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AL West: Under Pressure

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AL West: Under Pressure
(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

 

Time to go West, my friends. I don’t think we are going to find the best baseball out here this year. Lately, for some reason, the East Coast is dominating things in sports. In the NCAA’s, it was something like two or three teams from out west were one of the top four seeds, 16 overall. The only recent World Series winners from out west were the Angels and Diamondbacks, the latter's championship dating back to their Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling years.

I don’t see the trend changing this year.

Anyway, onto to previews.

Mark my words, the Oakland A’s are going to be the surprise of this division. For years they “overachieved." I say that because we all have standards of judging a baseball team. Namely, more money, more success.

For the A’s, its more like more money, more problems.

The last few years haven’t been what they’re used to, but I think it’s coming back.

And here’s why.

A recent SI article talked about the personalities of baseball clubhouses. The Rockies have a religious one, the Yankees have a corporate one, and the A’s have a frolicking one. I think that’s true.

The A’s have always seemed to be a laid-back group.

And it’s good for them.

Let me explain: think back to when you played sports in school, little league, and the like.

It was a fun-loving time.

You’d go out for ice cream after a game, hang out with your teammates outside of practice, invite them over for birthday parties, have pool parties, etc.  You knew the ability of your team; maybe you were good, maybe you weren’t. The important thing was having fun and trying hard. That was it. That’s the vibe I get from the A’s.

Yeah, they’ve won divisions and have had success, but everyone knows that at the very least, this team has more hills to climb than others. The A’s know this, and they’re OK with it.

That’s what’s going to lead them to success again. They have no pressure on them. When you have pressure, it builds and builds until it reaches a point that it breaks you. That’s the reason coaches in college basketball don’t like having a one seed, or the reason UConn isn’t a lock to win the women’s tourney. Pressure is a killer.

And the A’s don’t have any.

The Angels do. In a division of supposed “weaklings", they are the alpha dog, which leads to pressure. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t think they will have any success. They are going to be good.

However, the Angels are one of these teams that have been good for a few years now, but they aren't making the necessary changes to stay atop the division. They couldn’t keep Teixeira around, some of their top prospects have flamed out, and mainstays like Garret Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero are quickly becoming dinosaurs.

That’s the bottom line with these guys. They had a strong nucleus for years, but those guys are getting past their prime, which the Angels expected to happen.

They had replacements in hand (Kendry Morales, Brandon Wood and co.), but they haven’t materialized. If they continue to struggle this year, the Angels might not do much. Still, this is a weak division.

Onto the heart of Texas. Man did they find a guy in Josh Hamilton.

What can you say about the guy? He has everything you want in a superstar. Yeah, he fell off the wagon for a few years, but he’s sold me on his redemption story. I saw his hometown comeback show with Rick Reilly a while back, and I took the bait. I’m hoping he stays afloat because he could take that mantle Ken Griffey, Jr. left behind as the face of baseball and hero of young kids.

Anyway, let’s pull in the reins and actually get to the preview. This offense might be one of the most fun to watch, especially in the years to come. Outside of Hamilton, you have an emerging Ian Kinsler and a masher in Chris Davis.

Elvis Andrus is supposed to be an explosive talent, and there are some other names floating around like Jarrod “can we get this guy a nickname please?” Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and even Nelson Cruz. Mark my words; this might be the story of the early season, just how good Texas’ offense is.

Oh, but the pitching. Kevin Millwood? Vicente Padilla? Jason Jennings? Throw Odalis Perez and Mike Hampton in there and you have the official “late nineties supposed to be stud pitchers who I forgot even existed” group. Derek Lowe was a provisional member for a few years.

(Focus, Corey.)

Ok, back to business. Alright, so we have those guys. Any up and coming arms?

Well Edinson Volquez and John Danks, two of the three DVD guys.

They’re good.

Yeah, but the Rangers traded them years ago (But you did get back Josh Hamilton and…umm…well… Hamilton’s good!)

What about the other DVD guy?

Let me look it up…

(Five minute break while I search the archives for the forgotten third member of the DVD trio…five more minutes…)

(almost there…)

THOMAS DIAMOND!!

WHO???

Yeah. Who exactly.

What I’m trying to say is that there are no up and comers for the Rangers, at least not for this year. This is going to be the weakness, just like it had been for the last few years. Even though the offense might be exciting to watch, this team is going to be the same overall as it has been the last few years. Until the make a breakthrough in the pitching staff, they aren’t going anywhere.

(I’m nothing if not blunt.)

There’s no reason for me to rehash the problems Seattle has had in the past couple years.

The Supersonics management giving a collective “eff you” to their fans and supporters while jettisoning town because they couldn’t have a new stadium, while taking one of the best up and coming stars in the game with them.

The Seahawks falling off the face of the football planet.

Washington and Washington State having two of the worst football seasons in their histories last year.

Oh yeah, and the Mariners were just the Mariners, that’s bad enough.

So, let’s not rehash those horrible moments.

(Sorry, Seattle fans, I couldn’t help myself.)

 (Note: While I’m writing this I’m watching Michigan play Oklahoma, with Blake Griffin turning into Iron Man and the announcer in turn saying Michigan should resort to “Hack a Griff”, like “Hack a Shaq.” Really? “Hack A Griff?” Sounds like a creature from Harry Potter.)

Anyway…             

So the Mariners. You look up and down their roster to try and find hope, and it really starts and ends with Felix Hernandez and Ichiro. Look at it sometime; they have guys contributing, like Kenji Johjima, Russell Branyan, Adrian Beltre, and Miguel Batista.

I don’t know about you, but those names don’t spell contender to me.

There’s young talent in the outfield with Wladimir Balentien and Franklin Gutierrez (not to mention two of the coolest names around), and on the staff with Brandon Morrow, but I just don’t see things getting better anytime soon.

Who knows, maybe Griffey being back will light a fire under these guys and the fanbase and magic will happen. I just don’t see it.

The AL West is one of the weaker divisions around. With only four teams, it’s not going to be as deep as some other divisions, and with the Angels being the only real team people think can contend (which I’m not so sure of), there might be some boring baseball to watch, especially in August and September.

But maybe a surprise is coming.

Here’s who I think things will shake out

1.       Angels

2.       Athletics

3.       Rangers

4.       Mariners

And here are my previous previews.

AL East

NL East

AL Central

NL Central

 

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