2016 MLB Preview: AL West

al-west.fw

In the National League, the Western Division is defined by a long-standing rivalry that has recently been the battle to watch.

In the American League, the same thing could be forming thanks to the realignment made a few years ago.

When the Houston Astros were put into the American League it started the talk of a Texas rivalry between the Astros and the Rangers.

It was built to be great but when the Astros made the move they were at the bottom of the league and the Rangers were sitting near the top.

The rivalry did not start out too well as the Rangers easily got by their in-state rivals who clearly could not compete.

Then last year that rivalry went up a notch as the Astros began to show what a rebuild looks like.

They didn’t do it quickly but their bad seasons had given them a young team capable of competing.

The entire season became a constant back and forth between the two teams from Texas and to the surprise of many it became one of the best battles in the MLB.

For many it was too soon, Sports Illustrated had called the Astros the 2017 World Series Champions, but the Astros were now competing to be the best in the league.

They had made things interesting and all of a sudden a rivalry began defining the AL West.

This year both the rangers and the Astros head into the season looking to continue that rivalry but ultimately to come out on top.

Last year it was the old guard that took the title as the Rangers were able to just inch out the win at the end of the year.

The Astros will look to come back stronger this year with a little more experience under their belt as they try for their first AL West title.

Much like their counterparts on the other side of the standings a rivalry could define this division battle and could do it for years to come.baseball-sidebar

That doesn’t mean the other three teams won’t try to have their say in what happens.

The problem that many of them have had is their reliance on a few great players to carry a team of middling players.

In baseball, that is not a way to win games and the Rangers and Astros have figured that out.

The Los Angeles Angels have consistently looked to Mike Trout to get wins and as great as he is he can’t win a championship without other players.

The Seattle Mariners were hoping that Robinson Cano could make the difference in their team but their reliance on him to provide most if not all of the offence is not a way to win.

The Athletics didn’t even do that last year when they lost all of their best players in an attempt to reload their farm system at the expense of their current team.

None of those three were able to put on much of a final push at the end of the year and so the Texas teams took over.

This year with some new parts for some teams they will try to disrupt the rivalry and take the title for themselves.

Whether or not they can do that this new rivalry still seems to be ready to be a factor in the division battle.

One way or another the two Texas teams will be a part of this division battle while the rest just look to have their own say in what happens when the postseason comes around.

It will be an interesting battle as for the first time there seems to be some real excitement for the battle ahead in the AL West.

hou_astros.fw

The Astros were seen as the 2017 World Champions by some a few years ago and last year many believed they arrived early after making the postseason. In reality, they are right on track as they have taken a young team and shown the talent while getting that all-important experience in big games. The Astros are one of the younger teams in the league and they became a good team the long way developing talent from their farm system after earning top picks for their bad performances. Last year everything finally came together as top talent took that step forward and the Astros went from a perennial loser to a team fighting for the division title. Although they lost in the ALDS they got some very important experience for the young team that will return this year. Last year they were led by one of the best offences in the MLB and they put up runs in multiple ways. They have hard hitters like Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, and Louis Valbuena who all had 25 or more home runs last year. They also have pure hitters like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer who also represent speed on the bases. It makes their offence extremely tough as they don’t necessarily rely on one way of scoring despite their penchant for the long bomb last year. The offence was the leader of the team last year but their pitching staff was far from a hamper on their success. Throughout the starters and relievers, there might not be a tonne of big names but despite that they are a strong group. Dallas Kuechel is the clear ace of the team after earning a2.48 ERA last year and winning the Cy Young Award for the American League. Nobody knew much about him before the season and any other of the pitchers could be the next breakout star. Lance McCullers was just over 3.00 in his ERA while Collin McHugh won 19 games last year and new addition Doug Fister has shown that he can be great if he can find it again. In the bullpen, they don’t throw hard but they throw accurately with a multitude of pitches. Aside from closer Ken Giles, the majority of relievers hover around 90 mph which is not up the standards of most relief pitchers. The Astros are a team that was built from the ground up and as a result have put together a well-rounded team with few holes that will likely be in the postseason again and will fight for the division as they creep closer to being that championship team.

