2014 AL West Preview

1) Texas Rangers

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Over the past two seasons, the Rangers have collected a great group of talented players, but failed to make the ALDS. Last season, the Rangers won 91 games, but did not beat the Indians in game 163 and were eliminated from the playoffs. The biggest deal the Rangers made this offseason was the acquisition of Prince Fielder. Although the Rangers were forced to part ways with Ian Kinsler, one of their best players over the past decade, Prince is a significant upgrade at first base and the Rangers had an excess of middle infielders on their team and in their minor league system. The Rangers have one of the best infields in baseball, offensively and defensively, because they have Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Jurickson Profar, when he returns from injury, and Prince Fielder. In the outfield, the Rangers signed Shin Soo Choo to a massive deal because they believe they are close to winning a major league championship. The outfield is deep with Leodys Martin, Alex Rios, and Choo. As long as the Rangers’ offense stays moderately healthy, they should record a lot of runs and win a lot of games in the process. Along with a balanced offense, many of the Rangers are quality defensive players, which is necessary in the Texas.

In terms of pitching, the Rangers should have enough talent and depth to win over 90 games this season and win the AL West. The staff will be led by ace Yu Darvish. Darvish proved last season that he is one of the best pitchers in baseball and the best strikeout pitcher in the game. The Rangers need Darvish to stay healthy and pitch at a high level because the ball can fly in the warm climate of Arlington. Behind Darvish, the Rangers have a solid 2-4 with Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, and Martin Perez. Although Ogando and Harrison have been injury prone in the past, they have great talent and will be incredibly important for the Rangers moving forward. Martin Perez could be the X-Factor for the Rangers because he is a former top prospect with a lot of talent. As Perez gains more experience, he should propel to the number two starter in the rotation, if they do not acquire another starter during the deadline, like previous seasons. The fifth spot for the Rangers will be a question mark because Tommy Hanson has achieved great success in the past, but has struggled with his performance and health over the past few seasons. In the bullpen, the Rangers should pitch very well. Although Soria has not closed since his time with the Royals, he has a good arm and has the necessary experience. Before the ball goes to Soria, Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross, Jason Frasor, and Neal Cotts must hold leads in order to win games. Although the Rangers did not make the playoffs last season, they should win enough games and score enough runs to win over 90 games and reclaim the AL West Championship from the Oakland Athletics, who won the division the past two seasons.

Rangers Predicted Record: 92-70

2) Oakland Athletics

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Over the past two seasons, the A’s have made the playoffs and won the division. Although the A’s do not have the most talent or the highest payroll, Bob Melvin does a great job with the team and the team has exceeded expectations. This offseason, the A’s made a few minor moves, but their offense will predominantly remain the same next season. In the infield, the A’s will be starting Branden Moss, Eric Sogard, Jed Lowrie, and Josh Donaldson. Last season, Donaldson had a career year and bursted onto the scene because he hit and played great defense. Donaldson needs to repeat his performance as a hitter this season. Moss was impressive for the Athletics because he has a big bat and is a great power hitter. In the outfield, the A’s have Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, and Josh Reddick. Crisp has been great for the A’s the lsat few seasons because he is an experienced hitter and is a quality top of the order hitter. Since Cespedes came to the US, he has been one of the best hitters in the AL because he has great talent and has used his raw power to crush balls out of the ballpark.

Although Oakland has established hitters, their pitching will be a major question mark this season because the pitchers do not have experience and a lot of MLB success. The ace of the staff will be Sonny Gray. Although Sonny has a lot of talent and exceeded in the past, he has not achieved greatness at the major league level and it is unclear if he will be able to lead the staff to the playoffs. Behind Gray, the Athletics have Chavez, Staily, and Milone. The three pitchers have shown flashes of greatness over the past few seasons, but have not been able to break out. The trio will need to pitch deep into games and give the team quality outings if they are going to match their win total from the last few seasons. The pitchers will be able to allow few runs per game because the offense has a lot of talent and power. Also, the team plays in a massive ballpark, which will help their pitchers record extra outs and limit runs. In the bullpen, the A’s should have one of the best units in the league because they have established arms like Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson, and Jim Johnson. The trio should be the main pitchers in the bullpen and hold the leads for the teams.

Besides the three at the end of the bullpen, Oakland has Dan Otero, Fernando Abad, and Evan Scribner. If Oakland can receive positive contributions from the other arms, they will have an elite bullpen. Although the A’s have achieved success over the past few seasons with lack of talent, it is difficult to see that they will be able to win enough games in the competitive AL West and American League to make the playoffs as a division winner or a wild card team.

Athletics Predicted Record: 86-76

3) Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim

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In terms of talent and experience, the Angels should have won the division the last two seasons and competed for the pennant and the championship. However, the team has struggled and they have not even been close to making the playoffs. The team has suffered through injuries and funks and has greatly underachieved. This season, the Angels have a lot of talent and should be able to compete for a wild card position in the AL.

