Third time the Charm for the Rangers? (AL West Preview)

The AL West has been a very wild division in the last few years with every team looking like they have the ability to win games. Even though they have generally been even over the last years one dominant team has been dominating the division for the last two years. The Texas Rangers have become a new power in the AL making two appearances in the World Series in the last two years. The Rangers will try to do it again and this time will try to win the World Series but will have challengers. Another trend has also arisen in the AL West with teams beginning to spend large amounts of money to compete. The Rangers and Angels both have big new contracts with two of the largest free agents this year. They both hope that the money they spent to get these free agents will help them compete late into the fall. Meanwhile the now infamous Billy Beane will continue to play Moneyball using cheap but good players a strategy that was outlined in the Oscar nominated movie Moneyball starring Brad Pitt as Beane. The race will be a tight one in the west and with the brand new wild card spot the second place finisher in the division could make the inaugural play-in game. Although these teams are somewhat even the battle could be between two teams that will likely have a tough fight to the end for the west division.

 

Los Angeles Angels

 

 

 

 

 

In 2010 the Angels had a very disappointing season and as a result they began to look to rebuild the team. With a new purpose the Angels set out to finish the 2011 season on top of the AL West division. Throughout the season the Angels struggled to get any big advantage as they went through almost every month at an even record. This was until July where they went 17-10 giving them a boost in the division race. The race was a close one but the Angels could get nothing going down the stretch as they could not get past the Texas Rangers to earn the division playoff spot. This left them with the wild card race as they looked to pass the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox for their chance at the postseason. They still could not pull it off as the Angels had a good season but could not finish the season off with an appearance in the postseason. This offseason the Angels were looking to make a few moves in order to add the missing pieces that they needed to make the postseason. They did just that as they made two of the biggest signings in the offseason adding more depth to their starting rotation and landing one of the biggest free agents of the year. The Angels were able to add another great pitcher in C.J. Wilson and a big bat in Albert Pujols even if it cost them a pretty penny. The Angels are reloaded and the addition of a 2nd wild card spot will give them an even better chance of making the postseason this year.

 

Strength:

Starting Rotation

– The rotation has always been the strength of the Angels as Jered Weaver has led the rotation for years the addition of C.J. Wilson has given the Angels a solid #2 pitcher and with Dan Haren and Ervin Santana rounding out the rotation the Angels’ rotation will be tough every game

 

Weakness:

Age

– The Angels are not very weak in any aspect but if there is one weakness it is that the Angels roster is getting older as many of the players may begin to show their age near the end of the year when the Angels will need their last big push

 

Biggest Addition:

Albert Pujols, 1B

– One of the best batters in MLB Pujols was a highly sought after free agent and the Angels landed him after offering a $250 million 10-year contract that they hope will pay off with Pujols adding power to the lineup

 

Biggest Loss:

Jeff Mathis, C

– Behind the plate is one place where age can be an advantage and losing the veteran Jeff Mathis may hurt some of the pitchers that are used to him as they will need to get used to a new catcher

 

One to Watch:

Peter Bourjos, CF

– Bourjos has two years under his belt and already forced Vernon Wells to left field with his amazing defensive prowess the key for him this year will be to make sure he has a spot in the batting order by improving his batting average

 

Oakland Athletics

 

 

 

 

 

Oakland did not see a great season on the field last year but off the field they gained a small boost of fans after Moneyball was released. Moneyball was a feature film based on the life of current GM Billy Beane who revolutionized the way teams scout players. Although the awareness of Beane did give a little boost to the recognition of the A’s they did not do much to continue the trend on the field. The Athletics struggled to get going but were able to stay in the hunt for the start of the season. It all came apart in June when they went 9-17 that saw them move out of the division race. This was mainly due to the lack of run production all year as the power was very limited and the A’s could not keep up with the other teams. Finishing with a 74-88 record and second last in the West the A’s look to restart their rebuild in the offseason. With a move to San Jose in the near future the Athletics began looking to rebuild their team. With a total of 11 departures from last year’s roster the A’s took a youthful approach as they moved the veterans and brought in young talent. This year the Athletics will field a very young team with promise. Of course with the young age comes more mistakes and a steep learning curve that may see some issues. The Athletics are in no position to challenge for the division title as they will truly be in a rebuilding phase and will likely see a lot of growing pains throughout the season.

 

Strength:

Low Expectations

– The A’s may not want to admit it but they are rebuilding and even though the management still expects to win the rest of the baseball world is not so convinced and that will give them a small cushion to allow their young team to make mistakes

 

Weakness:

Age

– The A’s are on the opposite end of the spectrum as the Angels with the A’s fielding a very young team and with their youth comes a different problem as the mistakes will pile up and could be the reason for a number of losses

 

Biggest Addition:

Josh Reddick, OF

– With little experience on the squad any amount of years in the MLB will help and Reddick can bring his experience from the Red Sox organization to the A’s along with his fantastic fielding and potential to be a good hitter

 

Biggest Loss:

Trevor Cahill, RHP

– The A’s are rebuilding but they lost a key part to a young team in their young ace Trevor Cahill who will leave the A’s without a true ace in the top spot as they will need to try to find a new piece to build their rotation around

