05
Apr
09

This Year in Baseball – AL West


Despite being only a 4-team division, the AL West hasn’t been particularly competitive for several years; last year the Rangers finished in second in the division but a robust 21 games out of first. This year, the balance of power swings back to Oakland as the other teams in the division are just not up to snuff. Join us after the jump as our eyes look to the west, and dream.

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Oakland Athletics – Predicted record (86 – 76)

Choosing the A’s here is dangerous, they are just as likely to dismantle the team and trade for prospects if it looks like they are out of it come July 1st, but that shouldn’t be the case this summer. However, choosing them is also more of an indictment on the Angels than confidence in the A’s. Yes, the rotation is headed by Dallas Braden, which is like saying America’s film industry is headed by Rob Schneider, but the kids behind him, Sean Gallagher (in the bullpen for now, but that will change), Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill are all more than capable of being efficient and effective starters in the majors. If there are too many early season struggles though, this team has ZERO chance of competing. The margin for error here is razor thin and everything needs to go right in Oakland for this team to win the division. Brad Ziegler came up last year and pitched his way into the record books with his scoreless streak, he needs to be just as good this year, particularly with expected co-closer Joey Devine being placed on the 60-day DL. Setting him up though, and helping those young starters stay in games, will be a better than solid relief crew, with Michael Weurtz, Russ Springer, Santiago Casilla and Josh Outman. None of these arms are spectacular, but as a group they should prove effective.

Adding some veteran complements, like Orlando Cabrera, Jason Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra to the mix should help the youngsters in their development. Adding the big bat of Matt Holliday will go even further to help the kids. No, Matt Holliday will NOT be the player he was in Colorado where he had a career OPS of 1.068 and a road one of .803, that away OPS is going to be closer to where he is this season, particularly in the pitcher’s park that is the Coliseum. But, he is still a dynamic offensive force, likely to split the difference between his OPSs and with his excellent eye, get an OPS somewhere in the .900 range. If he can do that, this team has a big-time chance. While Giambi likely will top 30 HRs, he’ll also do so with a .250 average, but since he has such a good command of the strike zone, he’s still likely to top .950 with his OPS. As long as Eric Chavez is healthy, the A’s will have excellent defense on the left side of the diamond, but when his inevitable injuries arise, throwing Nomar out there will weaken the team defensively, but the offense will remain about the same. Other than Cabrera, Mark Ellis is the only other semi-likely offensive player to pay attention to, before, a hot break-out candidate last year, after being injured, Ellis never truly got back on track; this year he’s healthy and possibly poised to hit .300 while providing excellent defense. Travis Buck and Ryan Sweeney are not the answers in the outfield, and if this team really wants to contend and get deep in the playoffs, they’ll need to upgrade the outfield positions. In any other AL division the A’s would have no chance, but in the west, it’s about to get wild.

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Predicted record (85 – 77)

Last year the Angels Pythagorean record showed they should have won only 88 games, but thanks to some very fortunate lucky breaks, the team won 100, that kind of statistical aberration simply won’t happen again. For one thing, the shut-down closer Francisco Rodriguez is gone, and while Brian Fuentes is decent, he won’t be as effective as K-Rod’s historic season. The starting rotation is missing its three best pitchers to start the season, John Lackey is expected to miss probably the first month, as is Kelvim Escobar who didn’t pitch at all last season, and Ervin Santana has been experiencing elbow troubles and hopes to be back in May but who knows. So, that leaves the #1 rotation spot for now, to Joe Saunders, extremely effective last season, Saunders’ lack of a true out pitch, and his low strike-out rates, plus his high contact ratios, means that he is going to find himself in much more trouble than he did last season and is highly unlikely to come near 17 wins again this year. The maddeningly inconsistent Jered Weaver slots in the the number 2 spot, and he also features plenty of contact issues. Long-time Angels prospect Nick Adenhart is finally being given a chance in the rotation, but considering he’s been awful in his limited call-ups previously, and threw a 5+ ERA out last year in AAA is not very encouraging. He might have a few good starts here and there, but otherwise, the Angels better pray that Lackey, Escobar and Santana can come back soon. If at least two of those three aren’t back by mid-May, it may already be too late. Losing K-Rod’s 62 saves hurts, but his looking past the gaudy save totals, his velocity was dipping, hitters weren’t as fooled by his breaking balls and despite saving so many, he did also still blow 7 saves. Bringing in Brian Fuentes is a decent move to finish games out in the OC, and if he struggles too much, the power arm of Jose Arredondo is right there to pick up the slack. Also, never count out Scot Shields either, one of the most efficient and consistent middle relievers in baseball for the past 5 seasons.

