Now that the MLB season is underway with the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners squaring off in Japan last week (they split the two game series), the time has come to predict all things important in the AL West.
After the Texas Rangers won the division for the second-straight year en route to another World Series defeat, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim went on a spending spree that included signing Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson.
Not to be outdone the Rangers proceeded to sign Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish and will once again feature one of the more potent lineups in baseball.
With the Angels and Rangers as the obvious headliners of the division, is there any chance that the rebuilding Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners could make a surprise playoff run?
End of Season Division Standings
1. Texas Rangers
Despite the Angels big signings this offseason, the Rangers will remain the team to beat. The Rangers mix of power and speed on offense make them a formidable matchup for any team in the league, despite lingering concerns regarding the rotation.
The key factor for the Rangers if they want to capture another AL West crown will be how well both Netfali Feliz and Yu Darvish handle their transitions into the starting rotation. If both Feliz and Darvish pitch to their potential, the Rangers should feature pitching that matches their offense.
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Even if the Angels can’t overcome the Rangers in the AL West, they are still a likely playoff team with the addition of a second wild-card team in each league. Led by a strong starting rotation that includes Jered Weaver and the newly acquired CJ Wilson, the Angels could very well end up the battling for the AL West.
The addition of Pujols will undoubtedly improve last season's middling offense, but there are still too many weak spots to match up with the Rangers' offense. The return of Kendrys Morales from injury and calling up super-prospect Mike Trout could provide the needed boost to the offense.
3. Oakland Athletics
The distance between the second and third best teams in the AL West is immense as neither the Athletics nor Mariners are serious contenders. Even with the Athletics purging the roster again in a seemingly endless rebuilding cycle, they should have enough to surpass the Mariners for third place in the division.
Neither the pitching or hitting of the Athletics will be mentioned as elite units, but both aren’t much worse than average either. The continued development of second baseman Jemile Weeks and Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes bears watching.
4. Seattle Mariners
After two straight disappointing seasons, the Mariners should be an improved club in 2012, but this still may not be enough to keep them out of the AL West cellar. The offense will once again likely be one of the worst in the MLB with second-year player Dustin Ackley being one of the only bright spots.
The rotation, despite having ace Felix Hernadez, is also full of question marks as behind King Felix is the uninspiring group of Jason Vargas, Kevin Millwood, Blake Beaven and Hector Noesi. Making matters worse is the state of the bullpen, which besides closer Brandon League is below average.
1. Josh Hamilton
Even though Hamilton missed nearly 30 games with injury in 2011, he put up a monster stat line of .298, 25 HRs and 98 RBI. Injuries will always be a question with Hamilton, but when healthy there is little doubt as to his standing as one of the elite offensive players in the MLB.
2. Albert Pujols
After 11 years and three MVP’s in the National League, Albert Pujols shocked many by leaving St. Louis for the Angels. Even with age, Pujols is 32, and injuries starting to become a concern, there is no reason to think that Pujols won’t continue to crank out MVP like numbers in the AL.
1. Felix Hernandez
As a result of the atrocious nature of the Mariners offense, Felix doesn’t get the win totals of other elite pitchers, but he is still comfortably in the conversation of best pitchers in the game right now. Coming off of a slightly disappointing season in 2011, and 20 pounds lighter, King Felix could explode in 2012.
2. Jered Weaver
Consistently among one of the game's better pitchers, prior to 2011, Weaver elevated himself to an elite level in 2011. If not for Justin Verlander’s brilliance, Weaver would have likely been the Cy Young winner last season. Expect a similar output from the former Long Beach State star in 2012.
Newcomer of the Year
1. Yu Darvish
After seven dominant years in the Nippon Baseball League, 93-38 record and 1.99 ERA, Darvish decided to become available to the MLB this past offseason. The Rangers placed the winning bid for Darvish and then agreed to terms on a six-year, $60 million contract. Given Darvish’s success in Japan and in the World Baseball Classic, 2-1 and 2.08 ERA in 2009, Darvish should transition well into the top half of the Rangers rotation.
2. Yoenis Cespedes
Another foreign addition to the AL West this offseason was the Athletics surprising signing of Cuban center fielder Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes has gotten off to a quick start with the A’s as he doubled off Felix Hernandez in his first MLB game and hit a two-run HR in his second game. Like Darvish, Cespedes has had significant success against competition similar to the MLB, .458 average and two HRs in 2009 World Baseball Classic.