MLB: A Complete Breakdown with Predictions for the AL West
As we continue previewing each Major League Baseball team and division, it's time to take a look at the AL West.
The league's smallest division with only four teams had been dominated for the most part by the Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels since their 2002 championship season. Last season, the Texas Rangers won the division and made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. It was a surprising run for them, as they made their first ever World Series appearance.
In the offseason, a lot of moves were made by three of the teams, making it hard to predict which club will come out on top.
Will the Rangers win a consecutive division title? Can the Angels make a return to the postseason? What's in store for the Athletics and Mariners?
Continue reading for a breakdown of each team, including some American League playoffs and awards predictions for the upcoming season.
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The Seattle Mariners have had a strange four-year period from 2007-2010. They've won 88, 61, 85 and 61 games, showing a sign of major inconsistency. If they stick to the pattern this season, they should be better. That, though, may not work.
Of all four teams in the AL West, the Mariners made the least offseason moves to improve the team. They did extend their ace Felix Hernandez, but they didn't do too much other than that. They signed veteran catcher Miguel Olivo to a three-year contract.
On the infield, their hitters have some potential. Their first baseman, Justin Smoak, will enter his second season, coming off a rough 2010 at the plate.
Another new acquisition was second baseman Brendan Ryan. He spent his first four seasons with the Cardinals, and his last two were very similar. Ryan showed a little bit of offense in 2009, when he recorded 114 hits, but reverted back last season.
Chone Figgins will enter his second season as the Mariners third baseman after offseason trade rumors. After a solid career with the Angels, Figgins took a little step back in Seattle, seeing his batting average dip 39 points.
The infield doesn't have any pop whatsoever other than some from Smoak, which will leave most of the work up to the outfield.
It all starts with Ichiro Suzuki in right field, who last season reached 200 or more hits for the 10th straight season. He's led the American League in hits each of the last five seasons, and the Mariners need for him to remain productive to be able to score any runs as a team.
Franklin Gutierrez will provide a great glove but not too much with the bat in center.
The starting rotation after Felix Hernandez is a major problem. To show you how big of an issue it is, Jason Vargas is the second starter right now. Although he had a losing record last season, he didn't pitch poorly. It's just that he's only had one good season in his career and isn't proven enough to be a No. 2 in the rotation.
With a lack of pop in the lineup and a depleted pitching staff, it doesn't appear that the Mariners are going to improve in 2011.
AL West team rankings
Starting rotation: fourth
2011 prediction: 65-97, fourth place
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The Oakland Athletics improved last season, and they actually finished ahead of the Angels in the division. They finished at an even 81-81, and if they had a little more offense, they could be dominant.
The infield has some pop on the corners in Daric Barton and Kevin Kouzmanoff but not too much production from the middle.
Second baseman Mark Ellis—entering his 10th season with the Athletics—had a drop off in power last season but hit .291, his highest batting average since 2005. While he may not bring a whole lot to the plate, Ellis is a great fielder. In 116 games at second base last season, he only committed three errors.
Shortstop Cliff Pennington had a below average first full season in the big leagues in 2010. His greatest ability may be to steal, as he stole 29 bases.
Besides the infield, the Athletics did add three new bats in the offseason, all of which can improve the offense. The biggest move was signing former Yankee and Angel, Hideki Matsui. In his only season in Los Angeles last year, Matsui hit 21 home runs while mostly playing DH. That's the role he'll serve with the Athletics.
In the outfield, Josh Willingham and long-time Royal David DeJesus were brought in. The Athletics haven't had a great offense over the past couple of seasons but may get more out of it this season.
Their biggest strength, though, is their starting pitching. As mentioned earlier, the Athletics could be a dominant team, and it's because of their great young rotation.
Their ace on the depth chart right now, Dallas Braden, isn't even their best pitcher. He's probably the ace only because of the perfect game he through last season. He's fine, but the next three can all be future aces.
Brett Anderson pitched to a 2.80 ERA last season. Gio Gonzalez in his first full season as a starter, pitched fantastic baseball and really should be the ace this season. He made every start, winning 15 games, and only allowed 171 hits in 200.2 innings.
The fourth starter—if that's what you want to call him—Trevor Cahill, may have been better than Gonzalez. After a shaky first season, he was incredible in 2010. He went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA and allowed 41 less hits than innings pitched.
The Athletics arguably own one of baseball's five best rotations. Then you add that to a fantastic bullpen that includes Andrew Bailey, Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour and Michael Wuertz, all of a sudden they look like a contender.
