Baseball is Back! – Season Preview: American League West

Baseball is back, they call it America’s Summer Game so it’s always a sign of better weather ahead. Andy Turner brings you all you need to know ahead of the new season. Today the American League West comes under scrutiny…

The Houston Astros are doing their best to be the poster boys of rebuilding your team by completely dismantling it first.  After some desperate 100 loss seasons, the Astros made the playoffs in 2015 with a team packed full of breakout youngsters such as 2B Jose Altuve and pitching ace Dallas Kuechel, and last season saw them as many pundits favourite to be challenging for World Series place. 

It never happened due to down years for some important players as well as the nagging doubt that they lacked a few ‘salty’ veterans to pepper the club house.  Well the ‘Stros have broken out pepper, adding Carlos Beltran to DH, Catcher Brian McCann and Josh Reddick and Nori Aoki in the outfield. If Houston lacks something it is starting pitching, as Keuchel was dreadful last year and all the rest have question marks. 

Texas has won the Division the last two years and I would not be surprised to see them winning it again. The pitching is good – with a 1 -2 punch of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish – yet the Rangers finished with the third highest ERA in the league last year. They were hoping to add some depth in the offseason but were unsuccessful. 

The Rangers were one of the best scoring teams last season though and that will continue, with ageless Adrian Beltre at 3B, C Jonathon Lucroy, OF Carlos Gomez and the lunatic 2B Rougned Odor just part of the firepower.  The Rangers seem on paper to be the best team in an imperfect division; they will score runs and if the pitching improves overall I wouldn’t bet against a third division title.

Poor old Seattle always seems to be on the verge of competing but never make that final step.  The Mariners seemed to have addressed their glaring lack of offence, hitting 223 home runs (the 3rd highest in the majors) after years of being anaemic offensively. 

Big free agent pickup Nelson Cruz hit 43, 2B Robinson Cano 39 and 3B Kyle Seager 30. These three are all back which gives hope that ‘king’ Felix Hernandez – one of the best pitchers in all baseball – might be getting a playoff spot. He had a down year and it is possible his best is behind him, but Hisashi Iwakuma picked up the slack with 16 wins, and if you throw in rising star James Paxton the Mariners might just be the team that challenges Texas for the division and should be in the running for a wildcard.

The Los Angeles Angels have the best position player in all of baseball in outfielder Mike Trout. His numbers have been phenomenal and he’s a two time league MVP;  unfortunately every season his chances of getting to the playoffs have diminished. 

The Angels were famous for their money object spending; now they are trying to reduce that eye watering payroll.  Albert Pujols came to the Angels with the title Mike Trout now has (best position player in baseball), but he has been symptomatic of the Angels problems; high priced players either under-performing or being injured or both.

There was $50 million of payroll on the disabled list over the course of last season. Pitcher CJ Wilson has retired but Garrett Richards should be back in a less than stellar rotation. The bullpen was beset by injury losing ace closer Houston Street, but he should be back. 

The Angels have some very good players in Trout, Pujols, SS Andrelton Simmons and OF Kole Calhoun but there isn’t much of a supporting cast and they have to fear that when he gets the chance Trout will go.

As a huge fan of Billy Beane and the whole Moneyball ‘thing’, it’s been very sad to see the Oakland A’s languishing at the foot of the division for the last few seasons.  Oakland’s issues are – like their NFL brothers – partially stadium based as they feel they need a new stadium to allow them to compete financially, while the Moneyball ideology that initially gave them an edge has since been adopted to greater or lesser degree by every team in the league.

The A’s are slowly building a team that will be anchored by a core of young pitchers. Sonny Gray has been around for a while now and may well be traded during the season, leaving younger pitchers like Kendall Graveman and Sean Manea to head the rotation. 

The bullpen is very much a strength, which should improve the pitching overall.  Catcher Steven Vogt is one the A’s best players. He’s a two time all-star and with a young pitching staff he will be a vital piece.  I worry about where runs will come from though. They have promising players but there isn’t much proven veteran talent to help. 

As usual Oakland seems to be rebuilding, the theory is they will have a good team in time for their new stadium, which means not much fun for Oakland fans in the near future.

Andy Turner

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Andy Turner
College Football Anorak from Britains Steel City. Boomer, GO Jets
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