Home > MLB > LBS 2011 MLB Preview: AL West

LBS 2011 MLB Preview: AL West

Sep 27, 2010; Anaheim, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starter Brett Anderson (49) reacts after surrendering a double to Los Angeles Angels left fielder Juan Rivera (not pictured) in the second inning at Angel Stadium. Photo via Newscom

The AL’s truncated division rounds out our preview of the American League.  I have the guard officially changing in the AL West after the Texas Rangers got all the way to the world series in 2010, but that doesn’t mean it will be a cakewalk.

1) Texas Rangers (projected finish: 91-71)

For an encore after 2010, I am picking the Rangers to finish 20 games above .500 and to win the AL West.  It won’t be a comfortable margin.  The 91 wins would be one game additional to their 2010 record, and they’d be doing it without their most significant loss, Cliff Lee.  Probability might actually suggest that the Rangers, who added Adrian Beltre in the offseason, would be better off than this, but there is a small adjustment in this prediction for a slow start with the unsettled pitching staff.

The offense is led by the duo of Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton in the outfield, and even considering the effect of the home ballpark on offensive totals, they are in the running to be the highest scoring offense in the AL.  While it’s easy to say now, this lineup would be even more dangerous with Justin Smoak in it.  Smoak was dealt away for Cliff Lee last year.  Lee will bring pair of first round draft picks back at least due to the MLBs compensation system, but the Rangers are ready to win right now.

The rotation, at least right away, will be lead by C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, and Naftali Feliz.  Naftali Feliz?  The Rangers are trying to stretch him out in an attempt to replace Cliff Lee in the rotation.  This means that: the back of the Rangers rotation is absolutely wide open, and could be a limitation on their ability to compete.  As poor as manager Ron Washington’s bullpen management was in the world series, the Rangers do have a bevy of arms to turn to to make it a strength over an entire season.

This team is still better prepared to compete in the short series format than the regular season, and it won’t take much in terms of underachievement to put the Rangers on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.

2) Oakland Athletics (projected record: 88-74)

Another thing you probably didn’t realize about last season in the MLB: the A’s finished with 81 wins, second in the AL West, and tied with the Tigers for the 8th best finish in the AL.  Yes, the playoff-contending Detroit Tigers won just as many games as the A’s did last year.  This year the A’s take the next step.

The bar for making the playoffs in the AL, according to the projections right here, is going to be 91 wins.  At an expectation of 88 wins, the A’s may come up just short, but what they have going for them is that they have two ways of getting in if they can add help at the deadline: the AL Wild Card and AL West title look to be about equally obtainable this year.

They’ll have to get over 88 wins to do it, but with a strong season by Brett Anderson (above), or either David DeJesus or Chris Carter, and the A’s will have enough offense to support a pitching staff that just doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the youngest, and best, in the majors.

3) Los Angeles Angels (projected finish: 74-88)

The Angels have a good shot to be better than last year when they won just 80 games.  Adding Vernon Wells makes them a little better, though not by as much as you would think if you just plugged Wells’ 2010 numbers into centerfield for the Angels.  They had a comparable offensive threat in Mike Napoli who they couldn’t get a great number of at bats for, and his strong bat is who Wells will replace.

Kendry(s) Morales will be healthy this upcoming year, meaning the Angels get their best hitter back, and Alberto Callaspo should be much better as a full time second and third baseman than he was last season.  The Angels should again feature an above average lineup, although they are counting on sustained production from an aging right fielder, Torii Hunter.

The pitching staff might let them down.  Dan Haren can still get it done in this league, but his results the last two years have been closer to a middle of rotation pitcher than a top guy.  Jered Weaver is the team’s ace, and Ervin Santana is a nice no. 3.  I don’t know what the Angels are planning to do if Scott Kazmir flames out again, they simply lack the farm depth to not get drilled two out of every five games unless Kazmir can return to form.  And I think that deficiency will take them out of the running before long.

4) Seattle Mariners (projected finish: 65-97)

For the Mariners, it wouldn’t appear that a significant regression to the mean is coming for their league-worst MLB offense (impressive, for an AL team that doesn’t have to hit its pitcher).  Some improvement should come from guys like Chone Figgins.  But an aging Ichiro was already a pretty good hitter on a horrible team last year, and marginal decreases in his on-base ability might wash out regression from Figgins.

The onus will be on guys like Milton Bradley and Justin Smoak to pull the Mariners out of an offensive tailspin.  If they can, they actually have a pretty good shot at getting into the divisional race.  Credit Felix Hernandez, now unquestionably the best pitcher in the American League.

The Mariners are going to be able to prevent runs this year, but without quality pitching depth, most of that prevention will be full-season effects of playing 81 games at SafeCo Field.  This is a good defensive team, so it’s not time to cut every player on the “everyday starter” side, but they still only have 2/3 of an outfield with Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro, and the infield offers zero pop, and nowhere is that problem worse than at catcher.

The Angels are a far more talented team, but if the Mariners can do the small things much better than last season, and King Felix has another great season, the Mariners can make a push towards everyone else in the AL West this season.

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