The general consensus is that the American League West is the weakest division in baseball. I would have to agree with this. Not only does the division have just four teams, but it is also lacking a powerhouse team that most other divisions possess. In a lot of ways, this is a good thing – namely, it gives average teams like the Mariners a chance to compete, as it’s rare for anyone to walk away with the division. It can also be frustrating, due to the fact that these four teams way out west rarely get much media attention – at least not compared to other divisions (Red Sox – Yankees anyone?).
We’ve just passed the quarter mark of the 2009 season, though, and the AL West really hasn’t looked all that weak. Truthfully, the only team that’s been disappointing this season is the Oakland A’s. I’m going to break down each of the four teams, and their performances up to this point.
Texas Rangers – 1st, AL West, 23-17
In recent years, the Rangers problem has always been a lack of good pitching. With their offense, the general opinion has always been that they would be a great team if they had good pitching. This year that thought might finally be a reality. Aside from Kevin Milwood, their starters have been far from spectacular – but much better than in recent years. The real surprise though, is how solid the Rangers bullpen has been - Including, but not limited too their lights out closer Frank Francisco. Up until this season Texas has had a notoriously bad pen, and that’s held them back mightily. When you add a decent pitching staff to their overpowering offense and improving defense, it becomes impossible to deny the fact that the Rangers will contend this season.
LA Angels – 2nd, AL West, 21-19
It’s become clear that the Angel’s rough start was a bit of a fluke. They’re not nearly the same team they were last year, but the manner in which they fought back over .500 says something for them. It says that they’re still a pretty good team. Unfortunately for the rest of the division, the Angels can really only get better from here on out. They just got their two best pitchers back from the DL in John Lackey and Ervin Santana, and in the very near future they’ll regain they’re power hitting right fielder in Vladimir Guerrero.
The Angels biggest problem still stands though, and that problem is their bullpen. To give them their best shot at winning the division, someone other than Darren Oliver is going to have to step up and do his job. If that happens, watch out, AL West.
Seattle Mariners – 3rd, AL West, 19-23
Seattle’s hot start this season got a lot of hopes up in the Emerald City. Their recent skid has brought most of those hopes back down to Earth. One thing that Mariners fans can take comfort in, though, is that this team is not nearly as bad as it was in 2008, and the team is definitely moving in the right direction – even if they don’t contend in 2009. It’s tough to pinpoint what’s caused this rough patch for the Mariners, but I’d say it’s been a combination of inconsistent pitching, bad hitting, and sub-par defense. It seems to me that when the pitching is good, the hitting takes a day off, and when the bats come alive, the pitching falters.
A few off season additions have really helped this ball club (Russell Branyan, Franklin Gutierrez, David Aardsma), and it really showed early in the season – but if the Mariners want to get back to winning games, the pitching and the hitting both need to get on a consistent level.
Oakland Athletics – 4th, AL West, 15-23
A lot of people thought the A’s were going to be serious contenders this season. The additions of former batting champion Matt Holliday and fan favorite Jason Giambi seemed to put them in a good position to do so. Unfortunately, they haven’t quite met expectations. At 15-23, the A’s have the third worst record in the American League and the fourth worst record in
all of baseball. They’re already seven games behind the Rangers, and truthfully, there really doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of the Oakland A’s tunnel – not in 2009 at least.
Unless it’s the Nationals, it’s never a good idea to count a team out in May, but the A’s should certainly be well into panic mode. The A’s just really haven’t done anything well this year. On top of their mediocre starting pitching, they’ve also had the worst offense in all of baseball in 2009. That’s just not a recipe for winning many games, let alone winning a division.
Unless this team picks it up rather quickly, it’s probably time for Bill Beane to start planning for 2010 – if he still has his job, that is.
Another great thing about the American League West is that it’s a tough division to predict, you really have to just wait and see what happens. Well, I’m on my couch and ready to go, entertain me, AL West! Let’s make it an exciting season.