hou-astros.fw

la_angels.fw

After a promising year in 2014, the hopes were high for the Angels last season as many thought that they were on their way to competing with the Rangers for the division. Then the Astros showed up and the Angels began struggling to make things worse throughout the organization. It all seemed to come through when Josh Hamilton relapsed and the team reacted poorly before trading him and not getting much in return. It was a microcosm of a season where they didn’t play terribly but didn’t have enough to keep up with the best teams. This year Billy Eppler got his first full off-season as the GM but in general he didn’t seem to think they needed much. They will head into the new season looking much the same as last year and although the talent is there the question is whether it is enough. They will be led once again by one of the best players in baseball, Mike Trout who has carried the load for the Angels since he moved to the MLB. The problem with the rest of the offence is that a lot of it is unknown as many can be good but lack consistency. New addition Andrelton Simmons has speed but has to get on base, Albert Pujols got his power back last year but is not getting any younger, Kole Calhoun had a great year but largely thanks to his spot ahead of Trout. There are just too many ifs in the line-up to say that they can be one of the best even if that potential is there. In the pitching staff no starter is going to blow anyone away but they are a good group that doesn’t provide many easy days. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are not what they used to be and Andrew Heaney is still a bit of an unknown as he could turn into a great starter or take a step back from a promising 2015. Garrett Richards leads the group as a fireball thrower who might settle in as the team’s top starter this year which could make him a dangerous leader. The bullpen is much the same as Huston Street is a solid closer while the rest of the group contains no pitcher that is great and no pitchers that is terrible to make a stable group of relievers. The Angels have talent the problem is that the talent they have is not consistent and that there is not enough of it throughout the lineup. They will still be good but the line-up is just too inconsistent and not deep enough to compete with the top teams in the division.

la-angels.fw

oak_athletics.fw

Before the 2015 season began the A’s went to work but worked in the opposite way that most teams would have. After a decent but not great year in 2014, the A’s ripped apart their line-up trading away their best players and leaving a shell of a team that earned a wild card spot the year before. They seemed to be on their way up but in the spirit of “Moneyball” GM Billy Beane sent all of his stars away before they became too expensive to keep. In one season, those changes sent them from a wild card team to the last place team but it wasn’t without its bright spots. The biggest bright spot was in the rotation where Sonny Gray quickly rose to be a top Cy Young contender. This year he might reach that same level although it might be hard to match his performance from a year ago. Beyond Gray there isn’t a lot as they hope Rich Hill could be a great pitcher but he hasn’t been around long enough to be sure. Every other starter is good but would usually fit near the bottom of other rotations as they won’t be able to get the wins needed on a consistent basis. That will put pressure on a bullpen that is good but could break down with over-use. Liam Hendricks will likely get a lot of work while Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madsen handle late innings. The offence might not provide much support either as they lack power which is a bigger issue in the cavernous O.co Stadium. Signing Khris Davis was an attempt to help them gain a bit of power and he will do that alongside Josh Reddick, even if he doesn’t match his numbers from last year. Billy Butler might be able to provide some too but he is passed his prime and his power has dropped off. Jed Lowrie and Yonder Alonso will boost this offence but it won’t be enough to really help the A’s score the runs they need. The big positive for the team though is that every batter is not necessarily an easy out as most can hit and get on base. If they can get runners around they might be able to take some big wins but the reality of the A’s is that they gave up on winning now last year when the team gave away their best players. They won’t be much of a factor this year unless some very surprising performances can carry them as they will sit at the bottom of the division for another year.

