After a flurry of sports activity last week, combined with the onslaught of tests and presentations that I have been preparing for, I was unable to give my last division preview in baseball. To all you AL West fans out there (Mareo), I apologize for the extended wait and ever building anticipation. Last year, I got a little crazy and picked the Oakland A's to win this division. Just another notch in the belt of TPLIYP's failed predictions as the Angels once again took the AL West. This year however, the landscape in the AL West has changed dramatically. The Angels lost several key players and didn't make as many additions, the Mariners really bolstered their entire team, the Rangers picked up some nice pieces for their squad and the A's dumped all the old dudes they had last year in favor of a youth movement. Trying to take all of this into account, I think the AL West will finally have a champion other than the Angels this year. I like the Seattle Mariners to take the AL West this year, bringing back memories of the Kingdome in 1995.
1. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners really upgraded their team this off season, adding the likes of Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Casey Kotchman and of course Cliff Lee to the club. This gives their lineup some much needed run producers (they were the worst in runs scored last year) and another top of the rotation stud to bolster a rotation already featuring King Felix. Clearly the time is now for the Mariners. Due to the weakening of the Angel Dynasty, I like the Mariners to pitch well, play great defense and score enough runs to win about 89 games and take the AL West.
KEY ADDITION: Cliff Pee. Clifford was stellar last year in the bandbox that is Citizen's Bank Park. While he returns to the more difficult AL, going to spacious Safeco Field should balance that out. He is having abdominal trouble early, but should be a solid addition to Seattle.
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Erik Bedard. If Bedard can return to the way he pitched in Baltimore, the Mariners would have a very solid 1-2-3 in their rotation. That is a huge if though.
BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Franklin Gutierrez. Regardless of how this guy does at the plate, he should establish himself as a perennial gold glover this year.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Lots of guys on this team. The Kid of course. Chad Cordero- can the once great Nationals closer make a comeback? Maybe it would help if he didn't pull his hat quite so low. Manager Don Wakamatsu, that's fun to say.
2. Anaheim Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles County, California
The Angels have certainly taken a step back from last year, but they should still have the talent to compete for the AL West title yet again. Their staff features Jered Weaver, Joel Pineiro, Scott Kazmir, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana, and their lineup can still compete with Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales and Bobby Abreu. However, I feel that in losing John Lackey the Angels have sort of lost their competitive spirit. Nonetheless, manager Mike Scioscia will have these guys ready to go this year, and they will certainly not give up their AL West crown without a fight. Look for the Angels to fight all year long, but fall maybe one game short of the Mariners for the Division championship.
KEY ADDITION: Joel Pineiro. "Pinball", as Dorne calls him, had a very solid season in St. Louis last year and will try his best to fill the shoes of John Lackey. It will be interesting to see how he transitions back to the AL though, where he has had trouble in the past.
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Ervin Santana. This guy can be lights out when he is healthy, but he is already complaining of the dreaded "elbow discomfort and stiffness". He could create a huge hole in the Angels rotation.
BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Mike Napoli. I think if the Angels give this guy enough at bats, he could hit 30 home runs. He can absolutely crush the ball. I might even DH sometimes on his off day.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Howard Kendrick. Yes, apparently he is going by the grown up name of Howard now. Maybe his game will grow up too.
3. Texas Rangers
The Rangers seem content with the same old formula of all hitting and no pitching. Though their lineup is seriously imposing, they lost Kevin Millwood and don't really have enough developed pitchers to take the reigns just yet. They are getting there though. The Rangers will probably go about .500 this year under the leadership of Ron "white lines" Washington. Can we please make that the Rangers' theme song this year?
KEY ADDITION: Vlad the Impaler. Vladdy Daddy makes a lineup featuring Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton and Chris Davis that much more power packed. Look for this team to hit a lot of jacks this year.
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: The Great Hambino. Can Josh Hamilton get over his back problems and put up another 500 foot circuit clouts at Yankee Stadium during the home run derby type year? I hope so.
BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Neftali Feliz. This dude throws legit 100mph and will either make a great closer or starter for the Rangers.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Ron Washington. New tv show idea: keeping up with the Washingtons.
4. Oakland A's
Gotta love the AL West. Only four teams to preview. My apologies to Tameo, but the A's burned me last year and now they shall suffer the consequences. The A's have some very intriguing young prospects, but not enough to compete for a division just yet. Look for them to keep trading for prospects for a little while until they have what they need to compete again. Until then, hard times for the A's as they lose about 90 games this year.
KEY ADDITION: Ben three Sheets to the wind. Sheets could be a solid addition to this rotation, but my guess is that the A's took a gamble on an INJURY PRONE guy in hopes that he could pitch well and maybe bring them some prospects at the trade deadline. That Billy Beane, always scheming.
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Offense. Do the A's have any? Unlikely. I will use this space to promote one of my favorite players though; professional hitter Jack Cust. Modern day John Jaha. Poor man's Matt Stairs. That was one hell of a roll call right there.
BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Brett Anderson. This guy could be the A's building block for the future. Some filthy stuff.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Rajai Davis. Blink and you could miss the speedy "Ray Jay" Davis (as me and Mareo call him). He also pulls his socks up like a good ball player should. How the hell else is the umpire going to know where your strike zone begins? Plus it looks pretty sharp.
And so ends my preview of both the AL and NL divisions. Hopefully this year will prove a bit more fruitful than last.