Friday, March 29, 2013

2013 MLB Preview and Predictions: AL West

Los Angeles AngelsSeattle MarinersTexas RangersOakland AthleticsHouston Astros
In only a few short years, this division went fro being the worst in the league to one of the most competitive.  If it weren't for their new member, they would easily be the most competitive division in the league.  You have a couple heavyweights and a couple up-and-comers.  Ironically, in the latest example of how you can't always buy a championship, one of the up-and-comers won the division last year.  Will that happen again this year?  It easily could.  Let's see how it turns out.

1.  Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout hits a three-run home run during the fourth inning of their preseason baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Friday, March 29, 2013, in Los Angeles
The Angels have put together the best roster money can buy.  For the second year in a row, they have made the biggest splash in the off-season; last year by getting Albert Pujols, this year by getting Josh Hamilton.  On top of that, they had super-rookie Mike Trout join the team last year.  It would be hard for anyone to repeat a season like Trout had, but many say Trout isn't just anybody.  Either way, a slight fall-off in production would be understandable even if he is on his way to being the best player in the league.  This lineup really has no weaknesses.  The pitching staff isn't as dynamic as the lineup, but it's pretty strong too.  Jared Weaver leads the way with CJ Wilson trying to live up to the money he was paid.  Add in solid, consistent, inning-eating veterans like Joe Blanton and Jason Vargas, and the Angels might even be better than they were last year in their rotation.  There should be nothing stopping them from taking the division and going all the way to the World Series.  The only problem is we thought the same thing last season too, and they missed the playoffs completely.  It kind of reminds me of the Philadelphia Eagles.  The only thing working against them is the insanely high expectations placed on them.  Last season, they didn't live up to the expectations.  Does Josh Hamilton really make that happen?  We shall see.  Either way, we have to pencil in the Angels as the division champ.  If they don't win it, I have to think Mike Scioscia won't survive the season.  (He even looks a little like Andy Reid.)

2.  Seattle Mariners
Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez throws to a Los Angeles Dodgers batter during the first inning in a spring training baseball game Wednesday, March 27, 2013, in Peoria, Ariz
Okay, I know what everyone is saying out there.  Leave it to the Mariners fan to predict the Mariners playing over their heads.  But hear me out.  The strength of the Mariners the last few years has always been the pitching.  That is still in place with King Felix leading the way as one of the best pitchers in baseball.  With veterans Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders teaming up with young guns Blake Beaven and Brandon Maurer, the Mariners rotation should be as solid as ever.  With the Big Three pitching prospects (Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton) hanging out in AAA, if any of the starters slip up they will be replaced by top-flight talent.  The real question mark for the Mariners for many years has been the offense, but there are many signs that it changes this year.  The last couple years, the problem with the Mariner bats has been the young prospects have been asked to do too much too soon, and they collapse under the pressure.  They have gotten better and better each year, but are still not ready to be the centerpiece of their offense.  Enter veteran bats Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, and Mike Morse.  Now the new heart of the Mariners order are proven consistent players that can produce under the pressure.  This takes all the pressure off guys like Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, and Michael Saunders who are all due for their breakout year now that the pressure is off them.  They also add back into the equation a healthy Franklin Gutierrez who won a Gold Glove in his last healthy season.  Also the Mariners have finally moved in the fences at Safeco Field to make hitting a little easier there.  All this adds up to a perfect storm that will lead to a season surpassing expectations.  They really look like a season or two away from really taking off, but watch for them to really surprise this year.

3.  Texas Rangers
Texas Rangers' Elvis Andrus heads toward first on a two-run home run off Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Mat Latos in the fifth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game Saturday, March 23, 2013, in Goodyear, Ariz
The class of the American League the last few seasons ended the year on a low note last year, and nothing shows that downward trend won't continue this year.  They have been losing the cornerstones of their success over the last few years (first CJ Wilson, now Josh Hamilton) and have been trying to replace them with lesser players or even role players.  Last year it didn't affect them until the end of the season.  This year, it has to make an impact.  The win total will be down this year.  Hamilton was more than just the best player on the team, he was the heart and soul of the Rangers.  They will struggle to find another leader to replace him with the current roster.  With that said, they are still talented enough to work their way to a 3rd place finish in this tough division.

4.  Oakland A's
Lincecum labors, Giants lose to A's 7-3
Last year's division winner took everybody by surprise by their late run to a playoff birth.  Nothing about their roster last year said they should be able to make a run like that.  Nothing about their roster this year says they should be able to make a run like that.  The only difference between this year and last year is everyone knows now they can sneak up on them.  You can only be a surprise team once.  No one will be surprised by them anymore.  With that said, the offense is solid but unlikely to produce the career years they had last year, and the same can be said of the pitching staff.  Last year seemed to be the perfect storm of success that led to their run.  They can't repeat that run again, can they?  It's possible, but I'm not betting on it.

5.  Houston Astros
Simmons homers for Braves in win over Astros
It is their first year in the American League, and what a year it's gonna be.  Usually the first year with new uniforms leads to exceeding expectations (no real reason why, but we have noticed the trend).  Now there's just one problem with the Astros chances this year.  They're terrible.  They are building for the future, that is for sure.  However, in the mean time we have a glorified AAA team in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball.  There will be a lot of players getting a lot of valuable experience moving forward, but this team is a lock for 100+ losses.  There is a lot of talent there that is not ready for the stage it will be asked to perform on.  Look for them to be competitive in 2015 or 2016, but not this year.  Instead, look for them to be getting another first pick in next year's draft.

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