every team is a contender. Every player is ready for a big year. Every veteran feels young again, every injury seems healed, every rookie feels confident.

It begins today in St. Petersburg, where the St.

Louis Cardinals hope to build on last year's surprising second-place finish.

It begins today in Plant City, where the Cincinnati Reds will attempt to regroup from a disappointing fifth-place follow-up to their 1990 championship.

It begins today in Clearwater, where the Philadelphia Phillies open camp for the first time under manager Jim Fregosi, with plans for a run at the National League East title.

It begins Tuesday in Dunedin, where the Toronto Blue Jays will try to figure out how to take the final step into a World Series.

It begins throughout Florida and Arizona. Plenty of stories and subplots will develop over the next six weeks. Here are 20 questions to think about as the first pitch hits the first glove:

1. Can the Minnesota Twins who already have lost six players from their 25-man championship roster, including Series MVP Jack Morris _ handle the fame and nagging questions of being defending champions?

2. How will St. Louis' Pedro Guerrero handle the position change to leftfield? The New York Mets' Howard Johnson to centerfield? Los Angeles' Kal Daniels to first base? Houston's Craig Biggio to second base?

3. Can Danny Jackson of the Cubs, Bo Jackson of the White Sox, Joe Magrane of the Cardinals, Dwight Gooden of the Mets and Carney Lansford of the A's recover from serious injuries?

4. How will Gene Lamont (White Sox), Phil

Garner (Brewers), Butch Hobson (Red Sox), Buck Showalter (Yankees) and Bill Plummer (Mariners) handle their first major-league managing jobs?

5. Will the Reds, who had the worst "year after" of any World Series champ (74-88), return to their winning ways?

6. Will the Mets, who spent $37.5-million to sign Bobby Bonilla, Eddie Murray and Willie Randolph and traded for $3-million pitcher Bret Saberhagen, find that money buys happiness, or at least 100 wins?

7. How will Barry Bonds and the Pittsburgh Pirates handle life without slugger and clubhouse spirit-lifter Bobby Bonilla?

8. Will Seattle's Kevin Mitchell, the Yankees' Danny Tartabull, Los Angeles' Eric Davis and the Mets' Saberhagen and Bonilla provide the expected impact on their new teams?

9. Will Baltimore's Cal Ripken Jr. or the Chicago Cubs' Ryne Sandberg or Minnesota's Kirby Puckett pull a Lee Majors and become baseball's first $6-million man?

10. How will finicky and occasionally cantankerous Jack Morris fit in with the Blue Jays, his third team in three seasons?

11. Can new GM Larry Himes and new manager Jim Lefebvre sort out the mess the Cubs were last year and put them back on the road to contention?

12. Will rookies such as Toronto's Derek Bell, Cincinnati's Reggie Sanders, Oakland's Todd Van Poppel and Cleveland's Jim Thome be as good as advertised?

14. Will the 1991 rookie sensations _ Minnesota's Chuck Knoblauch, Houston's Jeff Bagwell, St. Louis' Ray Lankford, Toronto's Juan Guzman _ improve or slump?

13. Can Boston reliever Jeff Gray, who had a stroke last July, pitch again in the big leagues?

15. Can Whitey Herzog, who failed to sign any big-name free agents or trade for any big-name players, find some way to shake up the lethargic California Angels?

16. Will the Los Angeles Dodgers, with an All-Star outfield and an All-Scare infield, give their pitching enough support?

17. Can players such as Oakland's Rickey Henderson and Mark McGwire, Kansas City's George Brett, St. Louis' Andres Galarraga and San Diego's Randy Myers bounce back from subpar seasons?

18. Will the addition of up to five starting players (Gregg Jefferies, Kevin McReynolds, Keith Miller, Wally Joyner and Chris Gwynn) help the Royals improve from a sixth-place finish and help their fans forget the team traded Saberhagen?

19. Can the Phillies, who have helped themselves in the field, expect another 39 wins from pitchers Terry Mulholland, Tommy Greene and Jose DeJesus?

20. Will this _ stop us if you've heard this one before _ be the last spring Tampa Bay fans have to endure without a team to call their own?