After one month of baseball, the American League West has seen its fair share of storylines early. There have been key injuries, unexpected cold starts and a new team in the Houston Astros causing a little more trouble than many expected at the beginning of the season.
For the most part, the division still appears to be a three-horse race between the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; but there is still plenty of baseball left.
With that in mind; here is the updated predictions for the final standings in the AL West.
1. Texas Rangers
The more things change with the Texas Rangers, the more they stay the same. Former stars Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Michael Young and C.J. Wilson have all come and gone, yet the Rangers continue to find ways to win.
The Rangers offense continues to hit behind strong starts by Ian Kinsler (.330 BA), Nelson Cruz (6 HR, 20 RBI) and Lance Berkman (.938 OPS). Yu Darvish helps anchor a young staff with the likes of Nick Tepesch (2-2, 3.54 ERA) and Justin Grimm (2-0, 1.59 ERA).
The Rangers also benefit by having top prospect Jurickson Profar waiting in the wings in case anyone in the infield goes down with an injury or can't pull his weight in the lineup. The staff will also get a boost when Matt Harrison comes back from injury later in the season.
The Rangers should hold on to win the AL West this season, as the team will only get better as the season goes along.
2. Oakland Athletics
This may be a bit of a shock to people, but the issues over in Los Angeles will help Oakland finish in second place in the AL West and get the team a potential wild-card berth at the end of the season.
Oakland came out on fire, starting the season 12-4, but cooled off significantly toward the end of the month of April with a 2-8 stretch against the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.
Coincidentally, this streak also came around the same time that Yoenis Cespedes was placed on the DL. Plain and simple, the Oakland A's are a much better team with Cespedes in the lineup, which was made evident by ESPN's Buster Olney earlier this week on Twitter:
Oakland's record when Yoenis Cespedes plays since he joined the team: 92-49. Record when he doesn't play: 16-31.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) April 30, 2013
Jed Lowrie, Josh Donaldson and Coco Crisp have carried the offense early as all three posted an OWAR over one in the first month, while ageless wonder Bartolo Colon and Tommy Milone have helped anchor an Oakland A's pitching staff which was not as sharp in April as it was last season.
If the A's can survive Coco Crisp and Brett Anderson hitting the DL, Oakland should be in a good position to keep up with Texas until the end of the season.
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
In all honesty, I was tempted to put Seattle to finish third in front of the Angels, but it is hard to believe a team with this much talent can't at least muster a third-place finish in this division.
It isn't hard to find the Angels' problems. The rotation desperately misses the presence of Zack Greinke, and an early injury to Jered Weaver has left the Angles with C.J. Wilson leading the rotation. The Angels pitching staff has combined to post a 4.91 ERA, while the offense has been a little slow out of the gate.
Josh Hamilton is having a disastrous start to the season, as he is the proud owner of a .207/.258/.379 split with only two home runs and nine RBI. Angels fans have to be worried about Hamilton, especially when he is surrounded by the likes of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo.
This isn't the first time the Angels have fallen deep into a hole to start the season, as they were one of the worst teams in baseball last season until Trout's promotion to the big leagues.
The problem this season is there is no super-prospect in their system who is coming to the rescue anytime soon. Weaver coming back will boost the Angels' staff drastically, but if the Angels continue to struggle with the rest of the rotation, it's just not going to be enough.
Put this in writing: If the Angels don't finish in the top two of the division this season, longtime manager Mike Scioscia very well could be out of a job.
4. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners took a while to get their offense going this season after a tremendous spring, and they are still nowhere near that production either. The revamped Mariners lineup still ranks in the bottom third of the league in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Mike Morse has been solid for the Mariners, even with missing some time with a broken pinky finger. His batting average dipped a bit at the end of the month, but a lot of that can be contributed to his injury as well.
The Mariners have to be concerned with the performances of Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak, as the three young hitters have continued to struggle at the big league level as well. Ackley and Smoak started to heat up at the end of the month, and the Mariners appear to have rediscovered their offensive groove:
M's have raised team average from .218 to .245 over last nine games
— Larry Stone (@StoneLarry) May 2, 2013
On the mound, the top of the Mariners' rotation has been excellent. Felix Hernandez continues to be Felix Hernandez, and Hisashi Iwakuma (2-1, 1.67 ERA) has turned into one of the best No. 2 pitchers in baseball. However, Joe Saunders, rookie Brandon Maurer, Blake Beavan (recently demoted to Triple-A) and Aaron Harang have all struggled through the first month of the season.
If the Mariners can figure out the back-end of their rotation, Seattle could make a push for third in the division with a few lucky bounces. If not, this team will finish exactly where most predicted it would at the beginning of the season.
5. Houston Astros
Give the Astros credit, they have not been nearly as bad as many thought they would be coming into the season. That being said, the Astros have still been pretty bad.
The problem hasn't been their hitting, as they rank in the middle of the pack in most hitting categories; the problem has been their pitching staff (or lack thereof).
The Astros are dead last in ERA, WHIP, BAA and quality starts, and by a pretty healthy margin.
Teams are hitting nearly .300 against the Astros this season, while their pitching staff sports a horrific 5.42 ERA on the young season. Give the Astros credit, however; they may have the worst record in baseball, but that may also have a little bit to do with their schedule.
They have had to face the Red Sox four times, the Yankees three times, the Rangers three times and the Athletics six times. Those four teams currently own four of the top seven records in the American League and have gone a combined 69-41.
The Astros will be feisty this season, but expect them to finish in last in a very difficult AL West.
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