Friday, March 15, 2013

MLB 2013: AL West Preview

            The next division I will have a preview on is the new AL West:
            What a race the AL West was last year as it came down to the final day. The Texas Rangers were in the lead all season until a late charge by the Oakland A’s that set up a three game series to end the season and decide the division crown. Entering the series, the Rangers needed to win just one game to win the division as they had a two game lead. The A’s won the first two games to stand atop the division standings with the Rangers. In the final game of the regular season, the Rangers had a 5-1 lead after two innings but the A’s scored six in the third en route to a 12-5 victory and the division crown. Both teams made the playoffs but the Rangers lost to the Orioles in the inaugural season of the Wild Card game and the Rangers lost to the Tigers in the ALDS. The Angels finished in a disappointing third place five games back of the A’s and the Mariners finished 19 games behind the A’s at 75-87.
            There were two big offseason acquisitions in the AL West this offseason. First, the AL West acquired the Houston Astros from the NL Central. The Astros won four division titles in their time with the NL Central and one NL Pennant in 2005. But last year, the Astros had the worst record in the MLB at 55-107 and finished 42 games behind the division winner, the Cincinnati Reds. The Angels made yet another splash in the offseason. After acquiring 1B Albert Pujols and P C.J. Wilson last year, they signed former Rangers OF Josh Hamilton to a five year, $125 million contract. Hamilton had 142 home runs and 506 RBIs in his five years with the Rangers. He also won the AL MVP in 2010.
            Houston Astros- The Houston Astros had a horrendous season last year finishing at 55-107. The Astros didn’t make any big acquisitions in the offseason but they did add 1B Carlos Pena and P Philip Humber. Pena will provide power to a team that ranked 21st in home runs last year with 146. Everyone remembers Humber from his perfect game against the Seattle Mariners on April 21st of last year. He will probably be the Astros 4th starter throughout the season. 2B Jose Altuve is perhaps the only highlight of the Astros lineup as he made his first career All-Star appearance last year, batting .290 with 34 doubles and 33 SB last year. The Astros are going to be bad this year there is no other way to put it. They will struggle in their first year in the AL. But this is a rebuilding team so hopefully in the next four to five years, the Astros can work their way back into their 2005 form.
            Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- The Angels had high expectations entering last year after acquiring Pujols and Wilson before the season, but failed to make the playoffs last year finishing five games behind the A’s. Pujols struggled during the first half of the season as he tried to get adjusted to the AL pitchers but did turn it around finishing with 30 HRs and 105 RBIs. The story of the Angels season was rookie sensation OF Mike Trout. At 21 years old, Trout looked like a season veteran all season long finishing second in the AL MVP race behind Tigers 3B Miguel Cabrera but he did win the AL Rookie of the Year. Trout batted .326 last year and hit 30 HRs but also had 40 SB. After last year, expectations are even higher for Trout this year.. If that is even possible. People have to remember however, that this is only his second full season in the MLB. The Angels might have one of the most powerful lineups in the MLB with Trout, Pujols, add Hamilton, and DH Mark Trumbo. This team will score runs but the question mark like last year for this team will be their starting pitching. P Jered Weaver is their ace as he went 20-5 last year and C.J. Wilson will need to improve from his 13-10 record last year, but who will step up as a solid third starter. Pitchers Zach Greinke, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana are all gone so look for Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas to step up. The Angels should win the division this year but if they don’t, manager Mike Scioscia could find himself without a job.
            Oakland Athletics- The A’s came out of nowhere to steal the division from the Rangers last year. The A’s fantastic season ended in the ALDS when they took the Tigers to five games but unfortunately lost. Manager Bob Melvin was rewarded for his excellent job in his first full season as their manager by being named AL Manager of the Year. The A’s lost P Brandon McCarthy and Jonny Gomes to free agency but did sign OF Chris Young and C John Jaso. OF Yoenis Cespedes was a strong candidate for AL Rookie of the Year last year after he batted .292 with 23 HRs and 92 RBIs. OF Josh Reddick came out of nowhere to lead the team in HRs with 32 and OF Coco Crisp had 39 SB. The A’s don’t have a clear ace to rely on but second year pitchers Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone had 13 wins each last year. It is going to be hard for the A’s to repeat as division champs with the Angels adding Hamilton but if the Angels struggle down at the end of the season, the A’s could be right there and steal away the division for the second straight year.
            Seattle Mariners- The Mariners struggled last year as they finished last in the division. But they had a great offseason as they added LF Michael Morse, DH Kendrys Morales, and OF Jason Bay. Morse is a career .295 hitter that can hit anywhere between 20 and 30 HRs and Morales had 22 HRs last year. The Mariners needed to upgrade their lineup from last year as they ranked 27th in runs scored with 619. Add these two guys and maybe Bay to a lineup that also has C Jesus Montero and 3B Kyle Seager among others and the Mariners finally have a lineup that can score runs. The Mariners signed ace Felix Hernandez to a 7 -year, $175 million contract extension, making him the highest paid pitcher in MLB history. Hernandez went 13-9 last year but should have won more games if not for the Mariners lineup. He was 5th in the AL in ERA at 3.06. The Mariners did lose Jason Vargas to the Angels in the offseason. He led the team in wins last year with 14. They added Joe Saunders to be their #2 starter but behind him, the Mariners don’t have any pitching. The Mariners are definitely on their way up and will make a huge improvement this year, but will ultimately not make the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season.
            Texas Rangers- The Rangers collapsed at the end of last season as they gave away the division title to the A’s. They lost a lot of power in the offseason with Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, and Michael Young all leaving. They did add A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman who each provide lots of experience and power. But even with the loss of Hamilton among others, the Rangers still have a good lineup with Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, and Adrian Beltre leading them. They also have two great prospects in Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt who could see themselves in the majors this year. Yu Darvish went 16-9 with 221 strikeouts in her first year in the majors. They also have Matt Harrison and Derek Holland who combined for 30 wins last year. The Rangers season this year will be a hit or miss as you don’t know what team to expect. They could either contend for a title or find themselves outside the race.
            Prediction- I ultimately think that this year the AL West will be between the LA Angels and the Oakland A’s. The Angels will win the division in the end but it will be a tight race.
1.     LA Angels
2.     Oakland A’s
3.     Texas Rangers
4.     Seattle Mariners
5.     Houston Astros

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