This article is the fourth installment of a six-part series in which I analyze each division in baseball and tell you exactly how I believe things are going to shake out this season.
I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share his observations and thoughts.
Today we turn our attention to the AL West, probably the busiest division in terms of offseason moves. The Angels are reigning champs for three years running, but the other three teams will all be trying to make a serious run at them this year—and just might have the horses to succeed.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (94-68)
So why is everybody and their mothers proclaiming that this is the year the Angels get knocked off their pedestal just because they've lost a few pieces?
The way they've won for three years straight now is called "Sciosciaball." And I've got news for youMike Scioscia is still the man calling the shots.
No Chone Figgins? No problem.
Erick Aybar will hit leadoff this year. In his first full season as an everyday player last year, he didn't disappoint, hitting a solid .312.
Lost John Lackey to free agency? Ain't no thang.
They've got Scott Kazmir for a full season this year. And for good measure they picked up Joel Pineiro, 15 game winner last year who only walked 27 batters in 214 innings. That easily gives them the best pitching rotation in the division. Sure, Seattle has their phenomenal one-two punch. But you know what they say
My only concern, which may surprise you, is the bullpen.
Brian Fuentes had a pretty awful season last year, despite leading the AL in saves. Typically when a pitcher leaves Denver, it means good things will happen to his stats. Not the case with Fuentes. His 3.91 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and .254 BAA last season were all by far his worst since 2004.
The Angels brought in Fernando Rodney this winter, supposedly to be the eighth inning guy. I however, think the move was more to get Fuentes back on track, and maybe even put the pressure on him that he might lose his job (which has happened before).
Whatever happens, the Angels need to work out their endgame strategy soon, which might mean needing to pick up an arm or two.
Texas Rangers (88-74)
The Rangers won 87 games last year on the strength of a fast-improving squad of young bats and a surprisingly decent pitching staff. Not much has changed, except the whole team has another year of experience now.
Boasting the deepest farm system in baseball, the Rangers can easily afford to replace from within the players they lost.
Julio Borbon will be the center fielder that replaces Marlon Byrd this year. Who is Julio Borbon? I don't even know, man! Texas just has random guys coming out the woodwork who can hit .300 and steal 50 bases.
He's not even close to being their most highly touted prospect either.
That honor goes to Neftali Feliz, who's role for the club this year is yet to be determined. I'd love to see him become the closer this year, but Rangers president Nolan Ryan says he's headed to the rotation. My guess is that neither will happen initially. He'll be in middle relief until either a starter is desperately needed, or Frank Francisco falters as closer.
Texas will definitely be in contention for both the wildcard and the division. Let's also go ahead and throw Nelson Cruz into the discussion for MVP. He'll be hitting in front of Vlad Guerrero now which gives him plenty of protection. I expect between 40 and 50 home runs and a hitting clip around .300.
Even if the Rangers don't quite make it this year, I think we're on the verge of a dynasty here, and it'll just be a matter of time.
Seattle Mariners (82-80)
The Mariners have brought in a bundle of new players and now everyone is writing them off as World Series champions already.
Let me explain something to all those on the Mariners bandwagon. You can't just bring a bunch of big names together, tell them to play ball and expect them to just start winning. There's a little thing called chemistry. Guys have to play together for a while and get to know each other before they can really begin to play as one unit.
What further complicates that process is when you have a guy like Milton Bradley on the team, so anti-team chemistry it'll probably take this club well into the regular season to get accustomed with one another.
And if Bradley goes apeshit on an umpire or throws a bunch of baseballs on the field, it may take a bit longer.
I'm not going to discount the stellar one-two punch of Ichiro and Figgins in the batting order, or of King Felix and Cliff Lee in the rotation, but it seems lately that's all you hear people talk about, as opposed to what isn't so stellar, i.e. the rest of the lineup, or the rest of the rotation.
They lack a big bat in the middle of the order to drive in the on-base guys.
And as for the rest of the rotation, Rowland-Smith has put up decent numbers but has yet to throw a full season in the bigs, and Ian Snell is very inconsistent.
I don't know what to expect from closer David Aardsma. I just hope he doesn't join Joe Nathan and Jeremy Accardo as Giants castaways who've found careers as closers in the American League. Yeah, I'm just bitter.
Oakland Athletics (70-92)
Oakland has a nice little crop of talent they've been building. The pitching staff is starting to look formidable, as they have assembled a group young starters who every season look more and more like a big league rotation as well as a killer back end of the bullpen.
The problem that they didn't address this winter was the need for a power bat.
When Rajai Davis leads your team in slugging percentage, your team has a problem.
Billy Beane did the best he could do with his budget by bringing in Kevin Kouzmanoff, but unfortunately that won't come close to being enough.
It seems the A's have no choice but to wait until a decent bat comes through their farm system. Fortunately, they might not have to wait long. Chris Carter, waiting in the wings in Triple-A, has been heralded as a "right-handed Ryan Howard", good news for A's fans.
It's gonna be another few years until they can contend in this division.
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