Thursday, March 11, 2010

2010 AL West Preview

For the last five years or so, the AL West has been dominated by the Angels. Whether they claimed to be from Los Angeles or Anaheim, they had no problem beating up on a weak division with only four teams. However, with the Rangers getting better each of the last three seasons, I see this year as a changing of the guard.

Texas Rangers:

If you followed the Rangers last year, you know that offense wasn’t an issue last year. With guys like Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, and Josh Hamilton, the Rangers spent a great deal of time circling the bases. While the numbers say that they were 10th in the MLB in run production, look closer. Hamilton missed 73 games and Young missed 27. When this team was healthy, they were deeper than any other in baseball.

The Rangers achilles heel was their pitching. Kevin Millwood (now with the Baltimore Orioles) was the only Ranger starter with an ERA under 4, and everyone else was pretty bad. However, this year could be better. Scott Feldman, Derek Holland, and Tommy Hunter all showed improvement throughout last season and could become big time contributors. The best thing for them is that they won’t be asked to be fantastic because of the offense. They just need to be adequate.

In addition to giving those younger pitchers a year of experience, the Rangers also added Rich Harden, who could end up being the steal of this year’s free agency. Harden is a superstar when he is healthy…granted, that is rarely the case. If he can give the Rangers 30 starts, he becomes the x-factor for the team’s success.

Prediction: 91-71

LA Angels:

The Angles are a dying franchise that is in dire need of youth. An outfield of Juan Rivera, Torii Hunter, and Bobby Abreu might have seemed amazing ten years ago, but now has ‘injury’ written all over it. In addition to that, the team’s leader on offense Vladimir Guerrero is gone. Even though Guerrero has been injury prone and finally has showed his age, I still think he has a lot of value as a DH.

Instead of trying to get younger, the Angels added 35-year-old Hideki Matsui and 31-year-old Joel Pineiro. The only youth on the team comes from second baseman Howie Kendrick, who has gone back and forth from the minors over the last couple of years, and first baseman Kendry Morales, the one player I like to not take a step backwards.

The only thing keeping this team a contender is its pitching staff. Even with the loss of John Lackey, the staff of Joe Saunders, Scott Kazmir, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, and Pineiro is one of the best in the league. The only question is whether or not it can handle the lineup of the Rangers.

Prediction: 89-73


Seattle Mariners:

There is very little doubt in my mind that Seattle had the best offseason in the MLB. In addition to signing Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, and trade for Cliff Lee, the Mariners locked up Franklin Gutierrez, who is arguably the best centerfielder in baseball. I loved their moves so much that I was starting to think that they would be able to win the division. After looking at the team more in depth, the team’s pitching is a little sketchy.

The combo of Lee and Felix Hernandez is as good as any in the league, but the drop after them is almost comical. Even if you assume that both Hernandez and Lee win 18 games a piece, where do the other 60 wins come from? The only note worthy pitcher other then them is Erik Bedard, but if you get 20 starts from him in a season, you are fortunate.

Yea, the team’s lineup is nice, but not nearly good enough to carry a terrible bottom rotation and mediocre bullpen. If the Rangers couldn’t do it last year, then the Mariners certainly won’t be able to.

Prediction: 79-83

Oakland Athletics:

It seemed like just a year or two ago that Oakland was a perennial contender in the division and was on the way up with a young team. If you look at the roster now, you realize how long ago that was. The bottom line is that the most recognizable name on the roster is Coco Crisp…that is not a good thing.

The only storyline remotely worth following for the A’s this year is how Ben Sheets will return after surgery that took away the chance to pitch in 2009. Other than that, the A’s really don’t seem to be a team to pay much attention to. However, Oakland finds a way to develop great talent in their farm system, so expect them to be active in trading them away at the deadline.

Prediction: 67-95

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