MLB in 2010: Wild, Wild AL West
With their acquisition of Ben Sheets, the Oakland A's are now in the mix of what figures to be a completely different AL West Division.
The Mariners, who were quite the surprise last season, added ace Cliff Lee, troubled OF Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins, and Casey Kotchman. Their aggressive offseason moves have led many to pick them as favorites to win the competitive AL West.
The Angels, who lost key players like Chone Figgins, John Lackey, and Vlad Guerrero, aren't clear favorites any longer. Adding Joel Pinero, a potential fourth starter, was a good move, but doesn't solve all their problems.
With the Rangers adding Rich Harden and Vlad Guerrero, the rest of the west should worry about Texas. The Rangers offense is going to score runs, and their newly improved rotation is going to make the Rangers a more balanced team--granted Rich Harden stays healthy.
The A's used to be the poster-child for the "moneyball" teams, but are now re-inventing themselves a bit. Now, the A's seem like they're going run the bases more aggressively and keep games close with their pitching and defense.
The A's now add Ben Sheets to a rotation that is young and highly talented. The A's front four will now include Sheets, Justin Duchscherer, Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson. The fifth spot will could go to Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro or Gio Gonzalez. Bottom line: A's strength will be pitching in 2010.
Now, here's a look at each team and what else they need to do in order to win the very competitive AL West in 2010.
The offense has certainly been upgraded. Last season the Mariners as a team batted .258/.314/.402 and scored only 640 runs. Adding Figgins, who stole 42 bases and hit .298/.395/.393 was a good move by Seattle. They should be able to utilize Figgins quite well.
The Mariners also added troubled, OF Milton Bradley, who is a career .277/.371/.450 hitter. If Bradley can stay focused, and refrain from disrupting the very good team chemistry Seattle has, he should be alright.
Adding Cliff Lee (14-13, 3.22 ERA) definitely improves Seattle's rotation. And with Felix Hernandez (19-5, 2.49 ERA) coming off his best season yet, the Mariners boast the best 1-2 punch in the American League. Also, Seattle did have the AL's best team ERA (3.87) before the Lee deal.
The only concern, however, is the fact that the Mariners don't really have anybody beyond Hernandez and Lee in the rotation. Ian Snell (7-10, 4.84 ERA) and Doug Fister (3-4, 4.13 ERA) figure to make up the back end of Seattle's rotation.
At this point, Seattle remains to be slightly over-hyped. I'm the first to say that I thought of them as favorites a few weeks ago, but now that the AL West is becoming more competitive I'm not so sure anymore.
The back of the rotation is my biggest concern for Seattle, Hernandez and Lee will account for 60 or so starts, but after them who's going to step it up?
Final Say: Despite their key acquisitions, the Mariners will have to fight for the division crown. It won't be easy, but Seattle should finish at or near the top of the division.
Los Angeles Angels
Sure they lost Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins, but the Halos still have a decent offensive attack. In 2009 the Angels relied heavily on their offense as they hit .285/.350/.441 and scored 883 runs (second-most in AL).
Their offense should still be the best in AL West. They're led by Kendry Morales (.306/.355/.569, 34 HR, 108 RBI), Torii Hunter (.299/.366/.508) and Bobby Abreu (.293/.390/.435, 15 HR, 103 RBI).
And the addition of Hideki Matsui (.274/.367/.509, 28 HR, 90 RBI) doesn't hurt, either.
Pitching is the biggest "flaw" this year for the Halos. They've got no clear "ace" now that John Lackey is in Boston.
The Angels are coming off a season where they seen their team ERA balloon up to 4.45 (9th in AL) and had to rely on offense to bail out their mediocre pitching.
Jered Weaver led the team in ERA (3.75) and Joe Saunders led the team with wins (16). Besides these two, no one really stands out. Ervin Santana had an ERA of 5.03, and Scott Kazmir for the season had an ERA of 4.83.
Even with the arrival of Joel Pinero (3.49, 15-12), who pitched terribly in August (4.19 ERA) and September (4.93 ERA) of last season, the Halos still lack an "ace."
The Halos are heading into 2010 with the possibility of being taken down by their rivals in the west. Seattle has upgraded across the board, Texas should only get better, and Oakland has talent coming up--so the Angels could find it difficult to clinch the West as they normally do.
Pitching will be the key for the Angels' success in 2010. If Weaver or Saunders establishes himself as the team's ace the rest of the rotation should be decent. If not, the offense will have to pick up the slack if they don't want to see Seattle celebrating come September.
Final Say: In the Arms Race that is the AL West, anything is possible. The Sheets signing makes things really interesting, and all four teams should be extremely competitive. As for the Halos, if the pitching is there, they win the division. If not, Seattle takes it.
Sure, 2009 wasn't a great offensive showing for Texas as they finished 11th in batting average (.260), 12th in OBP (.320) and 7th in OPS (.764). However, despite their mediocre performance at the plate, they did manage to stay aggressive on the bases as they swiped 149 in 2009.
And with the addition of Vladimir Guerrero, who hit .295/.334/.460 in an injury plagued season, Texas improves offensively. With Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Michael Young leading the way, Texas should boast a nice offensive attack in 2010.
No Kevin Millwood? Not a problem. Rich Harden was a great pickup for the Rangers. Was it a risk? Sure. That's always the case with Harden, but there's no denying his mad skills when he's healthy. With Harden joining last year's ace Scott Feldman (17-8, 4.08 ERA) in the rotation, Texas should have a decent year on the mound.
The Rangers have definitely improved with the Harden and Guerrero signings and should repeat last year's success. With Seattle getting better though, Texas will have to hope its slugging offense returns to top form.
Final Say: Texas has potential to clinch the division, and going off last year's performance I say they make Seattle and the Angels' lives very difficult.
Heading into 2010 the A's still lack a potent offensive attack. They've got stellar young talent in OF Michael Taylor and 1B Chris Carter, but they're still making their way up to the big leagues. For right now, the A's have to find other ways to score runs.
In 2009, the A's hit .262/.328/.397 and scored 759 runs—altogether, a slightly better offensive showing than the '09 Mariners.
If the A's continue to focus on pitching and defense, look for them to continue their aggressive baserunning that helped them play .500 ball in the later part of 2009. As a team, they finished with 133 stolen bases--good for 4th most in AL.
Adding Ben Sheets makes the A's and the AL West much more interesting. If Sheets, who has a career ERA of 3.72, can stay healthy and perform well—the A's have an outside shot at winning the West.
With Sheets the A's boast a very talented staff that also includes Justin Duchscherer, Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson. And with Joey Devine coming back, the A's bullpen becomes even tougher to beat.
The A's have strong pitching and good defense. If they were to add, let's say Johnny Damon, things could get really interesting in the AL West. Overall, the A's need offensive help if they're to keep pace with the rest of the west.
Final Say: The A's in 2010 might not be a division favorite, but they're certainly no pushover either. The A's probably won't win the division in 2010, but they should in the coming years return as division favorites. At this point in time, the A's finishing third or fourth isn't a bad assumption.
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