 

One to Watch:

Jemile Weeks, 2B

– Weeks has a good pedigree as the brother of Rickie Weeks and has the potential to be better with a solid bat and a great glove but above all blazing speed on the bases as he could turn out to be a cornerstone of the young franchise

 

Seattle Mariners

 

 

 

 

 

The Seattle Mariners had a disappointing season in 2011 that has added to their downfall in the past few years. The Mariners started out the season in mediocre fashion earning a decent amount of games. Then June saw them begin to lose a few more games and the trend continued in July when they went 6-20. July was a heartbreaker for the Mariners and essentially ended any hope for a berth in the playoffs. They finished last in the division with a 67-95 record as they missed the postseason again but there was some hope. The Mariners saw glimpses of a rebuild paying off last year as they saw two of the best young pitchers in the league. Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda teamed up to become the building blocks of the Mariners. The Mariners this year are clearly in a rebuilding phase but they are not just beginning this phase as they have found their path. This rebuild took a big hit in the offseason as the Mariners traded away Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees for a pair of prospects. The Mariners believed that the depth they had at in the rotation was good enough to sacrifice Pineda. This may be a fatal flaw in the Mariners season as they gave away one of their pillars for essentially nothing. The loss of the one two punch in the rotation will make the Mariners significantly worse as Hernandez cannot win enough games to make this team a postseason contender. The Mariners will again miss the playoffs and finish last this year.

 

Strength:

Starting Rotation

– It is not very deep but “King” Felix [Hernandez] makes this rotation a scary one as he will create some tough days for opposing batter, as for the rest of the rotation Jason Vargas, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Blake Beavan all can win games but do not have overpowering stuff

 

Weakness:

Scoring Runs

– As Ichiro Suzuki continues to get older he continues to lose his ability to hit everything to everywhere and the Mariners have yet to find a bat to replace him and with no power in the lineup the offence will rely on a resurgence of the Mariner mainstay

 

Biggest Addition:

Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP

– Adding some depth to the rotation Iwakuma has the ability to win games especially with his unusual wind up and some good junk pitches that will keep batters off-balance and provide a change to the overpowering pitches of Hernandez

 

Biggest Loss:

Michael Pineda, RHP

– The Pineda trade was a strange one as the Mariners gave up one of the best young pitchers in the MLB for a couple of prospects and essentially have put Hernandez alone at the top to carry the team getting rid of the one two punch

 

One to Watch:

Dustin Ackley, 2B

– Ackley could be the solution to the run production problem or at least that is what the Mariners hope as he will take the second base spot and hopefully improve on his .273 batting average from last year to provide more offence

 

Texas Rangers

 

 

 

 

 

The Texas Rangers are the class of the West as they have been the team to beat in the West for the past two years. Last year the Rangers won the West for the second year in a row and in the postseason they marched all the way to the World Series in a thrilling year. Playing against the St. Louis Cardinals in the Rangers seemed sure to avenge their World Series loss in 2010. The Rangers got to within one strike of winning their first World Series ever but that is when it fell apart. The Cardinals came back in the game and ended up pulling off the win in Game 6 and continuing to momentum into game 7. The Rangers finished in 2nd place for the second year in a row but something important had been established in the season. The Rangers became a new Yankees type of franchise as they became one of the more popular teams in the league. With a brand new TV deal giving them more exposure and new-found success on the field the Rangers became a powerhouse and this year will be looking to do the same thing. During the offseason the Rangers lost some players but also signed one of the biggest prizes in free agency. The pitching will see a new look with the addition of Chinese superstar Yu Darvish and the loss of former ace CJ Wilson. The power is still in the lineup though as the batting order will not change too much and will still feature some major power. The Rangers will be back this year as they will be in the thick of the race for the division again and will hope that the third time is the charm.

 

Strength:

Batting Power

– Hamilton, Beltre, Young, Cruz, and Napoli with all of those names in the middle of the lineup there is no pitching around the Rangers power as they can hit HRs in almost every spot in the batting order making this the biggest strength of the Rangers

 

Weakness:

Right Infield Defence

– There are not many holes on the Rangers but the one issue they do have is their defence and it concentrates more on the right side of the defence with Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland having issues in the field

 

Biggest Addition:

Yu Darvish, RHP

– After spending $50 million talk to the Chinese pitcher the Rangers were able to sign him as they got one of the biggest prizes in the free agent market and although he is a bit of an unknown if he comes as advertised he will be a dominating force for the Rangers

 

Biggest Loss:

C.J. Wilson, LHP

– Signing Yu Darvish will soften the blow but having Wilson in the rotation would have been an added boost and would have given the Rangers a great top two pitchers but without Wilson the burden may fall solely on Darvish

 

One to Watch:

Mitch Moreland, 1B

– Moreland is not the best defender on the Rangers but he is becoming better and after a great 2011 season Moreland will add more power to an already stacked lineup and the more power and impact in the batting order the better for the Rangers

 

Prediction:

1. Texas Rangers

2. Los Angeles Angels

3. Oakland Athletics

4. Seattle Mariners

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