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 Bautistaâs 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 baseballâs 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 doesnât 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. Hereâs what each club did last season:
2016 W-L Record
Record in 1-Run Games
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 wonât 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, theyâre 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 itâs 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
SportsLine Div. Odds
Westgate Div. Odds
SportsLine Playoff Odds
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 âStros are essentially bringing back the same starting rotation, only with Charlie Morton replacing Doug Fister. Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers werenât 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 divisionâs 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 itâs 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 gameâs 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 theyâre in line to be one of the leagueâs worst teams for the third straight year.
Now that weâve taken an overview look at the division, hereâs more on each AL West club individually going into the 2017 season.
Gosh, that rotation. The Astros are going to score a ton of runs and their bullpen will protect leads -- donât sleep on the team defense either -- but after last season, Royals showed you donât necessarily need a truly great rotation to win the World Series. , specifically what 2017 may hold for Keuchel and Evan Gattis.. 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
Los Angeles Angels
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. .? Quality veterans like
While expectations are low for the Aâs, Jonah Keri thinks Sonny Gray is the No. 1 issue facing the Aâs in 2017, . A healthy and effective Gray not only improves the clubâs chances of contention, it gives Oakland a top trade chip to peddle for young talent. The Aâs 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 Hudson, Gio Gonzalez, Dan Haren, and Trevor Cahill. , Towers wonders whether Ryon Healy is for real, and which other young Aâs starters could be worthwhile.initially set by sportsbooks for their season win total. The health and performance of
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 Seguraâs ability to repeat his breakout 2016 season is ., the clock is ticking on this group. Hernandez, Iwakuma,
Dayn Perry 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. , Towers explored the futures of Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo.and also noted the Rangers will benefit from a full season of catcher