|AL West Preview 2011||| Print ||
Written by Bjoern Hartig (Contact & Archive) on March 25, 2011
2010 Record 90-72, first in the division, lost World Series to San Francisco Giants
Key Player: ¬†Josh Hamilton
The Rangers lost their best pitcher Cliff Lee and their RBI-leader Vladimir Guerrero and still will hardly miss a beat. With Torrealba and Napoli replacing an offensive black hole behind the plate, the surprising signing of Adrian Beltre and the likely move of Neftali Feliz to the rotation, the team should be able to compensate for the losses and bring consecutive division title to Texas for the first time ever, if -- and that's not a given -- Josh Hamilton stays on the field for 150 games.
Texas has, even when compensating for the park, by far the best offense in the division and with Mike Maddux being pitching coach in Arlington, I am confident that barring injury, the rotation of C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Tommy Hunter, Feliz and whoever wins the fifth starter job should be good enough to keep the Rangers in the game until the hitters can muster a big inning. The 'pen without Feliz is a bit of an unknown variable, but it is also the part most easy to fix on the fly if necessary. Edit: The Rangers have apparently decided that Feliz will close again, even though most people think using him for limited innings is a waste of his talents. This makes the rotation look weaker and lets the A's creep a little closer. It will be interesting to see what the Rangers do when the back end of the rotation struggles early on.
Prediction: 88-74 and division winner
2010 Record 81-81, second in the division, 14 games back
Key Player:¬† Hideki Matsui
Last season, the A's had excellent pitching, but could not score a run to save their lives. Billy Beane addressed that weakness by bringing in David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui. Although those guys should help a bit, neither will strike fear into opposing pitchers. But if the A's are lucky, only shortstop Cliff Pennington will be a truly below-average hitter.
With four young solid (or better) starters and a monster bullpen, the only question on the pitching staff is the fifth starter. But which team does not have this problem? If all the arms hold up, look for the A's to be this year's surprise October player that nobody saw coming. However, I expect that thanks to some regression or the inevitable injury, they will not quite get there.
Prediction: 86-76, second in the division
2010 Record 80-82, third in the division, 15 games back.
Key Player:¬† Kendrys Morales
It is hard being an Angels fan these days. They have not been able to sign their main free agent target since Guerrero (that was back in 2004) and instead spent heavily on mediocre relievers and aging outfielders. You cannot blame them for not spending $20 million a year on Crawford, but that they let Adrian Beltre get away -- to a division rival no less -- when they have a giant hole at third base is inexcusable. And do not get me started on that outlandish trade for Vernon Wells.
The Angels are a curious case. If everything goes right -- Kendrys Morales returning soon, veterans Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Wells staying healthy and productive, youngsters Howie Kendrick and Willie Aybar playing like they are able to -- the offense could be pretty good. But they can also bust big time if things go sour. The pitching staff is anchored by Jared Weaver and Dan Haren, but lacks the depth of recent years. The Angels are the most difficult team to predict in the division, they could win 88 or lose 88 just as easily, but something around .500 is most likely
Prediction: 82-80, third in the division
61-101, fourth in the division, 29 games back
Key Man:¬† Felix Hernandez
Do you remember how everyone picked the Mariners to win the division last year? Then they went on to lose 101 games. Granted, they dealt Cliff Lee away halfway through the season, but still. The team is mostly unchanged and the best they can hope for is third place if the Angels implode. The offense might be average, but only if Ichiro Suzuki, Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins and Jack Cust turn in reasonable numbers and Justin Smoak shows everyone why he was the main piece in the Lee-deal. The rotation after Hernandez is uninspiring and the bullpen pretty much a mess.
The most interesting question for the Mariners in 2011 is what they will do with the talent they have. They have repeatedly said that they are not going trade Felix Hernandez, but his value will never be higher and some team (the Yankees) might get desperate and offer a package the M's cannot refuse.Prediction: 70-92, fourth in the division.