The On Deck Circle

The unofficial home of Real Talk

AL West Preview

Posted by Blake Murphy on March 10, 2008

This article has been submitted by foul pole-to-foul pole hitter Jack Forsayeth.

This is the first installment of MLB divisional previews that will be written before the start of the season, so get excited and get ready to argue. I am going to go West to East because I am saving the best for last.

The AL West has become the forgotten division of the AL because it has lacked serious World Series competitors in the past and is the only division in the majors with a lowly 4 teams. However, the two best teams in the division made some serious off-season moves that may catapult them into the same sentences as the Red Sox or Tigers. Here is how I rank them and here is why:

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (formerly Anaheim Angels formerly California Angels)
Whatever the hell they are called, they are pretty darn good. They have the best offensive and defensive outfield in baseball, made up of Vladi Guerrero, Torii Hunter, Gary Matthews Jr. and near dead but savvy DH/OF Garrett Anderson. That gives them a solid heart of the order that will be preceded by one of the best leadoff hitters in Chone Figgins, playing 3B. The rest of the order will be filled out by top-10 catcher Mike Napoli and up and comers in Casey Kotchman, Howie Kendrick, and likely Macier Izturis rounding out the infield. Their infield lacks power with 25 homers combined in ’07 but is solid defensively, and all have averages close to .300, which means high RBI numbers for Vladi and Hunter.

Their pitching staff is one of the most underrated in the league and features 19 game winner John Lackey and 18 game winner and member of the ‘good after leaving the Jays’ club Kelvim Escobar. They also signed Jon Garland who had a poor 2007 on a weak White Sox team but was in Cy Young talks in both 2005 and 2006 with 18 wins. Their rotation is finished off by break out 25 year-old Jared Weaver and perennial underachiever Ervin Santana. They annually have a great bullpen and it will be no different this year. They hold one of the best late-inning trios in setup men Justin Speier and Scot Shields along with top5 closer Fransisco ‘K-Rod’ Rodriguez.

The Angels should have no trouble reclaiming their crown atop the AL West standings this year and should win 93-98 games on their way to winning AL pennant as the top team.

Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners did not deserve their 88 wins last year but may deserve to reach that mark this year with the acquisition of Erik Bedard. Outside of Ichiro and Beltre, and maybe Ibanez, the lineup flat out sucks, in my opinion. Sure Sexson and Wilkerson will get you 25 HRs, but they’ll bat .196 and .224 respectively on the way (merely predictions). Vidro is old, Johjima is decent for a catcher but that is not saying much, and middle infielders Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt are nothing special. All in all, Ichiro is the key to this lineup and will have to stay close to the batting title, which he will, in order for this lineup to compete on nights when Bedard or Felix Hernandez are not pitching.

Their staff is respectable. Bedard is a Cy Young candidate and Hernandez is the best young pitcher in the league but after that their rotation is average, featuring control pitcher Jarrod Washburn, Carlos Silva, and Miguel Batista. J.J Putz could be the best closer in the majors but has no decent set-up man or middle relievers to make this bullpen top-notch.

The Mariners will come second in the West but will have to have close to 20 wins from Bedard and Hernandez to compete for the division or the Wild Card. The Mariners will win 84-88 games.

Texas Rangers
The Rangers always seem to have a potent offence that hits a lot of homers but their pitching always seems to lack in most categories. The same will likely occur this year. A decent infield highlighted by Ian Kinsler should provide most of the runs with some help from young guns Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C/1B) and Josh Hamilton (CF). Hank Blalock missed a lot of games due to injury last year but will hopefully be back for most of the season so his numbers can continue to steadily drop. They also stole Milton ‘I’m not a board game’ Bradley from divisional foe Oakland and he will also help the offence.

