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