2018 MLB Preview: AL West

alwestThere was a lot of potential for the West to take over the American League much like the west had done in the National League.

The west was full of great teams that were beginning to rise through the ranks and become serious contenders in the league.

They were starting to show signs of a commitment to be better and it was shaping the division battle for the better.

They were looking to be the same as the National League and trying to rise to the top to be the best division in baseball.

Over the last few years, the Houston Astros were building a true contender and rising up to be one of the best teams in the league.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners were looking to find their way back to the postseason after years of rising up.

They weren’t necessarily the best teams in the league but they were a team that was looking better every year.

The team was constantly improving and they were finding their way to the postseason to break one of the longest droughts in the game.

In Texas, the Rangers were trying to hold on to their dominance after being one of the best teams in the league and leaving no division titles for anyone else.

The Angels were a team that was slightly more unknown with talent to go around but maybe not enough to make a real impact.

The only team that never seemed to really have a shot were the Oakland Athletics but they weren’t far off from their own time at the top of the division.

It was a division that could have had a good battle in store but the 2017 season proved to be anything but an entertaining fight.

The Astros took off from the start of the year and rose to the top of the league leaving everyone else behind.

The Mariners were a shadow of themselves and the Angels rose to second place even though they were two games under .500.

Texas struggled and sank to the level of the Athletics leaving the entire division to be one of the worst in the league.

The excitement went away quickly but did continue to build in one city as the Astros might not have had the toughest battle but they would have won anyway.

They were the best team in the league and they continued to be the best team right until the final out of the World Series.

Although this division struggled throughout the 2017 season they are still home to the best team in baseball.

Everyone will be chasing the Astros this year as the defending champions are still the class of the division but the other teams will look to provide a better battle this time around.

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The Astros are a team that has become the poster for what can happen when a team truly commits to the rebuild and does it the right way. The Astros never rushed their rebuild as they were one of the worst teams in the league for years regularly dropping 100 games a season. They were a team full of young talent and that young talent developed into a strong team that began to compete regularly. 2017 was their year as houastrosthey put everything together and with a few big late-season additions, they made the run towards the World Series. It was the first title in franchise history and it was proof that the rebuild done right can work wonders for a franchise. The Astros do not seem like they were going to be resting on that one win either and with the group, they have assembled there is a chance for them to be on top again. Not only will they look to that core group that helped them to the top last year but new additions seemed to have only made them better heading into 2018. The Astros are built on their ability to put up runs in big numbers and they have all of the pieces to do the exact same thing this year. Last year’s MVP, Jose Altuve returns as the driving force behind this offence and with his consistent play, there isn’t much to show that he will slow down anytime soon. Should he struggle there is plenty of players around him that can put up the runs all in their own way including Brian McCann, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis. There is plenty of depth in this offence and they should be good again even if they aren’t at the same level. The big improvement for the team could be the rotation as additions and players coming back has created a good group. Last year’s late addition, Justin Verlander is back and will lead the team as a true ace and one of the best pitchers in the game. He is now settled into his new city and with plenty behind him, there is the potential of him being even better. The addition of Gerrit Cole provides yet another good arm in the rotation and Cole doesn’t have to be the star which could make him settle in. Along with Dallas Kuechel and Lance McCullers Jr., the rotation got deeper than a year ago. This team looks better than they were when they won the World Series and should make the postseason on top of the division but the dreaded hangover could prevent them from the same result.

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The Los Angeles Angels are in danger of being a team that wastes one of the best talents to ever play in the MLB. There are few teams that can be given that label but there is little doubt that the Angels fit into that category as the years move on and Mike Trout continues to be stuck playing only regular-season games. He is one of the best players in the MLB and every year he is sitting in the MVP race for his ability both in the field and laangelsat the plate. Trying to build a team around that central piece is a tough thing and plenty of teams have struggled in doing it. The Angels are looking to change their fortunes this year and they hope that one big addition can turn this team around. Despite their second-place finish a year ago they were still a sub-.500 team and for another year they had one of the best players sitting on the sidelines during the most important part of the season. In their attempt to compete they went after it in free agency adding a number of players that they hope will be the difference for this team. The biggest addition of them all was of the biggest name on the international market as the Angels were able to land Shohei Ohtani who is known as the Japanese Babe Ruth. He earned that nickname because of his ability to hit for power and play the field as well as take the mound every five days to pitch. The majority of the MLB see him as a pitcher above all else but there is little doubt that he wants to be a two-way player and it seems likely that the Angels told him he could. It is not going to be easy especially adjusting from the Nippon League to the MLB and his success will make a big difference for the Angels. In the rotation, he will be looked to as the next great Japanese pitcher but other Japanese stars have struggled in the transition to the MLB. Beyond Ohtani, there is a lot of potential and a lack of experience as only Garrett Richards has put in any significant time in the league. On offence, the team is always led by Trout who continues to be one of the best players in baseball while new addition Zack Cozart looks to add to the offence. Whether or not Ohtani can add to that production is one of the biggest questions for the season. The Angels did their best to try to shore up their team and those moves should play for the postseason but their spot is not guaranteed.

