The only reason I find the NL East more of a compelling story than the AL West is because I think more teams in that division improved over their 2011 versions. But, the AL West is going to be fun to watch. Well, at least two of the teams will be. Here’s what I see for this division that gets to add a 3rd worthless team in 2013 (Houston):
1. Texas Rangers (94-68)
2. Los Angeles Angels (92-66)
3. Oakland Athletics (72-90)
4. Seattle Mariners (70-92)
The Rangers simply have too much talent. The Angels have done well to try and catch up, and the Rangers might have enough question marks to cause the top of this division to flip. But, for now, I’ll still give the slight edge to Texas. I’ll go ahead and say their lineup will continue to be the best in baseball, top to bottom. When their only potential “weak” spots are at #8 (Mitch Moreland, whose OPS is still above the league average, and hits around 15-20 home runs) and #9 (Craig Gentry a young CF, who has an OBP near .350, and who stole 18 bases in just 64 games last season), they clearly have an offensive advantage over pretty much everyone else. I’m bumping them down a notch because I’m not 100% comfortable with the pitching changes. Don’t get me wrong – they have some very good young pitching. But, losing C.J. Wilson and replacing him with unproven Yu Darvish isn’t ideal. And, moving Neftali Feliz into the starting lineup is a risky move. But, let’s be honest – are we really ready to do a lot of arguing about pitching with Nolan Ryan?
The Angels made some good moves this offseason. Not great. But, good for the next few seasons. I don’t think any team will be able to afford the mistake it was to sign Pujols for the length and money the Angels did. Three straight years of a declining batting average, home runs, rbi’s, and OPS, is not a fluke when the guy’s 32. The next 3 years will be fun for Angels fans. It’s the 7 after that when they’ll be wondering why they’re paying a guy over $1 million per home run. All that being said, I’m giving the Angels a boost in wins because of the improvement to their pitching staff, not because of Pujols. C.J. Wilson as a #3 starter makes this one of the best (if not the best) rotations in the league. The offense has a lot of question marks (is Kendrys Morales healthy? how much older and slower is Torii Hunter going to get? can Vernon Wells recover from a disastrous 2011? can Mark Trumbo shift to 3B, and not see a dip in offensive production?), but their pitching will be stellar. And, for now, I’ll say that the Wild Card comes from this division – and not the AL East for the first time since 2006!
Oakland had a lot of young, promising talent . . . had . . . then they traded most of it away. Gio Gonzalez – gone. Andrew Bailey – gone. Trevor Cahill – gone. Guillermo Moscoso – gone. All very talented young pitchers that looked like the new wave of talent that Oakland always seems to have. But, they sent them all packing. Now they’re hoping to rebound with Bartolo Colon as their #2 starter. Uh, can you say “keep dreaming”? The only reason I didn’t push the A’s even further back than a 90-loss season is because they have some young pitchers that I don’t know, and they always seem to do well with guys out of their farm system. Plus, I think their offense will be improved with the additions of Cespedes (the Cuban outfielder that was coveted by many), and Seth Smith (a guy from Colorado who few knew had an .857 OPS in 2011), and Jemile Weeks (Rickie’s little brother who gets on base and steals a lot of bases).
Seattle did practically nothing to improve themselves this offseason. Oh, there are a lot of new faces, and they might even win 10 more games than last season. But, when your best offensive threats (Mike Carp and Jesus Montero) are two guys that had a total of 351 AB’s in 2011 – you can’t expect a big turnaround. The pitching staff is still headlined by Felix Hernandez, and might have improved with the signing of Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma. But, Jason Vargas (your #2 starter) should have been coming into his prime the last two seasons, and instead went 19-25 with a 4.02 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. The fact that Kevin Millwood is in your rotation at all says enough about where this team is headed in 2012. They may have made some decent moves for the future of the organization’s offense, but there’s not much to be excited about for 2012.