Division Preview and Predictions: AL West
Saturday, we focused on the AL East, and yesterday the focus was on the AL Central. Today, we finish off our AL focus by looking at the AL West, a division that features five teams that are trying to be competitive defensively and offensively, but teams that lack good starting pitching depth.
Here is how I believe the division will look in order of where each team will finish in 2017.
1. Houston Astros (AL West Champions) - How can I not chose the Houston Astros to win the entire AL West and even make it deep into the postseason heading into 2017? Houston came right out of the gates early on making some major signings with free agent outfielder, Josh Reddick, free agent designated hitter/outfielder, Carlos Beltran, and making a trade for catcher, Brian McCann. All three of those moves added depth to a roster that was already extremely deep and talented. With that said, the biggest concern for Houston going into this season will be their starting rotation and how Dallas Keuchel can do coming off a weak 2016 season as well as how Lance McCuellers performs. Keuchel really is the lone man that the Astros have anchoring the top of their rotation, but is complimented with the likes of the aforementioned McCuellers, Collin McHugh, Charlie Morton, Mike Fiers, and Joe Musgrove. On the other side of the coin, Houston is set from a position standpoint with an incredible amount of depth around the diamond at every position and AJ Hinch along with the other coaches have plenty of various options to use on an everyday basis. Of course, Houston has arguably one of the league's best middle infield combos in Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa along with speedy outfielder, George Springer, and plenty of other talented infielders/outfielders. Heading into 2017, Astros fans should hold their heads high because it will be a season of great success and I would not be surprised to see Houston end the year with the best record in the American League if the pitching holds up and everyone stays healthy.
2. Texas Rangers (1st Wild Card) - If Texas did more to bolster their starting rotation this winter and had some more certainty around the field, they could be considered to be the AL West Champions again, but this season feels as though they might be a little weaker compared to last year. While Texas still has a talented roster with plenty of big, household names, their starting rotation is a bit worrisome as is the fact that the verdict is still out on so many of the team's young prospects in Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Ryan Rua, and Jurickson Profar. If all four of those prospects pan out to be what they are expected to be at the major league level, then Texas could very well find itself in a good position heading into 2017 and be the division's next powerhouse. Although there are a few concerns on those two fronts, Texas still has a great offense especially now that they have added Mike Napoli to the mix, who will provide some veteran leadership among a young team and someone who is a great clubhouse guy. In addition to Napoli, the Rangers also have Rougned Odor at second base, Adrian Beltre, a future hall of famer over at third, and well-liked, Jonathan Lucroy, behind the plate. Last season, Texas ranked 7th in the league in runs scored with 765 in 5,525 at bats and should be able to replicate that once again this year. On the pitching side of things, they still have Yu Darvish for another year, Cole Hamels anchoring down the top of the rotation, and plenty of bullpen depth. Even though the Rangers have Hamels and Darvish, there is still some concern about how Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross will perform after the team signed both earlier this winter. If the starting rotation performs well, the bullpen does its job, and the young players come through, Texas will lock down the first American League Wild Card spot.
3. Seattle Mariners - The Seattle Mariners made a lot of noise as usual this winter as, Jerry Dipoto, went to work in an effort to continue to revamp the team and make the entire roster stronger. Although Dipoto made some significant moves especially the one involving second baseman, Jean Segura, it appears right now as though the Mariners still lack pitching depth both in the starting rotation as well as the bullpen. Last season, Seattle's starting rotation finished 9th in the league with a cumulative ERA of 4.25 in 934.2 IP, while their bullpen finished quietly as the 7th best in the league with a 3.55 ERA in 522.1 IP. Although Seattle's bullpen did fairly well last year, it has yet to be seen if that success can be repeated again in 2017 and there will be a lot riding on the starting rotation which is anchored by King Felix at the top followed by Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Drew Smyly, and Yovani Gallardo. On the offensive and defensive side of things, there is a lot to like with Seattle. Last season, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager all combined to hit 30 or more home runs and put up at least 90 RBI and all three are beyond capable of doing that once again in 2017. With the addition of Jean Segura at second base, that gives Seattle a leadoff potential at the top of the lineup, a second baseman with a solid glove that can make some impressive plays, and a player that can swing the bat. If there was one concern, it would be how Danny Valencia and Daniel Vogelbach are going to perform together in a platoon situation over at first base, but we all may be very well surprised with how they end the season come October. Although Jerry DiPoto made a bunch of noise this offseason, it doesn't appear as though it will be enough to get the Mariners a postseason berth in 2017.
4. Los Angeles Angels - Although the Angels will still likely be an underdog in the AL West this season, you have to give Billy Eppler & Company a ton of praise for the moves them made this offseason given how quietly they went about trying to improve the team's defense. Eppler's first move came by acquiring leftfielder, Cameron Maybin, from the Detroit Tigers followed by the Danny Espinosa trade with the Washington Nationals, the Martin Maldonado trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, and the signing of free agent third baseman, Luis Valbuena. All of those moves should help the Angels from an offensive standpoint compared to where they finished the year last season, but it still won't be enough to help them compete with the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, or Seattle Mariners this season. Furthermore, another big concern for the Angels comes on the pitching side of things as the team still possesses a lackluster starting rotation and a bullpen that comes with a lot of question marks. Although the Angels starting rotation is lackluster, it will all depend on the health of Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs and Matt Shoemaker the entire season. Who knows, the Angels might go into Spring Training, evaluate what they have, and decide to make a free agent signing with Doug Fister, Travis Wood, or come to a reunion with former Angels pitcher, Jered Weaver. Either way, the Angels biggest downfall will always be in the pitching department even with the talented duo they have at the back end of their bullpen in Cam Bedrosian and Huston Street. Street had a terrible year last year following right knee surgery and ended the season with a 6.45 ERA in 22.1 IP along with 9 saves in 12 save opportunities, but has had tremendous success in season's before last. Heading into 2017, it will likely be another frustrating year for Angels fans as the team deals with pitching issues and the place where no team wants to be: stuck in the middle of the pack.
5. Oakland Athletics - It almost seems like a given anymore that the Oakland Athletics will finish fifth in the AL West each and every year, but it is ultimately the reality heading into 2017. Essentially, you could probably put the Angels or Athletics in the 4 and 5 spots as both will be battling for last place this season. With that said, the Athletics continue to be in the same position as the Angels with the fact that their stuck in the middle of the pack with no real plan, but they do have some talent on the roster especially in Sonny Gray who will hopefully have a much better season this year compared to last. While Gray has been the center of trade rumors for quite some time, it likely won't happen before Opening Day due to last year's numbers and injuries he dealt with last year unless a contending team needs pitching help and they feel as though he is healthy from the numbers he puts up during the World Baseball Classis. Besides Gray, the Athletics have another talented arm in Jharel Cotton who finished last season with a 2.15 ERA in 29.1 IP after being traded over from the Dodgers in the Josh Reddick trade. From an offensive side of things, there still is not much to like with Oakland's offensive core besides Khris Davis who quietly had a great year in 2016. Davis finished the year with 42 home runs and 102 RBI in 555 at bats, but the team as a whole didn't do great at all last year. In 2016, Oakland finished with the third worst offense in the league ahead of only, the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves, with 653 runs in 5,500 at bats and finished with the third worst OBP in the league over that span, .304. Just as the case is with the Angels, 2017 will be another frustrating year for A's fans and one that will once again find the team outside of the postseason picture.