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Moneyball is the claim to fame for the A’s as they are the team that popularized that strategy in creating a team that could compete. In the era of the big spenders, Oakland decided to use stats and analysis to find the best value in creating a team. That strategy worked well for them for a number of years but it is beginning to show signs of wear in the Bay. The problem with the strategy is that when the players do begin getting some oakathleticsattention it is all but certain that they will be moving on to another team where they can get a bigger payday. It leads to turnover and although this strategy worked when it started that turnover has created a franchise that has struggled to compete over the last few years. The A’s continue to make moves that give their best players away in order to get value back before they leave in free agency. That strategy left them in a tough spot last year as they sank to the bottom of the league struggling to compete in a division that wasn’t that deep. The strategy continues this year and it has once again left the team with a relatively young group which means a lot of inexperience and not a lot of hope. The offence is in pretty good hands as the power is there even if most people don’t know who is lining up for them. Khris Davis is the leader of the group and one of the best power hitters on the team. He is not the only one that can put up big numbers though as young stars Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are young but have the power while Jed Lowrie and Marcus Semien are great at putting up numbers as well after a few more years in the league. They could be a fun team to watch offensively but the talent and most of the potential for 2018 is in the offence. Pitching is where there are sure to be some struggles as they are a young group with the best of that young group likely not making his debut until later in the year. For now, the team will look to Kendall Graveman to lead them as the most seasoned pitcher in the rotation entering his fifth season. Other young pitchers like Daniel Gossett and Sean Manaea will need to step up as well id the A’s hope to compete. The Athletics could be a fun team to watch if their offence can meet the potential that they have shown. They won’t be able to make the postseason though as the pitching needs to be better if they want to compete.

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In an era where droughts are being ended at a rapid pace, there stands only a few major droughts in the MLB and the Mariners are the holders of one of them. Although Cleveland has the more heartbreaking drought with their inability to take a World Series the Mariners are the ones who have spent a lot of time outside of the postseason. They currently hold the longest postseason drought at 16 seasons and it is getting to a point seamarinerswhere the frustration is building. The last few seasons have seen them come very close to breaking that drought but they have never been able to get over that hump. In 2017 the expectations were pretty high for the team as they were supposed to break that drought after the last few years of continually building a competitor. That didn’t quite work out though as the Mariners struggled with their pitching staff devastated by injuries. They went through the most pitchers in the major leagues and that type of instability will never lead to success. Still, they were able to finish in third and only two games under .500 showing that there is something there for the team. The enter a new year hoping that the injuries do not repeat themselves and that the stability can help them find the postseason. There is little doubt that the offence will do what they need it to do this year as the talent pool is deep. That offence is led by veterans Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz who continue to put up big numbers. The addition of Dee Gordon gives them a leadoff threat while Jean Segura and Kyle Seager add more depth to the group. Ichiro Suzuki is the feel-good part of the season as he returns to the place it all started and hopes to contribute as he continues his legendary career. The pitching is what has hampered the team though as injuries have already begun to pile up while age is beginning to show. Felix Hernandez has been one of the best pitchers in the game but his age is beginning to hurt him while David Phelps might not be seen the rest of the season as he undergoes Tommy John Surgery. James Paxton might be the only solid part of the rotation but beyond him, there isn’t much else. The Mariners are hoping for their drought to end but their pitching might not be good enough to get them into the postseason. They have talent on the team but without any more pitching help, they won’t be good enough to break that drought even with their solid offence.

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The Rangers were one of the best teams in baseball only a few years ago as they continued to win the West and made deep runs into the postseason. After years of being the team to beat in the AL West, 2017 was going to be the year that was going to challenge them the most. Their in-state rivals were surely going to push them as the Astros were getting better and might finally unseat the Rangers on top. It was going to be texrangersa fun battle though as the rivalry between the two Texas teams was going to step up. Then the season began and the Astros took off from the start while the Rangers began to slowly fall behind. By the tie the season was over the Rangers were sitting in fourth place and that battle that was going to define the West never really came. They head into a new season looking to try to get back to that position and into that battle against the defending champions. It won’t be easy and for the Rangers, the new season will ride on a lot of risky moves that could pay off or blow up in their face. The Rangers lost a number of big names and then went out and signed some of their own except the names that they brought in were mostly veterans with bad recent histories. The biggest moves came in the rotation as the Rangers lost Andrew Cashner who was by far their top pitcher last year. To replace him and boost their rotation the Rangers took a few flyers in hopes that they would pay off. Cole Hamels will lead the way again but behind him are a number of pitchers that could be great but will need to bounce back. Both Matt Moore and Doug Fister were great pitchers but neither have shown that ability in recent years. Meanwhile, Tim Lincecum returns from a year out of baseball after falling apart in San Francisco. All have the potential to be great and if they can find their form again the Rangers could have a great rotation, although those are big questions. On the offensive side, the Rangers made few improvements but are hoping to see some better performances from their core. Adrian Beltre remains their best hitter when healthy while Elvis Andrus tries to stave off the ageing process. Rougned Odor needs to be better all-around along with Joey Gallo and if they can the team could climb back. The Rangers are taking some major risks this year and they are hoping that those risks pay off because if they don’t another bad season will surely be in the cards.

Prediction:
The battle that so many wanted to see last year was not to be and it still won’t come to fruition this year. The Texas rivalry is pretty much dead for the year as the Rangers are simply not good enough while the Astros are not satisfied with their title. Houston has improved form a year ago when they were the best team in the league and that is not a good thing for the division. They will take the division title and likely won’t have much of a battle ahead of them to get that title. If there is a battle it will be the Angels who come through as they are the next most improved team but they will likely have to fight for the wild card. Seattle and Texas have a chance to be good but a lot of things need to go right for them to actually compete. The A’s might show some promise but they still won’t be good enough to find their way out of the basement. The battle is not going to be the best this year as the Astros should run away with it leaving the west as a developing division for another season.

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