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2010 Baseball Previews: AL West – Will the Rangers Rotation Overachieve?

Posted on March 18, 2010 by Don Spieles

Over the last six seasons, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have been the winner of the AL West division five times, only missing the title in 2006 to Oakland.  The bad part of that for Angels fans is that in five tries, they did not reach a single World Series.  Even more bad news in Anaheim is that this year they won’t even make the playoffs.  Skillful off season moves from Seattle and a Texas squad who’s coming of age, will both keep the Angels away from October baseball.  One this seems clear, though, the whole race will be very close.

1.  Seattle Mariners

Ken Griffey Jr.’s return to Seattle may have been a lucky move on his part if the Mariners play to potential.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Los Angeles Dodgers

Chone Figgins ran away from the Angels via free agency to be a star in Seattle.

Of course, the biggest story in town (that town, anyway) over the hot stove season was the trade acquisition of Cliff Lee from Philadelphia.  His spring training has been a little rough (one toe surgery, one ejection for throwing at a batter) but never the matter. Lee is a good bet to be an AL leader in at least a couple of starting pitcher categories.

What does it mean when your pitching rotation feathers Cliff Lee as the #2 starter? Well, let’s just say it’s not to shabby.  Felix Hernandez is slated as the top of the rotation guy for the Mariners after his 19 win campaign last season that just missed him the AL Cy Young (he finished second behind Zack Grienke.) Ryan Rowland-Smith, the reliever turned starter who spent a good portion of last year in triple-A, was not too shabby upon returning the the bigs (5-4 with a 3.74 ERA. Ian Snell came to Seattle last August after posting a 2-8 record with Pittsburgh. Before the end of the season he would lose only two more decisions while winning five over twelve starts.  All together, the Mariners should be happy enough with their April rotation to hope it continues.

Seattle’s offense is looking up, as well. They have added Chone Figgins (from Anaheim) to play second base. While a certainly a good acquisition, it means that Jose Lopez will be at third, which is the position he has the least amount of experience with. Griffey will of course be the regular DH, while in the outfield we’ll see Ichiro in right, Franklin Gutierrez in center, and Milton Bradley in Left.

As far as the Bradley situation is concerned, the best anyone is hoping for is that he has a quiet year in the rainy city – though that is, as it usually is, very, very unlikely.  Bradley is a distraction wherever he has been, the most recent case being Chicago where Bradley has accused fans of racial slurs and threats to explain his lackluster performance on the North Side (.257 average, .397 slugging, 12 home runs.)

Jack Wilson and Kasey Kotchman round out the field with average plate productions and fielding to match.

Seattle’s weakest link will be at catcher.  Whether they go with Rob Johnson coming back from three off season surgeries or if the opt for rookie Adam Moore, there the outcome will be pretty much anemic. Johnson does have a rapport with Felix Hernandez and was pretty much his personal catcher all of last season. Look for Seattle to win about 85 games, which will probably be enough to take the division.

Who Will Win the AL West?

  • Seattle Mariners (56%, 5 Votes)
  • Los Angeles Angels (33%, 3 Votes)
  • Texas Rangers (11%, 1 Votes)
  • Oakland A's (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 9

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2.  Texas Rangers

This season’s break down in the AL West has to teams that could flip-flop at one and two and then two other teams that could end up either third or fourth.  The Texas Rangers are feeling pretty good about their team of (mostly) young bucks, and there are rumors out there that their pitching situation is on the cusp of making a serious surge. No one made as many roster changes this off season as the Rangers, who have brought a handful of new faces to the Arlington area.  Most notable of those is that of Vlad Guerrero who signed as a fee agent after parting ways with the Angels.  Other include shortstop Khalil Greene form the Cardinals,utility infielder Matt Brown from the Angles and a slew of hurlers including Rich Harden from the Cubs, Darren Oliver from the Angels, and Colby Lewis, a free agent returning from Japan.

