American League West Preview – 2010
By: Ryan Evans
For three consecutive years, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have won the AL West. But the Texas Rangers kept it close in 2009, and the Seattle Mariners made some significant changes in the off season. The AL West is a unique division because there are four teams, and thus less competition to earn a playoff spot. A playoff series can be won or lost on starting pitching alone. Thus a contentious foe may come from the West this year to battle the East early in the postseason. If appears as though the Oakland A’s look to be best suited for rebuilding mode in 2010. If the A’s do stumble early, it leaves a battle between the Rangers, Mariners and Angels for a spot in the playoffs.
Predicted Finish: (1) First Place A.L West
Subtractions: 1B Hank Blalock (Rays), OF Marlon Byrd (Cubs), RHP Joaquin Benoit (Rays), RHP Kevin Millwood (Orioles), C Ivan Rodriguez (Nationals), INF Omar Vizquel (White Sox), OF/DH Andruw Jones (White Sox), RHP Jason Jennings (A’s), OF Greg Golson (Yankees) :
The Texas Rangers can flat out hit. If the pitching is able to keep up with last year and able to hold an ERA around 5.00 through the summer, the offense will more than likely win more games than they will lose.
Why the Texas Rangers will win the AL West:
It’s “Bombs away!” in Texas. The Texas Rangers team still follows the former Presidents mantra. The infield, let alone the lineup is highly potent and toxic. Chris Davis, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, and Elvis Andrus take the infield and all can flat out hit. Texas will need a healthy Vladimir Guerrero, a healthy Rich Harden, Ian Kinsler, and Josh Hamilton in 2010. Much like the Seattle Mariners, a lot of this team is dependent on a few key individuals avoiding the DL which is no small feat for most of the aforementioned. If the Texas Rangers can grab a lead heading into the final two innings they are going to be awfully tough to beat. (2B) Ian Kinsler, heads into the regular season on the DL. If Kinsler can stay healthy he is a 30/30 guy but the catch is that last year was his first full season with more than 500 AB and he’s starting 2010 much as he did the years prior. The bullpen is lights out and the offensive minded Rangers can put the game away early. The Rangers will hand the ball to Neftali Feliz, who can hit 100mph + on the radar gun and will serve as the setup man to Frank Francisco in the bullpen. That combination is simply nasty and will create a late inning rally buster for most opposing hitters. If the Texas Rangers can grab a lead heading into the final two innings they are going to be awfully tough to beat. Ian Kinsler, heads into the regular season on the DL
Why the Rangers may not win the AL West:
The Rangers can’t afford to get out of the starting gate with a slow start. If it does, the team will likely replace Ron Washington. The team needs to avoid injuries to the starting rotation and needs to avoid a late season collapse. Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero and Ian Kinsler have all shown to be injury prone. The Texas nightlife is proving difficult for some star players to avoid. Hamilton was caught on camera enjoying the nightlife with several beautiful Texas ladies. The pictures hit TMZ website last summer and Hamilton’s season and feel good story were quickly derailed.
Player to watch:
Centerfielder Julio Borbon could give the help the Rangers win the division in 2010. Together with Elvis Andrus and a healthy Ian Kinsler this Texas squad might be able to run their way into the playoffs. Vladimir Guerrero, Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton’s power could make the middle of the lineup downright dangerous. Add a strengthened rotation and bullpen and they will be the team to beat in the AL West this year.
What May just happen… (Only in Texas…)
The team will hit the lights out of the ball but Ron Washington will be falling asleep on the bench planning how to get a wad of cash and a flight to Missouri. The starting rotation led by Scott Feldman and Rich Harden will do well in the months of April, May and June but break down a bit as usual in August and September. Ron Washington and Josh Hamilton take a 3 day hiatus and will not be found again until early September huddled in a tent together, shaking soda bottles and prepping for hunting season. Hamilton will be given another shot and be the feel good story of October.
Predicted Finish: 2nd Place
Subtractions: 3B Adrian Beltre (Red Sox) RHP Brandon Morrow (Blue Jays), 1B Chris Shelton (Astros), 1B Russell Branyan (Indians), INF Bill Hall (Red Sox), C Kenji Johjima (Japan), RHP Miguel Batista (Nationals), OF Tyson Gillies (Phillies), RHP Phillippe Aumont (Phillies) , RHP Carlos Silva (Cubs)
Jack Zduriencik holds the map and future strategy as General Manager of the Seattle Mariners while Don Wakamatsu and Ken Griffey Jr. captain ship. Together, the two have brought Seattle respectability back to the ballpark again. Meaningful baseball under the Seattle summer sun is back to the Pacific Northwest! The Seattle Mariners baseball team has gone through a metamorphosis in the two years since Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong replaced one of the worst GM’s of all time: Bill ‘The Issue’ Bavasi. It’s a difficult ocean to navigate for the M’s as Cliff Lee will start the year on the disabled list putting more pressure on an erratic Ian Snell as the #2 in the order behind, Cy Young runner up, ‘King’ Felix Hernandez. The guys behind Hernandez and Snell include Aussie, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Doug ‘The Blister’ Fister, and another J.J. Putz trade chip from the Mets in Jason Vargas rounding out the rotation. The M’s need the volcanic, switch-hitting Bradley (who was ejected twice in spring training games) to replicate the .321, 22-homer season he had in Texas two years ago since he'll probably have to hit cleanup in Seattle's slugger-less order. Injury is a big concern with Milton Bradley who was pulled in the 4th inning of his final tune up game with a quad injury – April 3rd. The Mariners will place former Angels leadoff hitter Chone Figgins in the two hole behind AL hits leader Ichiro Suzuki. The Seattle Mariners will have the best leadoff duo as well as the top 1-2 starting pitcher tandems in all of baseball. However, behind the two, the M's had only one player, Jose Lopez to hit 20 homers in '09. Jack Zduriencik brought in singles hitting Casey Kotchman to play first base (and apparently bat third). The Mariners will be depending on the fountain of youth to strike in Ken Griffey Jr., Eric Byrnes and Cactus League, sensation, Mike Sweeney. Byrnes is the single aforementioned Mariner that Wakamatsu will allow play defense in a meaningful game.
What the Mariners need to happen to order to win AL West:
The Mariners need some luck in 2010 and they need a late season rally as April is already looking like a .500 record would be a success. The Mariners need to lean on the strengths of the club, pitching and defense. This is a NL built team that can cover ground in the outfield and shorten a game quickly if they can get the lead and hand the ball to the bullpen. The bullpen is the strength of this club. David Aardsma, Mark Lowe, Brandon League, Sean White, Kanekoa Texeira and Shawn Kelley give the Mariners another terrific bullpen in 2010. Franklin Gutierrez needs to build on his breakout 2009 season. Gutierrez turns the magical age of 27 this year and may be the Mariners next All-Star in the outfield. Somehow an offensive catalyst needs to emerge from a fairly mediocre offensive lineup coming out of Spring ball. The team has a legit chance of catching the Rangers sometime in the late August summer in the summer swoon throughout Texas if they can stay competitive and Zduriencik is able to pull a miracle and perhaps land Adrian Gonzalez.
What the Mariners can’t have happen:
The Mariners cannot afford for Cliff Lee to stay on the DL long from his abdominal strain. The M’s can ill afford injury to any part of their starting lineup. Most notably the team brings in Milton Bradley, abandoning Carlos Silva to Chicago hot dogs, deep dish pizza and content Cub fans. The team will rely heavily on Jose Lopez, Ichiro Suzuki, Casey Kotchman and Chone Figgens atop the lineup. The offense depth drops off considerably after these guys on the depth chart. They can’t fall behind Texas or Anaheim too quickly as this team looks built to hang in there until July and then make adjustments as necessary.
What will likely happen:
It’s reasonable to believe this team is still a year away. A lot of pressure is being heaped on Milton Bradley when in effect he needs only perform better than the dreadful Carlos Silva. At the very least the team will save expenses on food. Jose Lopez may find an adjustment from second base to that of third a little more difficult once the lights come on. It’s hard to dismiss runs that Adrian Beltre prevented at 3B last year. The city of Seattle may never see a better defensive third baseman after Beltre. The starting rotation is suddenly looking susceptible as Ian Snell, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister are all yet proven in the league and none looked impressive in the Cactus League.
Player to watch for:
Adam Moore. The fortunate decision by Kenji Johjima to depart the Mariners for Japan freed up his $8 million salary to spend elsewhere. In his place steps an immediate upgrade in Adam Moore. Moore, will likely be the opening day catcher and he carries some potential offensive swat to his game. If Moore is able to adjust from Tacoma to Seattle as his Spring training would indicate, he’ll be an important factor in the following...
What may just happen… (If the stars aligned in Seattle):
Cliff Lee comes off the DL before May 1<sup>st</sup> and slides into the number 2 slot in the rotation. Lee quickly regains form and dominates the AL West and carries it through the playoffs. Milton Bradley finds his inner peace in his laid back West Seattle loft. He embraces a newly found Zen in a coffee shop during the day and hits like it’s 2008 at night. He avoids the DL through naturopathic healing shops in Freemont and Ballard. Bradley follows the path of Ricky Williams rather than Ron Artest. The Seattle java blend, brings out an easy-going, Milton ‘Mellow’ Bradley. In early summer, Erik Bedard comes off the DL and begins throwing the most wicked curveball in the American League again. Bedard follows a recovery from Tommy John surgery as Chris Carpenter did for the Cardinals last year. Bedard then goes on to carry the team on his back throughout the summer and is even caught laughing with the media on occasion. The minor leagues can no longer contain North Carolina University hitting prodigy and #2 overall pick last year, Dustin Ackley. Ackley is hitting the tar out of the ball and joins the team sometime in September hitting his stride as Alex Rodriguez once did for the Mariners organization. Ackley provides a late season spark and an offensive boost. Jack Zduriencik will sense that the Rangers and Angels can be caught in early July and thus make a blockbuster trade raiding the minor leagues to land 1B Adrian Gonzalez to provide some pop in the middle of the lineup and utilize the left handed power bat dimensions of Safeco Field. If this all happens, the Mariners will catch fire in September behind the rotation of Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Erik Bedard and Ryan Rowland-Smith. What ensues is an A.L. pennant win over the Yankees and a World Series win over the Philadelphia Phillies or Colorado Rockies. The team celebrates by carrying Ken Griffey Jr off the field in the winning moments after the World Series. Griffey accepts the ring in a humble retirement party on opening day, 2011. Grown men and baseball purists around the world are reduced to tears. The Mariners win the pennant. The Mariners win the World Series and even the Butler Bulldogs are soon forgotten. Go M’s!
Subtractions: 3B Chone Figgins (Mariners) , OF Vladimir Guerrero (Rangers), RHP John Lackey (Red Sox), OF Gary Matthews Jr. (Mets) RHP Dustin Moseley (Yankees), LHP Darren Oliver (Rangers), RHP Jose Arredondo (Reds), RHP Shane Loux (Astros)
John Lackey left the Anaheim freeway for the city of Boston and thus the Angels lack a true ace. The Angels do still have an extremely deep rotation full of above-average starters. Scott Kazmir can be erratic at times, but he’s a talented strikeout artist with a high ceiling. Jered Weaver is turning into a consistent 15 game winner with enough upside to hit 18-19 wins this year. Joel Pineiro is back from the St. Louis Cardinals Academy of pitching. After a full couple of years with Dave Duncan, he has emerged as, arguably, baseball’s top groundball pitcher. The question is whether or not 2009 was a fluke. Joe Saunders doesn’t make any opposing team overly concerned at first, but there’s no denying that he finds a way to eat innings and win games. Ervin Santana is the wild card. He went from dominant All-Star in 2008 to a total face plant in 2009. According to scouts his velocity is back to 2008 form so he could become a prime factor. Los Angeles’ bullpen battled inconsistency and health last year. However, they do have plenty of experience and depth, Brian Fuentes wasn’t very good in 2009 but still managed to save 48 games. Fernando Rodney comes over from Detroit and has a live arm and closing experience. Kevin Jepsen has the makeup to take over ninth-inning duties as well. Together, these 3 can put together a 1-2-3 punch that will be hard to compete against in the late innings.
What needs to happen for the Angels to win AL West?
Torii Hunter needs to extend his prime years by at least one more. Hunter is a wizard in centerfield and always a threat both on the plate and on the basepaths. If Erik Aybar can set the table for Hunter, Kendry Morales, Brandon Wood and Mike Napoli this team may be the surprise within the division. The starting pitching may not be the flashiest, but it’s the strongest in the division and has the chance to really deliver again this year. There is no glaring weak spot on this team and the Angels bring a potent lineup 1-9. Mike Napoli may have the best pure power hitter of any catcher in the league. Juan Rivera seems to produce as well whenever he’s given playing time behind the plate.
What the Anaheim Angels can’t have happen...
The team experienced a few more injuries than in years past and with the loss of Chone Figgens to Seattle, an even heavier load will be placed on Erik Aybar and Maicer Izturis to get on base. The Angels can ill afford to get behind Texas too soon in the AL West as their starting pitching isn’t built for long extended win streaks. An injury to Hideki Matsui, Torii Hunter or Kendry Morales would be difficult to overcome as there is less depth in these areas than years past.
What will likely happen…
The Angels will be in the race all year. The team is excellent at handling adversity and will show it once again this upcoming year. Mike Scioscia will steal a few wins here and there and the Angels will be a strong team throughout the year. However, the return of starting pitching to Seattle and the mad bombers from Texas will be too much and the Angels will finish a very close 3<sup>rd</sup> place within the division.
Who to watch for:
Brandon Wood. Wood may be the real deal and have a breakout campaign this year. Brandon Wood has had a couple of late season call ups with the Angels in the past couple of years and has always showed the power potential but previously he maintained consistency. Wood will be given the starting 3B job and behind Mike Scioscia and another year of baseball , he may finally pull it all together.
What may just happen… (If history is any indicator of the future)
Mike Scioscia wins manager of the year yet again and the resilient Angels team prevails for their 4<sup>th</sup> consecutive division title.
Predicted Finish: (4) Fourth Place Finish
Subtractions: INF Adam Kennedy (Nationals), OF Scott Hairston (Padres), LHP Dana Eveland, (Blue Jays), RHP Kevin Cameron (Giants), INF Bobby Crosby (Pirates), OF Aaron Cunningham (Padres), INF Nomar Garciaparra (retired)
The A’s franchise was the most dominant name in the division and captured the division title as recently as 2006. What has transpired since then, however, is three straight losing seasons. Even more concerning, their loyal fan base has become disinterested with the product, and there’s constant talk of moving the A’s to nearby Freemont. The A’s drew barely 1.4 million customers
What needs to happen for the A’s to win the AL West:
Not only will the A’s need their entire line-up of players to have career years, but Ben Sheets will have to win the Cy Young. The addition of Sheets should help the A’s win a couple more games that they would have otherwise won though. Oakland also hopes two of its new starters—Coco Crisp in center and Kevin Kouzmanoff at third—will give the club a lift in the speed and power. The bullpen for the A’s is a strength and is led by AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey. Bailey finished with 26 saves and a 1.84 ERA. The pen should be even better with the return of Joey Devine, the projected closer in 2009 who missed the season with Tommy John surgery. Michael Wuerrz (2.63 ERA) is considered one of the premier setup men in the game. Side-arm hurler, Brad Ziegler had an off year (3.07 ERA) when compared to his ‘08 season but can be dominating when used effectively. Catcher, Kurt Suzuki played in 147 games last year and will continue to be the silent leader of the team. The Wild card for me is Eric Chavez. If Chavez can return to form of a few years back, he is capable of changing the complexion of the team entirely on his own.
What the Oakland A’s can’t afford to happen:
Earthquakes or riots near stadium or funding rallies.
What will likely happen:
Billy Bean might be starting to see the error of his ways this year. He may start using a bit more of a running game in 2010 – unfortunately, it won’t matter. The A’s will struggle offensively, the starting rotation will get shelled and the team will build toward 2011.
Player to watch for:
Michael Taylor will begin the year in the minor leagues but has tremendous upside and may join the team earlier than expected if the offensive is stagnating. Taylor can hit for power and he can steal bases. The A’s look to have a bright future in some of their young ballplayers but will likely need a year on the job first. Rajai Davis also came on strong late last year and working with Ricky Henderson all winter will only make him more of a headache to opposing pitchers. Both he and CoCo Crisp will cover some serious ground in the outfield for defensive purposes. The team has a lot of exciting talent in the organization
What may just happen…
The Oakland A’s team does not draw enough fans to the stadium and thus begin a new reality television show on Fox Sports. The show in which the players compete with raffle ticket winners for the right to lead off and play position of choice for the A’s team will contribute to additional funding toward new stadium. The A’s franchise heads into August on a high note after keeping their team mostly intact with only a few local contestants on 40 man roster. The show is abruptly cancelled. Night games are considered moved out of primetime television in order to not compete with American Idol and Dancing with the Stars finales. Last vote on new stadium funding is considered before team begins to seek new lease agreement with San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom . A’s team begins to play home games during off days for Giants at Pac Bell Park during weekdays and travelling to Las Vegas stadium on the weekends.