Here we are. Just a few days away from pitchers and catchers reporting. Are you excited yet?? I’m fairly excited to see what happens in the AL West. Because I’m not sure you could say there is a bad team in this division. The other two divisions have at least one team that you just know aren’t going to be able to compete in 2015. But, even the bottom of this division has reason to be excited about the 2015 season. Even if they aren’t competing for the division, they will still be relevant. So, here’s how I see the division finishing the season…
- Oakland A’s (88-74)
- Los Angeles Angels (84-78)
- Seattle Mariners (81-81)
- Houston Astros (76-86)
- Texas Rangers (74-88)
As surprised as you may be reading this – I was even more surprised by this result when I looked at the numbers. Looking at it right now, I want to make changes. But, I am going to stick with the numbers that got me to this point. So, here’s how each of the teams got to where they are in my rankings:
I have spent most of this offseason questioning every move made by the A’s. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Billy Beane has tossed away his offense the way he has. They weren’t a bunch of troublesome clubhouse guys. They weren’t guys that were at the end of their contract, and were suddenly going to be too expensive for Oakland to keep. And, it’s not like the A’s received top tier prospects in return for them. So, I still have a lot of unanswered questions about their offense. They rank as the worst offense in the division, not because they’re going to be terrible. But, because they have several above-average bats (Zobrist, Reddick, Vogt, Lawrie), without any single batter that’s going to be a big threat to opposing pitchers. However, in a division that seems lacking in the pitching department, the A’s will have the best rotation top to bottom. All 5 of their starters had above-average seasons last year, and Gray and Pomeranz have the potential to be aces when they mature a little (24 & 26 years old, respectively). And, the addition of Tyler Clippard to an already stout bullpen gives them five relievers who finished 2014 with a WHIP below 1.10 – three of whom were below 1.00! So, the A’s pitching staff – rotation and bullpen – ranks as the best in the division. Add that to the fact that, even with the losses of Donaldson, Moss and Norris, they will be at or near the top of the division in team defense, and you have a team that will win a lot of 3-2 games.
Los Angeles (or, is it Anaheim?)
And, down the Pacific coast we go to the team that is the anti-Oakland team. The Angels have easily the best offense in the division, with the likes of Trout, Pujols, Calhoun, and Iannetta leading the way. And, if Josh Hamilton can contribute after recovering from his surgery, they’ll just be that much more daunting. But, once you get past the offense, the rest of this team is fairly mediocre. Richards and Shoemaker had great seasons last year in the rotation. But, Weaver is aging, and is now an average starter (4.19 FIP last year). And, the back end of their rotation is highly suspect – Wilson and Santiago both posted FIPs well over 4.00 in 2014. The bullpen is good – not great. Street’s strikeout rate has been in decline since 2012. And, the rest of the bullpen doesn’t really have anyone that just jumps out at you as a premier reliever. The team defense and speed are near the bottom of the division. If there hadn’t been two teams at the bottom of this division for the Angels to beat up on last year, they never would have won as much as they did. With everyone else in the division finding ways to improve themselves, I see the Angels taking a significant step backward this year.
Names. I’ve decided that’s what Seattle continues to go after. Year after year they are signing big names, rather than the kinds of players they need. Nelson Cruz had the best year of his career in a favorable hitter’s park – so, the Mariners sign him for his age 34-38 seasons. Seth Smith had the best year of his career at age 31, so the Mariners sign him. I won’t even go into how big of a mistake the Cano contract was. Their lineup has the look of being a great offense. But, with Cano at 33, they simply have too many guys that are going to be declining in their production. Felix Hernandez will carry their rotation (170 ERA+ last year!), but beyond him are a lot of question marks. Iwakuma turns 34 in April, and had an average season last year. Paxton pitched well in his 13 starts, and has top-of-the-rotation potential – but, he’s unproven. Then you have an aging Happ, and a mediocre Elias at the back end. And, unfortunately, the bullpen in Seattle is not built to pick up the slack – it’s easily the worst in the division. Two of their best relievers going into this season had a WHIP over 1.30 last year. And, a middle-of-the-pack team defense and speed isn’t really going to help them win.
I believe the Astros will likely be a force to be reckoned with in 2016. But, they aren’t quite there yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if they approached a .500 season, but they have some fairly major holes to fill before they’re competing for the playoffs. The biggest of which is their starting rotation. It’s definitely the worst in the division. I was surprised at how excited some Astros fans were at the signing of Scott Feldman – a mediocre #3 starter, at best. McHugh and Keuchel had career years last year. So, does that mean they will continue to be strong pitchers (and, by strong, I mean quality #2 starters), or will they digress? And, then, there’s the #4 & #5 spots. Dan Straily‘s coming off of a season in which his ERA was 6.75, and Brett Oberholtzer‘s was 4.39 – yuck. Perhaps management was anticipating the struggles of the starting rotation when they went out and signed 3 quality free-agent relievers (Qualls, Gregorson, and Neshek). But, even those three only raise the Astro’s bullpen to above-average status – and, Qualls & Neshek are 36 & 34, respectively. The biggest bright spot for Houston has to be their offense. But, unfortunately, they reside in an offense-heavy division, so they aren’t really going to stand out. But, Altuve and Springer are just going to get better as they mature. Carter and Gattis will provide plenty of pop. They’ll be young and exciting. But, not a complete enough team just yet.
Before looking at the numbers, I was expecting the Rangers to take a significant step forward this season. But, in this division, they could win several more games, and still finish in last. And, that’s honestly what I expect to happen. Even with a healthy Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, this offense is going to rank in the middle of the division at best (what does that tell you about these offenses?!). And, they are easily the worst defensive team in the division. They do have a young, blossoming, bullpen. Feliz, Mendez, and Cline are all quality relievers, and all under the age of 28. But, the reason I don’t see Texas making a move in the division is their rotation. Darvish is very good at the top. But, then you have nothing but mediocrity the rest of the way down. And, that’s being kind, considering how poorly Lewis, Martinez and Tepesch pitched last year. The addition of Yovani Gallardo might push their overall rotation ahead of Houston’s depending on what kind of bounce-back year he could have. But, that’s as good as it’s going to get. There will be a lot of high-scoring, exciting games in this division. Unfortunately for Rangers fans, they’re going to see their team lose too many 8-6 and 7-5.