The Athletics problem is, they don't have enough offense, and unfortunately that'll keep them a .500 ballclub.
AL West team rankings
Starting rotation: second
2011 prediction: 81-81, third place
Los Angeles Angels
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The Athletics and Mariners will always be—or so it seems—the biggest underachievers in the AL West. That's because these next two teams are always fighting the division out until the very end.
Last season, the Angels missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Their entire season was ruined on May 29 when Kendry Morales broke his left leg in the weirdest of ways. He hit a walk-off grand slam against the Mariners and landed awkwardly on home plate while celebrating the accomplishment with teammates. The Angels never fully recovered, and Morales was lost for the season.
This season brings high hopes once again for the Angels, and they have a great team that got a little better over the offseason.
They made a heck of a trade with the Blue Jays to acquire veteran outfielder Vernon Wells. The Blue Jays had been looking to unload the remainder of his massive contract, and the Angels will get a guy who bounced back to hit 31 home runs last season.
Wells was not playing up to his contract for some time, forcing the Blue Jays to trade him once his value skyrocketed with a powerful season.
He, along with Torii Hunter should make for a productive duo at the corner outfield spots. The only unknown of any position perhaps, is center field that right now has Peter Bourjos listed first on the depth chart.
The Angels infield is looking pretty solid with the return of first baseman Morales. Although the left side with Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar isn't the greatest of combinations at third base and shortstop.
The starting rotation, mostly the top three, look to be pretty strong. Jered Weaver will be the ace of the staff and Dan Haren will enter his first full season with the Angels. Third starter, Ervin Santana, had a huge bounce-back season winning 17 games. His problem is that he allows way too many hits.
The Angels added a quality arm in the bullpen with Hisanori Takahashi. The Japanese import spent his first season in the Majors last season with the Mets and did literally everything asked of him. He pitched in long relief, middle relief, closed games and even started a few. He should be a fantastic addition to the Angels bullpen.
As long as they don't suffer a major injury like with Morales last season, the Angels should at least be able to compete in the AL West this season.
AL West team rankings
Starting rotation: first
2011 prediction: 84-78, second place
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In 2010, the Texas Rangers made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Then they went ahead and won their first ever American League pennant.
They did so after adding Cliff Lee to their rotation at the end of July. Now, Lee is back with the Phillies, but this Rangers team should still be pretty darn good.
Other than a couple of teams in the AL East, they could have the best offense in the league. It'll be even better this season with the offseason addition of third baseman Adrian Beltre. The Rangers signed him to a six year, $96 million contract and are hoping he tears it up in the bandbox that is Rangers Ballpark.
A lot of guys being talked have had bounce-back seasons, and Beltre is another one of those guys. After failing to live up to the hype and huge contract in Seattle, Beltre had his most productive season since his breakout year of 2004. He hit 28 home runs in 2010, and he'll probably hit 35-40 this season if healthy.
He's just added to the great Josh Hamilton and dangerous Nelson Cruz of the outfield. Beltre's infield partners aren't too bad either. Second baseman Ian Kinsler must rebound, though, as he had an injury-plagued down season last year.
There is kind of a saga going on right now concerning the Rangers offense. Long-time member of the team, Michael Young, was made DH for this season and has asked to be traded. With the addition of Beltre at third base, there isn't any room for the aging Young who can still produce.
The starting rotation will have to make up for the loss of Cliff Lee, and it can certainly do so. The ace will be C.J. Wilson, and he won 15 games last season. Colby Lewis is behind him, and then will be the newly added Brandon Webb.
The former Cy Young award winner who's pitched one game since his 22-win season in 2008, will see if he has anything left coming off right elbow surgery a year and a half ago. Another starter in the rotation is Tommy Hunter who went 13-4 last season.
The Rangers have a terrific lineup and if their pitching holds up with a pretty good bullpen, they should be able to win this division once again.
AL West team rankings
Starting rotation: third
2011 prediction: 89-73, first place
American League Playoffs and Awards Predictions
As we've come to the end of the American League team previews, it's time to predict who'll win the league and who'll win some awards.
The Boston Red Sox made the biggest moves of any team in the offseason and are looking really strong in the AL East. They'll have some competition with the Yankees, Twins and Rangers looking to knock them off.
Here's a list of predictions for the AL in 2011:
MVP: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox
Cy Young: David Price, Rays
Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Rays
Most improved team: Los Angeles Angels
Team taking step back: Tampa Bay Rays
AL champion: Boston Red Sox