MCB American League West Preview


The West is a division that has been making quite a bit of noise throughout the offseason with major changes taking place with all four clubs. The Angels have been the class of the West for some time now, but the other three clubs are all on the rise, which should make for an exciting, and close, pennant race.

Here’s a short capsule on each team, listed in predicted order of finish.

AL West

1- Texas Rangers

Manager Ron Washington will be on the hot seat early this season after his admitted use of cocaine is coupled with team President Nolan Ryan’s stated expectation of a minimum of 92 wins. The Rangers improved a great deal last year, thanks in large part to the pitching staff lead by pitching coach Mike Maddux. Gone is Kevin Millwood, but he is replaced by Rich Harden, who is Cy Young caliber should he ever be able to stay healthy. C. J. Wilson joins the rotation this season and Scott Feldman is coming off a surprising 17 wins a year ago. Frank Fransisco will close games early on, but if he struggles, look for fire-balling right hander Neftali Feliz to get a shot. LH Darren Oliver will make a big impact in the Rangers bullpen as well.

As is always the case in this ballpark, the offense was good last year, and should be better if they can keep Josh Hamilton on the field and out of the trainer’s room. New centerfielder Julio Borbon has all the tools and the Rangers should see improvement from shortstop Elvis Andrus and first baseman Chris Davis as they grow into their big league careers. Returning all-stars Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, and Micheal Young will make for a dynamic lineup. And I didn’t even mention Vladimir Guerrero; he’s the new DH.

2- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The bullpen will be the issue for the Angels. If closer Brian Fuentes can get the job done, new set-up man Fernando Rodney should be able to get him the ball. Both are volatile at times, however, so consistency will be key. The rotation looks good, but not as good as last year. Jared Weaver becomes the staff ace and he’s joined by Joel Pineiro and Joe Kennedy to form a solid front three.

Offensively, the Angels added Hideki Matsui to be the DH and slotting him into the middle of the order with Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, and Kendry Morales makes the lineup a bit more balanced than last year. The key will be finding a new lead-off man. If Erick Aybar can’t get the job done, there could be problems.

Despite my hatred of their chosen name (Gene Autry called ’em California, I’m gonna call ’em California), the Angels have perhaps the game’s best manager and always seem to find a way to win. The took heavy losses over the winter, watching as John Lackey, Chone Figgins, and Guerrero all left, but added a few pieces as well. This team will win if they can get enough of their rabbits on base and get solid performances from the pitching staff.

3- Seattle Mariners

The Mariners were perhaps the biggest winners of the offseason, adding Chone Figgins and Cliff Lee to a team that made things interesting last year. Manager Don Wakamatsu’s team out-perform their Pythagorean record by 10 games last year, which seems a lot to expect again. Jose Lopez moves over to third so Figgins can play second, which should improve the defense. Figgins at the top of the order, along with Ichiro, will mean plenty of RBI chances for the heart of the order, which features newcomer Milton Bradley. Bradley will have to keep a level head for this team to succeed, something he hasn’t done much of in his career.

On paper, the Mariners have the best pitching in the division, but Lee will start the year on the DL, as will Erik Bedard. Felix Hernandez is joined by Ryan Rowland-Smith and Ian Snell who both have good stuff. There is talk that Jarrod Washburn could also yet join the club. In the bullpen, there will be plenty of heat. Closer David Aardsma had a terrific 2009 and his set-up crew features power arms few teams can match.

The M’s will contend if Bradley can keep his head on, and if Lee and Bedard can return without lengthy stays on the DL, otherwise there just isn’t enough depth. Limiting the at bats given to Junior Griffey and Mike Sweeney wouldn’t hurt, either.

4- Oakland Athletics

If all goes right, the A’s might have enough pitching to come close to winning this division, but all rarely goes right. The young staff has been quietly improving over the past two years, and they added Ben Sheets and a healthy Justin Duchscherer to the mix. Brett Anderson is the best pitcher you probably haven’t heard of and closer Andrew Bailey was an all-star and Rookie of the Year a season ago. If Sheets and Duchscherer can regain their old form, the A’s will be tough to beat.

If they struggle, an anemic offense won’t have enough to keep them in the race. New third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff will have to lead this group, augmented by the addition of centerfielder Coco Crisp. Rajai Davis can fly and the A’s have taken the reigns off the running game, which will be key to manufacturing runs for a lineup lacking thump. Among the things that would need to happen for the A’s to win this year is a healthy and effective return by former all-star Eric Chavez. That’s not likely to happen.

Check back soon for the breakdown of the AL Central