Their rotation is weak. Kevin Millwood has a solid resume but hasn’t had ace-like numbers since he left pitcher-land in Atlanta. Padilla and Jennings could be 4th and 5th starters on some teams but are not good enough for 2 and 3. Their 4 and 5 spots feature two young pitchers in Brandon McCarthy and Kason Gabbard that could help out the club, especially McCarthy. Their closer position and half of their bullpen spots are up for grabs, which does not bode well for the Rangers. Look for CJ Wilson to become the closer and journeyman Eddie Guardado to setup.

The Rangers will be lucky to get 75 wins this year but may pull it off if some of the young guys can step it up. They will not compete for the division or Wild Card and will likely go head to head with Oakland for the worst record in the division.

Oakland Athletics
Gone are the days when the A’s won playoff games without superstars and when Billy Beane was revolutionizing the way baseball was played. Let’s just say the A’s will be getting nothing but Cs and Ds from me (chuckle, chuckle). Chavez has fallen off the planet, Crosby had one good season and the rest of the team features no-names. They do have a couple good young players in Jack Cust…okay, they have one good young player, and Kurt Suzuki is a reasonable catcher. The rest of the lineup I have not heard of and chose not to comment on. None of these players were featured in Moneyball, I can say that much.

Their rotation lost Dan Haren but Joe Blanton is a decent ace. Rich Harden has injury trouble but, if healthy, can be dominant. The rest of the staff is young and impressionable but those are the pitchers that Beane seems to pull out of his ass, so you never really know how they will fare. Huston Street is a good closer that will probably lack good save opportunities.

You have to feel for Beane and Co. because they just have no money. The players that have gone through their system are all-stars now on other teams. They will compete for third in the division but won’t win 75 games.

MVP Candidates in Division
1. Vlad Guerrero
2. Ichiro Suzuki
Cy Young Candidates
1. Erik Bedard
2. Jon Lackey

This article has been submitted by foul pole-to-foul pole hitter Jack Forsayeth.

13 Responses to “AL West Preview”

  1. Blake Murphy Says:

    Jackie, some bold statements there brother. The Angels OF is formidable, especially when you throw in pinch-run and D-replacement specialist Reggie “Sure I’ll Steal It” Willits. That said, Matthews has lost a step on D, Anderson has a foot in the grave, and we’re not even sure if Vlady’s arm can handle throwing anymore, which might spell the end of that cannon. This also happens to be one of the streakiest OFs in baseball, so the Angels will be an all-or-nothing team for stretches this year. I do like them to win the division, though, and get pumped in the first round.

    You are underrating Miguel Batista. He is a renaissance man, an author, and a damn fine pitcher. The rest of the Mariners can kiss my ass, but they may be slightly better than expected, especially if Richie Sexson can crack the Mendoza line.

    Don’t sleep on Hank Blalock. His numbers decline the last two year’s are based on a degenerative condition he has since had surgery to fix, and his power numbers should be decent this year. That team can hit and his some good young players - that is, they’re now the overpaid D-Rays of the West.

    The Athletics finally seem to have lost their way. Then again, that’s been said about the As lots. They manage to get production out of unheralded prospects and journeymen, so maybe they’ll strike lucky again. Personally, i think we’ll see Street and Blanton moved, perhaps Cust, too, by the deadline, and the As will be back where we expect them by 2010 with a new batch of Unintentional Comedy All-Stars.

    This division, as usual, will be boring and probably fairly close top-to-bottom in terms of talent and output. Good review Jack, and I think you got the order correct.

  2. Cone Says:

    Fair review of the division for sure. The A’s and Rangers wont even come close to playoff contention. I’m not sure I agree re: the Angels outfield and the Mariners rotation though. Saying that the Angels outfield is the best offensively an defensively is a stretch. All three outfielders are aging…Vlady = sick arm, but not what it once was, Gary Mathews Jr. = overrated since that sick catch. Offensively, good, but you gotta think of the Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, White Sox as being right up there.

    Mariners rotation is straight up sick. Bedard is an unreal addition, The King is the best #2 in baseball if he stays healthy. As for the back end, its not that weak. Silva is a huge inning eater, Washburn can get you wins and consistency, and Batista is a solid #5 that can get you 15 wins (maybe a stretch but I think he can be dirty). Putz, dirty closer, maybe best in baseball. Look for the Mariners to contend if Sexon can hit, I’ll agree though they do lack depth.

