The AL West has certainly been intriguing the last couple years. The Angels spent money like it was going out of style last offseason . . . only to watch the Oakland A’s and their AL-low $55 million payroll win the division. The Rangers continue to try and tweak their team to find the right combination that will allow them to finish the season as champions, rather than playoff also-rans. Then, there’s the newest piece of the puzzle – the Houston Astros, who have been a National League team for the previous 51 seasons (since their inaugural season in 1962). This will be an interesting year out west. Here’s how I see it panning out:
- Oakland A’s (92-70)
- Los Angeles Angels (89-73)
- Seattle Mariners (83-79)
- Texas Rangers (82-80)
- Houston Astros (49-113)
A’s: The addition of Chris Young. Cespedes’ growth. All those rookie pitchers aren’t rookies anymore. The team that won the division a year ago looks like they might be even better heading into this season. The pitching staff, which is nearly unaltered, was second only to Tampa in team ERA in 2012 (3.48). And, while the lineup wasn’t exactly intimidating last season (only 3 teams in the AL had a lower team OPS), they look poised to take big strides in that direction this year.
Angels: So, they steal their rival’s biggest offensive threat (surely Hamilton and Pujols won’t go cold at the same time…will they?). And, this lineup looks pretty intimidating from top to bottom, with a full season of Trout, Hamilton, Bourjos, Pujols, Trumbo, etc. But, I’m a little concerned with the fact that they really didn’t do much to improve their pitching – which is the main reason I picked them to finish with the same record as last season. They’ve revamped their bullpen a little with the addition of Sean Burnett and Mark Lowe (which should help them keep from having the 3rd worst bullpen ERA in the AL, like they did in 2012). But, once you get past Weaver and Wilson at the top of their rotation, there are some pretty serious question marks. We’ll see if the offense can help them hold up – good thing they get to play the Astros 15 times.
Mariners: With King Felix at the top of this rotation, it’s no wonder they finished behind only Tampa, Oakland and Detroit in team ERA in 2012. But, the team that finished dead last in all of baseball with a .665 OPS, has made some fairly significant improvements on offense: most notably Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse. I don’t think they’re ready to compete for the division yet, but if they are close to the top at the trade deadline, don’t be surprised if they’re buyers.
Rangers: I see this team taking a significant step backwards. Too many losses on the offense without reasonable replacements: Hamilton and Napoli will be missed, because Pierzynski and whatever platoon of outfielders they’ll use to replace Hamilton are hardly going to be the threats to opposing pitchers this lineup used to have. And, their pitching staff is already having to deal with leftover injuries from last season – Neftali Feliz still recovering from Tommy John; Colby Lewis recovering from elbow surgery; Joakim Soria recovering from Tommy John. The more I look at this team, the more I think they could struggle to stay above .500.
Astros: We could see the Astros flirt with the modern record for most losses in a season (120). This team that lost 107 in 2012 while playing in the weakest NL division, now has to regularly face the offenses of LA and TEX, as well as an improved OAK and SEA. They are the main reason I didn’t drop some of the records down a little further of other AL West teams, since they’ll play each of those teams about 15 times. Opening Day starter: 4.65 ERA in 2012. Number of guys in their Opening Day lineup that hit 20+ home runs in 2012: 0. Biggest offensive threat: maybe Carlos Pena (19 HR, .197 BA in 2012)? All-in-all, this won’t be a good year for ‘Stros fans.
Now that I’ve covered the entire AL, here are my playoff predictions:
Wild Card: Angels def. Yankees
ALDS: Tigers def. Angels (3-1); Blue Jays def. A’s (3-2)
ALCS: Tigers def. Blue Jays (4-3) – what a series this could be!