Predicting the A.L. West.

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Updated: March 31, 2017

We’re here for the final divisional predictions in our prediction series; our beloved A.L. West! The wild, wild west should be the most competitive division in baseball; each team as some legitimate strengths and some serious question marks, and it should come right down to the wire. The key to this division? Well, what else could it possibly be but pitching!? As much as each team has the ability to field a stellar rotation, they also have serious health risks and questionable effectiveness. The Texas Rangers are coming off back to back division crowns, and have mostly owned this division for the past few years, winning four of the last seven championships, and the Los Angeles Angels have only won one division championship in the last seven years after winning five in six years from 2004 to 2009.

The Rangers won the division last season on the backs of the best record in one-run games in history, going 36-11. That kind of thing is wildly unsustainable, going through extreme variations from year to year. For example, the previous record was held by the 2012 Baltimore Orioles, who made the playoffs by going 29-9 in one run games. The next year, the Orioles went 20-31 and finished fourth in their division. Then in 2014, they went 32-23, again making the playoffs, and all that variation with essentially the same personnel in their bullpen and pretty much no turnover in their lineup. There’s just no way to sustain that kind of record year to year, and if any of the Rangers’ relievers regress at all this season, then that record will suffer accordingly. The Rangers also have serious question marks in their rotation behind Cole Hamels, as Yu Darvish has struggled to stay healthy in recent years and new additions Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are already starting the season on the D.L. If Carlos Gomez can put together a full season like what he was able to do in his small sample size with the Rangers last season and the young guns like Nomar Mazara, Jurickson Profar, and Joey Gallo can reach their potential, the lineup will be plenty good. That pitching staff, though…

The Houston Astros are going to have one of the best lineups in all of baseball, if not the best, with Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and George Springer all capable of putting together MVP caliber seasons and steady veterans Carlos Beltran, Brian McCannEvan Gattis, and Josh Reddick rounding out a seriously deep and stacked lineup. The bullpen is also solid, especially if Giles can bounce back from his early season struggles and pitch more like he had at the end of the season. The rotation, though, is shaky, and if things go wrong it has the potential to be the worst rotation in the division. If Dallas Keuchel can’t bounce back form last season’s struggles and Lance McCullers continues to struggle to stay healthy, you’re looking at a rotation relying on Charlie Morton and Mike Fiers to carry the load with Collin McHugh set to start the season on the D.L. That’s not a great place to be. If the rotation is is merely healthy and solid, though, the Astros could be one of the better teams in baseball.

Jerry DiPoto wasted no time in remaking the Seattle Mariners, trading every player in sight to add more versatility, athleticism, and balance to this team. They’ll definitely be faster, with new additions Jarrod Dyson and Jean Segura adding speed and defense in spades. Speaking of defense, the outfield could be the best defensive outfield in baseball, with Dyson, Leonys Martin, and Mitch Haniger all capable of playing center field. All those additions are nice and everything, and the team will be better for it, but if Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Felix Hernandez begin showing signs of age or struggle at all, this team will have a hard time competing. Hernandez is coming off the worst season of his career, and has been slowly declining for the past few years. If he can’t reverse that trend, the rest of the rotation will have a hard time picking up the slack. Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton are injury risks, Drew Smyly was scratched from his most recent start already, and Yovani Gallardo is, well, Yovani Gallardo. The Mariners are going to need their franchise cornerstones to continue to be just that, because if they slip at all, no amount of balance or depth will be able to cover for what they can and should bring.

There’s not a whole lot that can be said about the Oakland Athletics. We’ve been here before, writing them off as one of the worst teams in baseball, only to have them win the division in 2012, and then again in 2013 for good measure when players like Josh Donaldson, Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss, Tommy Milone, and Jarrod Parker came out of nowhere to push this team to a division crown. The A’s have some good, young prospects in their rotation with Jharel Cotton, Andrew Triggs, and Sean Manaea combining with Sonny Gray and Kendall Graveman to form a young and solid starting five and Frankie Montas and Grant Holmes making their way through the organization. If those players reach their potential quicker than expected, you could see something possibly growing in Oakland. The bullpen should be solid with Ryan Madson, Santiago Casilla, Sean Doolittle, and Ryan Dull a formidable team. The position players, though, are a lot of castoffs, question marks, injury risks, or all of the above. You could potentially see the Athletics pulling off a 2012-ish shocker, but so much has to go right and the young rotation has to arrive, like, now. The A’s are not going to be all that good, but they’re not that far off, either.

The Angels are the biggest wild card in the division. Coming off a terrible season that had them finishing in fourth place and only five games up on the last place A’s, GM Billy Eppler chose to make depth moves as opposed to anything drastic, and will hope for rotation health to bounce back to contention. The Angels -10 run differential was a whole lot closer to the first place Rangers than the last place A’s, and was more indicative of a team that should have finished right around .500. The Angels were flat out unlucky last year, not only in their record but health-wise, and even average luck in those areas should push this team closer to .500. The Angels had that run differential despite receiving negative value from left field and second base, (I’m not just saying that; those positions literally cost the Angels wins over what they could have had from even an average player at those positions,) losing three closers over the course of the season, (Huston Street and Cam Bedrosian both suffered season-ending injuries and Joe Smith was traded,) and having exactly ZERO starters make all their scheduled starts. (Hector Santiago was traded and Jered Weaver was scratched from his final start due to injury.) Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano, Tyler Skaggs, and C.J. Wilson combined to make only thirty starts for the Halos between them.

After adding Jesse Chavez, Bud Norris, and Yusmeiro Petit, the Angels will have a longer and more versatile bullpen and more rotation depth, and with even a little bit of injury luck, the Angels should have a solid, if unspectacular, rotation. Danny Espinosa and Cameron Maybin will finally represent some sort of value from second base and left field, respectively, and Ben Revere and Luis Valbuena, when he returns from injury, will combine with Jefry Marte and Cliff Pennington to add depth to this team. The Angels will be even better defensively and on the base paths, affording Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Kole Calhoun, and C.J. Cron more opportunities to drive in runs. There are serious health questions here, and if Richards and Skaggs can’t stay healthy and Matt Shoemaker and Ricky Nolasco pitch poorly, this team will struggle again. If the rotation can stay healthy, though, they’ll contend all year.

1.) Astros 2.) Angels 3.) Rangers 4.) Mariners 5.) Athletics

 

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