oak-athletics.fw

sea_mariners.fw

When the Mariners signed Robinson Cano two years ago everyone began taking notice of the team from a formerly forgettable team from the Northwest. Although it wasn’t immediate the Mariners were beginning to be contenders and many thought 2015 was going to be a year to watch them but in 2015, they fell short. As a result, they fired their manager and GM while making some roster changes that they hope will bring them back to the postseason hunt. On offence, the Mariners got a boost when they signed Cano but his power has been lacking recently. He is still a great hitter but in a different way. Nelson Cruz has taken over the power hitting duties though as he still has the pop to lead the team on that front. Kyle Seager has provided his own offence consistently even if his numbers aren’t amazing. Meanwhile, new additions Adam Lind and Nori Aoki will bring some extra power and a good lead-off hitter to a solid offence. The only real issue is the fact that beyond that heart of the line-up there isn’t much else so they will need to get their offence from that heart of the line-up. The pitching staff is much the same as they have great pitchers to start but there is little good depth. Felix Hernandez was one of the best pitchers in the league but is coming off of the worst season of his career. He could bounce back and if he does he is one of the few true aces in the league that is almost a guaranteed win every time he goes out. If his skills keep declining it could mean bad things for the Mariners who have filled their line-up with pitchers that remain a mystery. The rest of the rotation is a bit of an unknown with injuries and some major questions surrounding them. That makes it tough on the bullpen which itself has had some questions to answer even with changes. There could be a battle for closer as Steve Cishek holds the role while Joaquin Benoit was brought in as a late relief pitcher that can fill that role if need be, although rumour has it that he doesn’t want to close. The rest of the group is a group full of cast-offs from other teams that might surprise but were let go for a reason. The Mariners do look better overall this year but the fact is that it might not be enough to help them compete again. Their pitching has too many holes to be confident that they will fight for the division or a postseason spot.

sea-mariners.fw

tex_rangers.fw

The Rangers found their game again in 2015 and headed into the postseason as the West champions. Then they ran into the Toronto Blue Jays and found out just how important good defence can be when games become important. The Rangers didn’t go about fixing much though believing that their group can still get it done in 2016. The biggest questions come in the pitching staff where all eyes are on Yu Darvish who has only played one full season since he first came to the league. Everyone knows that he can the best pitcher in baseball, he earned second in Cy Young voting during his only full season, but he struggles to stay on the field. Tommy John Surgery this off-season has many wondering what he will be able to do when he returns. If he can play like everyone knows he can the one-two punch of Darvish and Cole Hamels is a devastating pairing. They will have an issue with Derek Holland who only seems to be getting worse as the seasons move on and some young arms that include Chi Chi Gonzalez and Martin Perez are still unknowns. The top two are great and very tough at their best while questions still remain about the rest of the rotation. In the bullpen, the Rangers are ready to deal with some bad outings from the bottom of the rotation. Shawn Tolleson is back after his 35 saves last year while fireballers Sam Dyson, Keone Kela and Jake Diekman are sure to prevent man teams from working their way into games after the starters. The Rangers have largely depended on their offence in recent years but the biggest question, this time, will be whether or not the team is getting too old. They have been led by Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder but both are not getting any younger and this might be the year that their power begins to fade. Josh Hamilton will look to resurge as well now that he is out of Los Angeles and in a better situation but he is also not the same player as he used to be. If they can remain healthy and keep their level of play up this offence has little to no easy outs and will once again be near the top of the league.  The pitching could be their Achilles heel this year if the bottom three pitchers can’t perform well enough. For the rangers though the offence can make up for it and will as they will fight for the division again but might come up just short and end up in the wild card.

tex-rangers.fw

Prediction:
The battle of Texas will once again determine the winner of the west and it will be a good fight throughout the year. The Rangers just have slightly more questions than the Astros and they will fall to second place but still find their way to the wild card. The Astros will take the title this year and continue to their progression towards an eventual, probably not this year, World Series. Meanwhile, the Mariners will give a fight for either Texas teams but won’t be able to sustain it without a solid pitching staff. The Angels and the Athletics simply didn’t do enough to improve their teams this year. They will fight for the bottom spot but the talent for the Angels will win out for another disappointing season from both teams.

al-west-prediction.fw

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 161 other followers

%d bloggers like this: