The Texas Rangers enter the 2017 season as the two-time defending AL West champs. Unfortunately, both division titles were followed by disappointing -- and, frankly, embarrassing -- ALDS exits. In 2015 the club blew a 2-0 series lead as Jose Bautista bat-flipped them into the offseason. In 2016, the Rangers were swept in three games by Bautista’s Blue Jays.

In both years the Rangers overcame long odds to win the division. Two years ago they surged late in the season to pass the Houston Astros, who sat atop the division most of the summer. Last year Texas overcame a thoroughly mediocre run differential by posting baseball’s best record in one-run games. They won 36 one-run contests. No other team won more than 28.

This is now a new season, and what happened last year doesn’t mean a whole lot heading into 2017. The Rangers and Astros figure to again fight for the division title, along with the Seattle Mariners. The Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics, the other two AL West clubs, face longer odds. Here’s what each club did last season:

2016 W-L Record

Run Differential

Expected W-L

Record in 1-Run Games

Rangers

96-67

+8

82-80

36-11

Mariners

86-76

+61

87-75

30-30

Astros

84-78

+23

83-79

28-25

Angels

78-84

-10

80-82

17-20

Athletics

69-93

-108

70-92

25-28

The Astros, Rangers, and Mariners are very clearly win-now teams. Anything less than a postseason berth will be considered a failed season for all three clubs. The window won’t get any more open. The Angels will need a few things to go their way, namely health, to have a chance at the postseason, most likely a wild card spot. The Athletics? Well, they’re somewhere between rebuilding and going for it. Not a great place to be, typically.

Interestingly enough, SportsLine forcasts a very tight AL West race while Westgate sees the Astros as runaway favorites. (For what it’s worth, FanGraphs sees the Astros as runaway favorites as well.) Here are the projected win totals and division odds for the five AL West teams:

SportsLine Proj. Wins

Westgate Over/Under

SportsLine Div. Odds

Westgate Div. Odds

SportsLine Playoff Odds

Astros

84.8

91.5

42.0%

44.4%

51.7%

Rangers

82.4

84.5

26.8%

27.8%

36.8%

Mariners

80.2

85.5

16.6%

27.8%

24.5%

Angels

76.9

80.5

7.7%

7.7%

11.7%

Athletics

76.6

74.5

6.9%

3.8%

10.6%

Honestly, I could see the case for either scenario being true -- the AL West being a tight three-team race or the Astros running away with it. Houston very clearly has talent. Their core of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Alex Bregman is as good as any four-player core in the game. New veteran additions like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann lengthen the lineup and also bring a leadership quality that was maybe lacking last season.

At the same time, how with the pitching staff hold up? The ‘Stros are essentially bringing back the same starting rotation, only with Charlie Morton replacing Doug Fister. Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers weren’t great last year, and even Dallas Keuchel was far from Cy Young caliber before going down with a shoulder issue. Lance McCullers has a ton of potential, but injuries are a problem. Perhaps the Astros will score so many runs and get such good bullpen work that an average rotation will carry them to the AL West title.

The Rangers and Mariners are in similar situations. Both teams figure to have strong offenses, but their rotations come with some questions. Texas has, by far, the division’s best one-two punch in Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels. After them the Rangers are counting on guys like Andrew Cashner, Martin Perez, and A.J. Griffin. The Mariners will rely on Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, both of whom are showing signs of decline, and talented lefties James Paxton and Drew Smyly. Paxton has had lots of injury problems in his career, and Smyly was extremely home run prone in 2016.

Squint your eyes and it’s possible to see the Angels in the postseason mix as well. They need some more help -- again, help in this case means good health -- than the Rangers, Astros, and Mariners, but contention is not out of the question. Having the game’s best player in Mike Trout is a nice starting point. As for the Athletics, well, you can never rule out a team making a miracle run, but right now it appears they’re in line to be one of the league’s worst teams for the third straight year.

al-west-2017-preview.jpg
Graphic illustration by Mike Meredith

Now that we’ve taken an overview look at the division, here’s more on each AL West club individually going into the 2017 season.

Houston Astros

Gosh, that rotation. The Astros are going to score a ton of runs and their bullpen will protect leads -- don’t sleep on the team defense either -- but after last season, it’s fair to wonder whether Houston’s rotation is championship caliber. McCullers is their only true bat-misser and he (elbow, shoulder), Keuchel (shoulder), and Morton (hamstring) are all coming back from injuries. Then again, the 2015 Royals showed you don’t necessarily need a truly great rotation to win the World Series. Chris Towers looked at the Astros from a Fantasy perspective, specifically what 2017 may hold for Keuchel and Evan Gattis.

Los Angeles Angels

Does Trout have enough help? Quality veterans like Yunel Escobar, Luis Valbuena, and Kole Calhoun give the team some offensive thump, though the bottom of the lineup is quite thin. The Angels are a pitching and defense team, and their pitching staff will depend a lot on the health of Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs. Skaggs is coming off Tommy John surgery and Richards rehabbed an elbow ligament tear with a stem cell treatment. Towers has your Fantasy analysis for the Halos.

Oakland Athletics

While expectations are low for the A’s, Jonah Keri thinks they’ll top the meager over/under initially set by sportsbooks for their season win total. The health and performance of Sonny Gray is the No. 1 issue facing the A’s in 2017, Dayn Perry writes. A healthy and effective Gray not only improves the club’s chances of contention, it gives Oakland a top trade chip to peddle for young talent. The A’s have a history of trading their best players once they start to get expensive, and now that Gray is in his arbitration years, he could be sent packing, a la Mark Mulder, Tim HudsonGio Gonzalez, Dan Haren, and Trevor Cahill. For Fantasy purposes, Towers wonders whether Ryon Healy is for real, and which other young A’s starters could be worthwhile.

Seattle Mariners

As R.J. Anderson explained, the clock is ticking on this group. Hernandez, Iwakuma, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano are all on the downside of their careers, yet the Mariners are still counting on all four for big production. The pieces are there for a postseason run this year, no doubt about it, and it very well may be now or never for this core group of players. Jean Segura’s ability to repeat his breakout 2016 season is Towers’ big question for Fantasy.

Texas Rangers

Dayn Perry looked at last year’s record in one-run games and also noted the Rangers will benefit from a full season of catcher Jonathan Lucroy. He came over at the trade deadline last year. In addition to being a solid hitter, Lucroy is an excellent pitch-framer who will make the pitching staff better by getting more strike calls on borderline pitches. On the Fantasy side, Towers explored the futures of Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo.