Home > Uncategorized > American League West Preview: Angels Still Reign, Mariners Overhyped

American League West Preview: Angels Still Reign, Mariners Overhyped

The Angels have a good chance to win the West, but a big portion of that chance depends on Scott's Kazmir's tenuous health and his ability to lower his walk rate

I’m not sure why, but this spring training season has gotten out of the way pretty quickly. Last year, it seemed to linger forever. But we’re just six days away from the first regular-season game, seven days away from “opening day” and nine days away from the first 30-team schedule date. In anticipation of a new dawn for the greatest sport around — no arguments — I’ll be touching on each division with a not-so-thorough preview.

First up, the American League West. There’s no superior team, but it’s a division that could have a three-deep race into September.

1. Los Angeles Angels

There is plenty of reasons to be down on the 2010 Angels. They lost cornerstones Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey and Chone Figgins. They are depending on Jered Weaver to become the clear ace and depending on Brandon Wood to not become the next Dallas McPherson. They have very little lineup depth, especially for an outfield that has an average age of about 60.

And they are the best team in this division.

While it’s not exactly an outstanding staff, it’s definitely solid with the likes of Weaver, Scott Kazmir, Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro and Joe Saunders. That’s the best rotation in the division and it’s not close. Obviously, Santana and Kazmir need to stay healthy and more than anything, the Angels need some good defense from their infield since Pineiro and Saunders don’t strike anyone out. I don’t trust Saunders at all, but if he can be their No. 5, that’s not too bad.

In the bullpen, the Angels are certainly deep. Brian Fuentes will start the year as the closer, but Fernando Rodney is a great backup/eighth-inning man. Granted, he can also be a spectacular gas can. Scot Shields, who was one of the best set-up pitchers in the game before a knee-injury ruined his 2009 season, and second-half revelation Kevin Jepsen give the Angels a very strong relief corps.

The batting order is diminished with the losses of Guerrero and Figgins, but this team has enough pop with the likes of Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera and Hideki Matsui to go with table-setters such as Erick Aybar and Bobby Abreu. It’s not as complete of a lineup as in previous years, but it still has five or six very tough outs.

Don’t forget the Angels also have the best manager in the division. With so many people doubting his squad this year, Mike Scioscia might earn another Manager Of The Year award at season’s end. And at season’s beginning, don’t forget to get your Angels Snuggie.

2. Seattle Mariners

No second-place team in the AL West is going to produce enough wins to claim the wild card, so this is probably going to be a disappointing finish for the Mariners, given how much buzz they received this winter. It’s deserved. They have the best prototypical top of the lineup in baseball. They have the best top of the rotation in baseball. Unfortunately, it’s a steep fall from those guys to the 21 others who are expected to send the Mariners to their first playoff appearance since 2001.

Cliff Lee is already injured. That paper the Mariners look so good on is starting to wrinkle

First, who’s going to drive in Ichiro and Figgins? Milton Bradley will bat cleanup, so that’s a good place to start when you want to drive a negative campaign against the M’s. Franklin Gutierrez is a nice hitter and Jose Lopez is an underrated second baseman (even though he and Figgins will swap sides of the diamond this year). But who else is here? Ken Griffey Jr. needs to hit up Barry Bonds’ former trainers is just a name. Casey Kotchman and Jack Wilson are purely defensive specialists. And that better not be former Buffalo Bills statue Rob Johnson behind the plate.

Eric Byrnes, Ryan Langerhans, Ryan Garko Mike Sweeney, Jack Hannahan. I give it six weeks before Sweeney’s back explodes again. Ugh! Someone tell Dustin Ackley to hurry the hell up.

Behind Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez, you’ve got Ryan Rowland-Smith, Ian Snell and Doug Fister. Rowland-Smith isn’t too bad, but he hasn’t pitched more than 120 innings in his young career. Snell has gone from halfway decent in 2007 to blatantly horrible now. I’ve got nothing against Fister because he hasn’t had a lot of pro experience. But Seattle’s fans can’t have a whole lot of confidence in this trio.

David Aardsma was fantastic last season, I doubt he can do it again He’s a former first-round pick, but he’s played on five teams in his past five seasons. Rarely do you ever see a pitcher bounce around from place to place, regularly post ERAs more than five and suddenly become an All Star-caliber closer.

You are allowed to shy away from those whom we should be positive about when it comes to the Mariners. Cliff Lee will likely start the season on the disabled list with an oblique injury and 36-year-old Ichiro Suzuki was astoundingly lucky last season.

The Mariners are closer to third place in this division than second. But if Lee can return soon and Erik Bedard is healthy before the end of June, this team will have enough pitching to keep it competitive. But Mariners fans probably expect more than just that.

3. Texas Rangers

It just seems like the same story for the Rangers. They have lot of enticing hitters, but the starting pitching is thin. IF opening-day starter Scott Feldman can repeat his 2009 season, IF Rich Harden can stay healthy (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, mercy!), IF former closer C.J. Wilson can pitch the 1st-7th innings like he has pitched the 8th and 9th for most of his career, things might be OK. But closers don’t just become effective starters overnight. And you know Harden will miss at least a month with some sort of ailment. It’s destined. It’s Rich Harden.

Past that, Colby Lewis hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2007. But he has been one of Japan’s best strikeout pitchers for the past two years — whatever that’s worth. Tommy Hunter is expected to fill the No. 5 spot, but he’ll start the year on the DL due to that dreadful oblique strain. He had quite a nine-start debut, but the league started to hit him hard in September. There are a ton of questions among this rotation and, for a team that could be in the divisional race deep into the summer, there isn’t one guy on this staff that this team can point to as a slump stopper. Now, if Rich Harden can stay healthy … OK, enough on that.

Neftali Feliz is one of the few reasons to be optimistic about the Rangers' pitching Unfortunately, we'll see him for only a few innings every few days

Neftali Feliz is the best pitcher the Rangers have. He threw six pitches at 100 MPH or higher during a spring training game Monday! But the team wants to be careful with his precious arm, so he’ll be coming out of the bullpen for the foreseeable future. Still, he is must-see TV. Darren Oliver is somehow getting better with age and now he’ll be the Rangers’ third-best reliever. Frank Francisco had a nice season as closer and didn’t allow an earned run until May 31. He is prone to an epic blowup ever so often and I’m not talking about the time he went all WWE on an Oakland A’s fan in 2004.

Has hitting ever been a problem in Texas? The Rangers have been putting together some awesome lineups since the late 80s. The teams of Ruben Sierra and Rafael Palmeiro led to those of Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez, which led to those of Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano, which led to today’s club with Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and the newly acquired Vladimir Guerrero. If they can find a place to play him, Justin Smoak has got next.

Again, scoring runs shouldn’t be a huge concern. Although Vlad has been falling off for the past couple of years, he’s still a great average hitter with some power. This lineup would be even better if Chris Davis could hit his weight in average, but not reach that total in strikeouts.

But Kinsler has missed at least 30 games in three of his four seasons and he’s hurt again. His status throughout the season bears watching because he makes that offense go. Plus, Hamilton is always an injury concern. Still, the main issue here is starting pitching. Some unexpected performances, much like Feldman’s 2009, will have to take shape if this team wants a shot.

4. Oakland Athletics

As should be expected, the A’s will finish at the bottom of the AL West this year. The lineup is fairly green, but for a franchise that relies on smallball, only one player atop the team’s depth chart has recorded an OPS of more than .800 since 20o6. That would be designated hitter Jack Cust. Kurt Suzuki is a solid hitter. Rajai Davis can be a great leadoff hitter if he can get on base regularly. The defense is solid. Eric Chavez is still in there somewhere. But runs will be tough to come by.

Ben Sheets has had a rough spring and hasn’t pitched in a meaningful game since 2008. He and fellow recover Justin Duchscherer are expected to hold down the top of the staff. Both have the ability to turn out the second-best pitching duo in the division. They could also miss half of the season with some sort of arm-shoulder-back-elbow-oblique-leg injury. Brett Anderson looks like a future ace, but the rest of the bunch (Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro, etc) will give you a ride on the young pitcher rollercoaster. Brilliance mixed with bewilderment.

The bullpen is coming off a very good season and is led by reigning ROY Andrew Bailey. But it’s not off to a promising pre-beginning. Even when healthy, how many games will this bullpen get the opportunity to save? This team could lose a lot of games by scores of 6-1 and worse. Still, when you look at the other favorites for last places (Indians, Blue Jays, Pirates, Nationals, Padres to name a few), the A’s have the most immediate promise.

The A"s would love it if Rajai Davis could repeat his 2009 second half

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