The American League West will be a tough division this year. It sent two teams to the playoffs last year, and this off-season some good players entered the division and lots of guys changed hands within the west. The winter also brought a whole new team to the division. In 2013, the AL West appears to be one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Here is my preview for the upcoming season.
First Place: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
I honestly feel like the Angels, Rangers, A’s, and Mariners could all potentially win the division, but the Angels stand out to me. Now that Pujols has a year under his belt in LA, I expect his numbers to resemble those he posted in St. Louis. He should also get some help from Josh Hamilton, who will likely hit behind him and give him great protection in the lineup, and Mike Trout who will be on base a lot when he comes to the plate.
Expect Trout to have a bit of a sophomore slump, but nothing devastating. Despite his tendency to swing and miss, Hamilton is still one of the best hitters in the game, and Mark Trumbo also has raw power that puts him in the top 25 in baseball in ISO over the past two seasons. The rest of the offense has the ability to steal some bases and get on base, so they fill in around the middle of the order nicely.
The starting rotation may be a bigger concern for the Angles, but they have some dependable starters like Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson, and the bottom of the rotation has Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas, and Joe Blanton. Considering the run support the staff will receive, they should be good enough.
Second Place: Texas Rangers
I think this will be a down year for the Rangers.
Despite their significantly deteriorating offense, the key to this Ranger team may be pitching. In this century, the Rangers have never had a 90 win team without a team ERA of 4.02 or better. As they stand, the players in the Ranger rotation have a 3.89 ERA in major league starts over the last three years. However, that number seems prone to rise this year. Darvish and Holland have shown inconsistent tendencies, Harrison is not a true major league ace, and Martin Perez has not been the young pitcher Texas has hoped for.
With that being said, the Texas offense is not the same as it has been in the past. The loss of Josh Hamilton was huge and losing Napoli hurt as well. Beltre is still a great hitter, but Cruz is on the decline, and Kinsler has seen drops in his power, speed, and on-base abilities in recent seasons.
Berkman and Pierzynski were both decent additions, but they won’t be enough to erase the loss of Hamilton and Napoli and the aging of other stars. Pierzynski had a good year last year, but his 2012 was the first time he had ever hit 20 homeruns in a season and was the first year in which he had an .800 OPS since 2003, so I don’t expect him to repeat that production. The Rangers will still score plenty of runs, but not enough to support the pitching staff enough to win 90 games in a tough division.
I expect the Rangers to steadily decline for the next couple years as they turn over the roster. Once they purge some of their aging players and let prospect like Profar and Olt sink into major league roles, the Rangers should be World Series threats again.
Third Place: Seattle Mariners
I see this Mariner team winning close to 85 games in 2012. They were a 75 win team last year while only scoring 619 runs. This year, they greatly improved the offense and made nice additions to the pitching staff, not to mention the fact
that they will have 19 games against the Astros this year. Games that would have been played powerhouses like the Rangers or Angels in the past will be replaced with games against the lowly Astros this year.
This offense has the ability to score plenty of runs. In theory, Ackley will be the player he was expected to be now that his injury concerns have been taken care of. Seager, Montero, and Saunders should also continue to improve and mature into quality major leaguers. With the additions of proven major league bats like Morales and Morse, this offense could be good enough to support a solid pitching staff led by one of the best pitchers in baseball, Felix Hernandez.
Fourth Place: Oakland Athletics
The A’s are bizarre to me. I honestly think that they will either win more than 95 games or less than 75 games; there isn’t much room in between. My main concern is their starting rotation. If you take Bartolo Colon out of the projected rotation, the other four pitchers have an average of 37 MLB games pitched, 223 innings pitched, and 1.5 years of major league service. The 3-5 pitchers in their rotation average less than .75 years of major league service. Pitchers with that little experience can be unpredictable. Oakland has a lot of good young pitchers. In theory, they will be good enough to repeat last year’s numbers, but they also seem bound to go through some growing pains. That’s why I sees them as an all or nothing team.
In a similar way, the offense is relying on a lot of guys who haven’t given consistent production. Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick have each only had one good year in the major leagues. The projected third base, shortstop, and second base positions have a combined 434 MLB at bats over the last two seasons. Although John Jaso was an excellent addition for them, he has never played more than 110 games in a season. The A’s simply have too many guys that haven’t proven their ability to succeed at the major league level over an extended period of time. I think they could be good again in a year or two, but they will have to experience some growing pains at one time or another, and I think this will be the year for that.
Fifth Place: Houston Astros
There isn’t much explaining to do with this selection. The Astros are a bad baseball team, and their new uniforms and new division won’t help that. Out of their starting rotation, only one pitcher posted an ERA below 4.60 last year. The offense is young and inexperienced, but is also mostly empty of promising players. There aren’t many reasons to have hope for the Astros for the next couple seasons, so enjoy them while there bad, because by the end of the decade they could be a pretty good team considering the farm system they are building and will continue to build as they accumulate high draft slots.