Last year’s big move, acquiring Mark Teixiera via trade in the hopes that he’d be the piece that would take the Halos over the Red Sox in the playoffs proved to be mistaken. Even after he joined the lineup, the offense was not that much improved. Vladimir Guerrero is a year older, actually, he’s TWO years older, and while the Baseball Monster might have one more strong season in a contract year, he walks around like he’s a 60 year old arthritis patient and the once dynamic outfielder no longer is. The addition of Bobby Abreu was a smart play, the Angels got him cheap and he’s a near-lock for a 20 HR, 100 R, 100 RBI season but he won’t be enough. Torii Hunter is basically the same player, but these are complementary pieces, not centerpieces of an offense, and that’s exactly what they are being counted on for. In the infield, there’s a third baseman (Figgins) who is only valuable for stolen bases, a second baseman (Kendrick) who can’t stay healthy enough to be useful and a first baseman in Kendry Morales who has a career .711 OPS at the big league level. There simply isn’t enough offense on this team to get the job done, and with the concerns in the pitching staff, this looks to be the year the Angels take a step backwards.

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Texas Rangers – Predicted record (80 – 82)

The Texas Rangers are notorious for their all-hitting no-pitching teams, and good news fans of consistency, nothing has changed this year! Kevin Millwood is the top dog here, and while Vincent Padilla has been surprisingly useful in Texas, of course, useful is a relative term…Remember when Kris Benson was a good pitcher? Yeah, no one else does either. If only the Rangers were able to develop good pitching like Edinson Volquez and John Danks, oh wait, they did, and traded them away, oops! Maybe Brandon McCarthy lives up to the hype but his MLB performance hasn’t suggested he will. Best remembered for previously throwing a bullpen chair into the stands, Frank Francisco is the closer and he should be highly efficient in the role. Otherwise, the rest of the bullpen is so-so at best.

At least the offense is stellar, with Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Chris Davis expected to lead the attack. Add in the steady 200 hit ability of Michael Young and the exciting young talents of Elvis Andrus and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and scoring runs will never be a problem for this team. If Nelson Cruz lives up to his AAA numbers and doesn’t prove to be the AAAA player that many expect him to be, this team could be even more impressive. However, until they learn how to develop, and maintain a decent starting rotation, the Rangers won’t be a truly competitive team. Fortunately, their farm system is the best in baseball and in two-three years, they could become the true power in the West. That’s not happening yet though.

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Seattle Mariners – Predicted record (76 – 86)

Last year the Mariners were a chic pick to win the division, they rewarded everyone by coming in dead last. This year, with another year under his belt and fresh off some strong WBC performances, Felix Hernandez may finally  justify his lofty “King Felix” title. A dominant pitcher two years ago, last year’s campaign is one that Erik Bedard would rather forget. If his health holds up, a return to form is not unlikely but even still, these two ace-lites won’t be enough. When the rest of the rotation consists of Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn and Ryan Rowland-Smith, three games out of five are going to be problematic. The decision to move Brandon Morrow into the closers role may be good for the team short-term, but the team has seriously mishandled Morrow throughout his development and both he and the team would be best served with him getting serious innings as a starter either in Seattle or AAA. As closer though, he should be very efficient in one-inning doses and he better, because the rest of the bullpen with David Aardsma, Mark Lowe etc, are middling at best.

The last time he entered a contract season, Adrian Beltre EXPLODED for 48 HRs and finished 2nd in the MVP race, he enters another contract and if he puts up similar numbers who knows what might happen to this team. While he is likely to have a very strong season, the 2004 season isn’t going to be repeated. Other than Beltre, the lack of offense on this team is staggering; Jose Lopez is singles hitter, a good one, but that’s it, same with Endy Chavez, Yuniesky Betancourt and Kenji Johjima, and that’s when they’re able to actually make contact. The resigning of Ken Griffey may sell some seats, but it won’t win this team any games. Overall, the Mariners are simply over-matched this season. The loss of Ichiro from the team early in the season is going to prove problematic, sure, when he returns he’ll likely post just as strong a season as ever, but without him in this lineup there are simply no play-makers.


1 Response to “This Year in Baseball – AL West”


  1. 1 youppi
    April 5, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    I commend you on your ballsiness, slanch, but I don’t think the A’s rookie arms are going to carry them to postseason ’09… this division is so craptastical, I think the angels can take it, even with all their injury problems. I also think the Rangers and their crazy offense will surprise a few teams…


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