AL West: What Each Team Has to Do to Win the Division
As the MLB season passes the quarter-pole here in late May, division races across the baseball landscape are starting to take shape. A majority of the teams in both the AL and NL still have an opportunity to get on a roll and take the lead in their respective divisions.
Looking in-depth at the AL West, at the moment, all four teams have a legitimate shot at the division crown, as the Rangers, Angels, Mariners and Athletics are all within three games of the top spot.
Yet, each team here has their own flaw, and in order to make a serious push for the playoffs, here is what each team must do if they want to take control of the AL West.
Texas Rangers: Get Healthy
By taking a glance at each teams' opening day rosters, it is immediately apparent that the Texas Rangers had the most talent in the AL West at the start of the season. They proved it right away by getting off to a hot start in all facets of the game, and it initially appeared as if they would leave the other three teams in the dust.
But injuries began to take their toll on the Rangers, as star outfielders Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz both were sent to the DL early on, and suddenly, the once formidable Rangers offense was just another average AL West offense. Hamilton and Cruz turned into Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry. In turn, when the Rangers pitching staff struggled, so did the team, as they just couldn't generate the offense that they could when these two were manning the middle of the order.
As both Hamilton and Cruz are set to return, this is without doubt the best medicine for the Rangers. For them to win the division, they must stay healthy. If they can accomplish this, they will have a great chance to repeat as AL West division champions.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Consistency
Just as the Angels were overtaking the Texas Rangers for the AL West lead in early May, they hit a bump in the road and started to struggle mightily, both on offense and on the mound.
However, the Angels are still just a half a game out of first place here on May 24th, and that is a welcome sign for Angels fans.
Now that the team knows that 1B Kendrys Morales will not be returning this season, they can turn their full attention to the diamond. They are going to have to make due with what they have now, and if they can sustain some success, they can pick up some additional assets at the trade deadline in hopes of making a run at the division crown.
The Angels on offense do not have the best talent by any stretch in the AL West, and therefore, consistency is the norm for them. They will have to rely on their starting pitching and their middle of the order to produce wins.
If the Angels want to get back to the postseason, they will have to be more consistent.
Seattle Mariners: Timely Hitting
The Seattle Mariners without question have the least amount of talent on offense in the AL West. Even though the Athletics are below average as well, they at least have some proven veterans to guide them. With the M's, their only real sources of power are 1B Justin Smoak and DH Jack Cust. There are others, like C Miguel Olivo and CF Franklin Gutierrez, who will provide the occasional power boost, but in the end, the Mariners will have to rely on timely hitting to get the job done in 2011.
Manager Eric Wedge knows what he is going to get out of his pitching staff. They won't relinquish more than three or four runs a game often. Through this, Wedge can communicate to his offense that they do not need to score a ton of runs to win ball games. If the team can come up with a couple of timely, two-out hits to push across one or two runs each time, they will have an opportunity to be in every game they play.
Seattle knows that they will be in close contests each time out. So if they can come up with clutch base hits, the Mariners will be around for awhile out west.
Oakland Athletics: Pitching and Team Chemistry
The Oakland Athletics have been on a slide as of late, and in order to get back on track and into the thick of the AL West race, they are going to have to rely on their vaunted starting rotation. In addition, a lack of team unity has seemingly effected the team as of late.
Sitting three game out of first currently, the Athletics are struggling to put together victories. The team knew coming into the season that their young, talented pitching staff would have to carry the team to an AL West title. For the most part, guys like Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill have accomplished this, and so has the rest of the rotation. They need to continue to consistently pitch well so that they can put together a string of wins and challenge for the top spot.
What might be most troubling right now for the A's is their poor team chemistry. P Brian Fuentes called out Manager Bob Geren after the loss to the Angels on Monday, and this cannot happen to a struggling club. Oakland must come together as a team and figure out how to work together to climb back into the division hunt.
With their pitching, they should stick around all year, and right now, it seems as if the only thing standing in their way right now is themselves.
If all goes according to plan from here on out, the Texas Rangers should win the AL West running away.
But that is why they play the games each night. There will continue to be twists and turns along the way throughout the rest of the regular season. But if each team accomplishes these goals, they all should have a realistic shot at going to the postseason in October.
The AL West is the tightest race in baseball right now, and this should make for some exciting story-lines this summer.
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