  3. Erik Says:

    I actually agree with you about the the strength of the “Angels in the Outfield”, however Guerrero is going to be relegated to some DH duty this year. I strongly disagree that Hunter is overrated. Given that he has spent his entire career in a small market, I would argue that he is very UNDERrated. This is the kind of player who, if he played in New York or Boston, would be touted as the second coming of Christ.

    As I mentioned in my handicapping column a few months ago, the Strength of the Angels is in their depth. They have a disgusting amount of major-league-ready talent at just about every position. It would be nice to see them package up some of this depth and make a run at a real difference maker.

    Also, I wouldn’t be so quick to discount the A’s. If we’ve learned one thing about Oakland its to always trust Billy Beane. He’s done this time and time again, always managing to stay competitive. I don’t mean “competitive” enough to win 80 games, I mean competing for the World Series. When Billy Beane trades his veterans, he always gets great value. The Swisher deal brought Gio Gonzalez to Oakland, a guy who just so happened to lead the Minors in strikeouts and has one of the best Curveballs below the major leagues.

    I agree with the order, but it wouldn’t be too crazy to see Oakland finishing third if they can find a way to score runs.

  4. Blake Murphy Says:

    Erik—I agree with Hunter, and it’s nice to hear he’s on your list for Sunday. I guess we both gave something away, since I’m high on Blalock.

    And Gio Gonzalez? Have you seen Clayton Kershaw’s curveball? He’s going to make us change the term from 12-6 curveball to the 24-hour curveball, that thing is nasty.

  5. Erik Says:

    Kershaw just happens to be a lefty too! GIO struck out 185 in 150IP so thats gotta be good for something. Insane to think both of these guys are younger than us.

  6. stu Says:

    Iiiiichirooooo. Looks like my Mariners are going to be in trouble in this division. I didn’t realize how many good teams outside of the Yankees and Red Sox there were in the AL. The Angels, Indians, and Tigers all seem like legit contenders. My Yankees might struggle to make the playoffs!

  7. Jack Says:

    NL West coming soon. I hope I get the same feedback. Surprised no one has commented on winning the AL. Is that in agreement then?

  8. Blake Murphy Says:

    Definitely not Jack. I made the comment they’d be spanked in the 1st round. As for Erik, I know he had them as ‘best odds’ to win, but I think that was only for the given payout rates, not overall. I don’t like the depth of their bullpen behind the top 3 and like i said, they are an extremely streaky team which could go either way playoff time. I don’t like them to leave the first round.

  9. Jack Says:

    I agree Blake, I never said anything about winning in the playoffs. I merely mean getting the best record in the AL. I do not think they are the best team but due to their weaker division than the Central and East, I think they have the best chance to win the most games. Cleveland and Detriot will split many as will NY, Boston, Toronto leaving with less high 90 wins.

  10. Blake Murphy Says:

    My bad jack, I thought you meant win the Al outright. I agree they have the best shot at 100 wins given the poor division.

  11. Erik Says:

    I’d put even money on the Angels to with the World Series. In my opinion, they are the only team without significant obstacles to making the playoffs and in a 162 game season that is saying alot. The rotation and bullpen is set up perfectly for a short playoff series. They just need to find a way to beat the Sox!

    The Yanks WILL struggle: insanely productive offense, but very little going on in the rotation and bullpen if Hughes and Joba don’t explode this year.

  12. Jack Says:

    I dont see the Yanks making the playoffs this year either. Sox may also struggle if Beckett keeps getting injured.You may be right Erik, Angels could be the team to beat.

  13. Blake Murphy Says:

    Umm, have you guys seen the Tigers? A little luck with rotation health and with their roster improvements, they’re my early season favorite in the AL, regardless of the tough path to get there in the Central.

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