2010 MLB Preview: American League West
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: (92-70)
The Los Angeles Angels lost several major contributors this past offseason and their streak of three consecutive division titles is clearly at stake.
Plenty of talent remains in Los Angeles, though, and some acquisitions of their own will certainly keep the Angeles in the running in the AL West.
Losing John Lackey was inevitable—the Angels didn’t want him—but also removes a clear ace from Los Angeles’ rotation.
They brought on Joel Pineiro, who had a great year in St. Louis last season, but his success may be limited because of his league-switching and advanced age.
The combination of Weaver/Saunders/Santana/Kazmir/Pineiro, though, still forms one of the deepest rotations in the division.
The Angels may lack the star-power of the Mariners, but they have five very capable starting pitchers. Headed up by Brian Fuentes and Jason Bulger, the bullpen should also be very solid in 2010.
Offensively, the Angels lost both Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerro (both to division rivals, no less). Figgins will be easily replaced a third base, but his production from the top position of Los Angeles’ batting order in 2009 will be tough to match.
Young Erick Aybar will likely be given the job, and his .353 OBP in ’09 was very solid, but he’s no Figgins.
With Guerro taking his bat to Texas, the Angels signed World Series MVP Hideki Matsui to man their designated hitter position. Matsui’s knees are quickly dying, but he is still capable of whacking 25 home runs per season.
Although the Angels won’t be able to dominate the division like they have in recent years, they should still be one of the favorites in the AL West.
Battling the Mariners for much of the season, the Angels will eventually settle for second-place.
2. Seattle Mariners: (90-72)
Perhaps no figure in baseball has received as much praise as Mariner's general manager Jack Zduriencik. Acquiring Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley and one year of Cliff Lee, Jack Z has given his Seattle Mariners a very good chance to succeed in 2010.
The Achille's heel of the team will once again be the offense. The left field position produced a batting line of just .219/.276/.333 in 2010, far below replacement level. The Mariners crossed the plate a league-lowest amount of times last year.
Even after bringing in Bradley and Figgins, the offense remains a weakness.
Fortunately for Jack Z and Seattle, though, the pitching and defense remains an incredible strength. Behind Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, and a very solid bullpen, the Mariners won't need to score too many runs this season.
The 2008 Mariners lost 101 games, and Jack Z improved by 14 games in his first full season on the job. In 2010, after two offseason's worth of roster moving and building, Jack Z appears to have his team set the way he wants it.
With Los Angeles taking a small step backwards and Oakland still a few years behind the AL West curve, will the Seattle offense be able to score enough runs to bring home their first divisional crown since 2001?
They'll come close, but ultimately fall just short of their goal.
3. Texas Rangers: (89-73)
After the 2008 season, it was clear that Texas needed to give their defense a face-lift in order to help the starting rotation. The bats were fine, they reasoned, and would need no help in their small ballpark.
By inserting Elvis Andrus at shortstop, Michael Young moved to third and Christ Davis to first. All three were defensive improvements, while Ian Kinsler is also very solid with the glove.
The defense was undoubtedly improved, but the bats took a significant step in the wrong direction.
By acquiring Vladimir Guerro and Julio Borbon, and hoping for rebound years from Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, the Rangers are trying to reacquire heir penchant for scoring runs.
From the mound, Texas has a plethora of capable pitchers to choose from. Scott Feldman, Rich Harden, and Derek Holland will be joined by two of Tommy Hunter, Colby Lewis, Eric Hurley, Matt Harrison, and Brandon McCarthy.
There is also Neftali Feliz to consider, as he may or may not give up his role of dominant bullpen arm and enter the rotation, as well.
All-in-all, the Rangers should give the Angels and Mariners a run for their money in 2010. A solid offense backed by great defense and a good rotation usually equates success in the Big Leagues.
If Hamilton can return to his '08 ways, the Rangers could bring home their first division title since 1999.
4. Oakland Athletics: (75-87)
Some felt that the Athletics could compete in the AL West last season, but an inconsistent starting rotation ultimately did them in.
This year, Oakland will put Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer (both of whom missed the 2009 season) at the top two positions in the rotation while relying on no fewer than six other starting pitchers to round out the other three spots.
Sheets and Duchscherer are both likely to perform well, while 22-year-old Brett Anderson (who I think could get Cy Young votes in 2010) should continue his path to stardom.
Headed up by Michael Wuertz, Andrew Bailey, and Brad Ziegler, the Oakland bullpen should also be rock-solid.
The outfield offense and defense should be adequate, as well. The speedy Rajai Davis will take left, Coco Crisp center and Ryan Sweeney right. None of these have much power (no Athletic really does) but will be able to post VORPs of about 15-20.
Catcher Kurt Suzuki is one of the most valuable in the league, with his double-digit home run total to go with his defense.
Offseason acquisition Kevin Kouzmanoff will man the Hot Corner and bring his 25-home run power to Oakland, while designated hitter Jack Cust could hit 30 home runs while posting a solid on-base percentage.
The weakness of the Athletics will be the infield. First baseman Daric Barton, second baseman Mark Ellis and shortstop Cliff Pennington will round up the final three of Oakland’s batting order and none are reliable offensive contributors.
With what could be a very impressive starting rotation in 2010, the Athletics will not be too far out of the AL West race.
The lack of offense will be their downfall in 2010, though, and they will be able to compete in a few years.
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