MLB: White Sox v Rangers August 30, 2007

Ron Washington will stay as the Rangers Manager, despite a positive drug test.

As some arrive, others depart.  Gone (among others) are Ivan Rodriguez (to Nationals), Hank Blalock (free agent, recently signed with the Tampa Bay Rays), Omar Vizquel (free agent, White Sox), Marlon Byrd (free agent, Cubs), Kevin Milwood (traded to Orioles).  While none of these exits was from a marquee player, the idea of this many comings and goings will make for some early season pains while everyone gets adjusted to the new look of things.

On the mound, the Rangers are in a position to be, in the vernacular of March, the Cinderella story of 2010.  Their rotation looks to be Rich Harden, Scott Feldman, Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland, and Colby Lewis.  After Harden, the rest are not household names, even in Texas households.  But while rated low (projected to rank 22nd on the MLB Fantasy site), some folks believe that the possibily for this group to ever achieve is there.

It was reported On Wednesday that their manager, Ron Washington, tested positive for cocaine last season.  As far as the news goes, stories indicate that he will be keeping his job. It will certainly be a distraction, at least in April while the team tries to knit together.

The Rangers are balanced precariously at the #2 spot.  There’s always a chance they could totter in one direction or the other.

3.  Anaheim Angels

Dealing with the three and four spots in this division is like trying to decide who’s more obnoxious – Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly.
In Anaheim, moves made some news, namely the departure of Vladimir Guerrero to the Rangers.  while Vlad has not been burning up the diamond of late, he’ll be a solid DH with something to prove (namely that he was worth holding onto for a couple more seasons in Anaheim.)

Los Angeles Dodgers @ Los Angeles Angels

After seven season in pin stripes, Hideki Matsui is sporting a new look in Anaheim.

Other departures include Chone Figgins (free agent, Seattle), John Lackey (free agent, Boston), Darren Oliver (free agent, Texas).  Lackey will be missed the most, especially if their are no headlines in the Herald or Globe about his being on the DL as the season progresses.  Chone Figgins absence will be as much of a negative to Anaheim as it will be a positive to Seattle; both significant.

Arriving in Anaheim are Hideki Matsui (free agent, Yankees), and Joel Pinero (free agent, Cardinals). If you look at the Angels’ depth chart, you might be tempted to place then higher than third.  But here’s the rub:  The whole team is questionable.

The starting rotation (Jarred Weaver, Scott Kazmir, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, and Pinero) are all looking surprisingly hittable in spring training. Eric Aybar (SS), Matsui (DH), Bobby Abreu (OF), Torii Hunter (OF), Fernando Rodney (P), Kevin Jespin (P), and Reggie Willits (OF), are all having injury issues.   Overall, there are no players on this team that anyone is jumping at for their fantasy team.

Baseball Prospectus thinks the Angels win less that 80 games this season (which would be their worst performance since 2003).  Look for it to be a bit higher, but not much.

4.  Oakland A’s

Billy Beane has put together another one of those rosters that make you say, “Who?” for most positions. Incoming names of note are Ben Sheets (free agent, Brewers) and Coco Crisp (free agent, Royals). Crisp is, as always, likely to be a solid defensive player and an average hitter.  Sheets, who did not play at all in 2009, is stinking up the place in spring training, posting a 31.15 ERA in 4 1/3 innings over three appearances.  That included a 10 run outing where he failed to retire a single batter.

Brewers v Braves

If spring training is any indicator, Ben Sheets is in for a rough season in Oakland.

Notable departures include Nomar Garciaparra (retirement), Scott Hairston (traded to Padres), and Adam Kennedy (Free agent, Nationals).

If there is anything to good to focus on in Oakland it would have to be Kurt Suzuki as the backstop.  Suzuki was one of the top offensive catchers in 2009 and plays his position well.

The A’s are rebuilding, at least that’s the kind way to say it.

Summary

No one in the AL West is likely to win more than 88 games or so.  One team gets to the playoffs, and anything can happen there, but the wild card is not coming from the west.


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