The Angels will be led by their offense. In the lineup, the Angels have Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and David Freese. Although Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton have not played well since they arrived in Los Angeles, they should be able to produce quality numbers if they stay healthy for an entire season. While Pujols and Hamilton have underachieved, Trout has positioned himself as the best overall player in the league and will compete for the MVP award. Besides the big three, the Angels will need to rely on role players like Freese, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and Raul Ibanez. If the offense reaches its potential, the team should be one of the highest scoring teams in the league because they may have more talent and potential than any other team.

The Angels have a lot of question marks in their pitching staff, which may keep them from the playoffs for another season. The top of the pitching staff will be held by Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson. Both are constant and reliable pitchers. The Angels need the duo to have great seasons because the rest of the rotation does not have a lot of experience of success at the major league level. The back of the rotation has Hector Santiago, Garett Richards, and Tyler Skaggs. This offseason, the Angels were able to remake their pitching staff by trading Trumbo for Skagss and Santiago, two young lefty arms. The Angels did not have many options for their rotation so they hope that the young starters can learn on the job and succeed at the highest level. If the Angels make the playoffs, it will be because the back of the rotation did not implode and lose games for the offense.

In the bullpen, the Angels have the potential to have a nice unit. At the back of the bullpen, the Angels have Joe Smith and Ernesto Frieri. The two have experienced success over the past few seasons and the team should feel confident if they can hold a lead into the eighth inning. The middle of the bullpen may have a lot of problems because they do not have a lot of innings in the majors, which has been a problem in the past. Although the Angels have the talent to make the playoffs and win the division, they have suffered many injuries in the past and it is likely that they will continue to underachieve and finish third in the division.

Angels Predicted Record: 85-77

4) Seattle Mariners

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The Mariners made the biggest offseason move this offseason when they signed Robinson Cano to a monster deal worth $240 million over 10 years. The Mariners have had a lot of money to spend over the past few seasons, but have been unable to lure a free agent to the team. Over the past few seasons, the Mariners’ offense has been atrocious and mediocre, but they believe they will take a step forward this season. Along with Cano, the lineup has former top prospects like Justin Smoak, Mike Zunino, Kyle Seager, and Dustin Ackley. Although they have a lot of talent and potential, they have been unable to transform their potential into performance, which has held them back as a team. If they can take a step forward, the team, will drastically improve their win total because they do not allow many runs. Last season, the Mariners won only 71 games, but it is likely that the enhanced offense will allow them to win more games.

While the lineup is one of the worst in the AL, the pitching staff may be the best in the league. Although Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijun Walker are on the disabled list, they should be able to return soon and greatly improve the staff. The ace of the staff is Felix Hernandez, who is one of the best pitchers in the league and is building a hall of fame caliber career. Last season, Iwakuma was great and should be able to continue his success and compete for the CY Young, like Hernandez. Walker has been one of the most hyped prospects over the past few season and is ready to display his potential this season. Walker should be a great number 3 while he learns how to pitch at the major league level. Along with Walker, Paxton should be able to succeed at the major league level. Paxton does not have the same talent as Walker, but should be quality middle of the rotation starter in the future.

The rotation needs to excel in order for the Cano deal to be worthwhile and the team to win games. The Mariners totally rebuilt their bullpen this offseason. The new closer will be Fernando Rodney and will be set up by Charlie Ferbush and Tom Wilhelmsen. The bullpen should be consistent and hold the leads that they are given because they have a lot of experience and success in the league.

Predicted Mariners Record: 84-78

5) Houston Astros

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The Houston Astros’ past few seasons have been disastrous and this season should be no different. However, the team does not care about their current record because they are building for the future. The Astros have one of the best farm systems of all time because they have numerous players that should be stars in the future. The Astros should have the number one overall pick which should enable them to add to their depth. The Astros hope that they can be like the Rays and use their young talent to start a dynasty and make a lot of playoffs. However, the Astros are in a bigger market, which will allow them to keep their young stars, unlike other teams that have rebuilt in the past.

On their current team, the offense is led by Jose Altuve, Jesus Guzman, Matt Dominguez, LJ Hoes, Jason Castro, and Dexter Fowler. Although the team does not have a lot of talent, they will be better than last season because Fowler is an improvement and the extra year should help a few of their young players. The team will go through a lot of struggles and losing streaks, but the future of the team is very bright and the fans should stay confident about the future of their team. The team should be excited because they will play with enthusiasm and a few of their players have a lot of talent.

On the pitching staff, the team does not have a lot of talent. The rotation includes Scott Feldman, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer, Lucas Harrell, and Dallas Keuchel. Besides Feldman, the pitching staff does not have many innings pitched or experience. Although the pitchers are young, only Jarred Cosart is in the future plans for the Astros because he has a lot of talent and should pitch high in the rotation in the future. Last season, Cosart showed flashes of greatness and shut down some offenses in the major league.

The Astros have a cheap bullpen with many pitchers who are hoping to revive their career like Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, Anthony Bass, Kevin Chapman, and Jerome Williams. The pitchers throw hard, which gives them a chance to succeed and overwhelm opposing hitters. The Astros will likely lose over 100 games this season, but they hope that they can improve their record from last season and allow their players to grow. The Astros will consider this season a success if their young players gain experience, improve, and succeed at the major league and minor league level.

Predicted Astros Record: 59-103

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Pics and Stats from ESPN.com

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