Today we are checking in on the American League West, home to a really good team (Houston), a really bad team (Oakland), the best player in baseball (Mike Trout), and some very intriguing potential (Texas, and Seattle).
As an added bonus on our West previews (both AL and NL) Chris and I have made picks for league champs, World Series winners, MVPs, and Cy Young awards. Check them out at the end of this writeup.
All teams are listed in predicted order of finish.
Team Name: Houston Astros
2016 Record: 84-78, 3rd in AL West
2. Can the bullpen repeat its strong 2016 showing (team 3.56 ERA, 10th in MLB, 6th in AL)?
Synopsis: With most of their youth grown up and wearing big-boy uniforms now, Houston plunged with both feet into the deep end, bringing in veteran bats in McCann, Reddick, and Beltran to round out their athletically gifted core. Adding those three to a lineup that already features phenoms Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer is a recipe that should scare even the best of AL pitching staffs.
The pitching is not bad, but it definitely could use a bit of reinforcement. Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young winner, regressed big time due to injuries. Veterans Mike Fiers and Charlie Morton likely take two other spots, while young guns Lance McCullers and Joe Musgrove fill the other two. This staff could be one the league’s best, or one of the league’s busts.
If the latter happens, Houston should have a solid bullpen to fall back on, although given the mercurial nature of relievers, it’s hard to say any bullpen is a sure thing. Still, most of these relievers have good track records to support the starters. All told, this team is primed for a good run atop the AL West.
Most Important Player(s): 1. Keuchel. Getting him back to 2015 form would go a long way for the ‘Stros.
2. McCullers. He was dynamite when healthy last season (106 K in 81 innings). Keeping him healthy is just as important as Keuchel’s return to productivity.
3. Bregman. The former No. 2 overall pick (2015) looked alright in his cup of coffee last year, but some growth is needed to lengthen Houston’s lineup.
2017 Predicted Finish: 1st place
Team Name: Seattle Mariners
2016 Record: 86-76, 2nd in AL West
Big Questions: 1. Can King Felix bounce back from his worst full season (11-8, 3.82)?
2. Will the bats and gloves of Mitch Haniger (left field), Leonys Martin (center field), and Danny Valencia (first base) provide enough for the M’s, or will GM Jerry Dipoto need to go shopping in July?
Synopsis: Playing in an MLB-high 60 one-run games last year, and going 30-30 in them, Seattle is the definition of a “coin-flip”. They have been a lot better last year, or a lot worse, with just a slight change of luck. That being said, this is a strong lineup overall, with speed at the top in newly-added Jarrod Dyson and Jean Segura, followed by a good core of Robbie Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager. The rest of the lineup needs work, but the M’s ranked in the top third of MLB in most offensive categories last year regardless.
The starting staff looks solid, if unspectacular, with potential breakout Smyly joining a rotation that also added Yovani “I’m-Not-Very-Good-But-This-Defense-And-Park-Should-Help-Me” Gallardo. Paxton is on a few “breakout player” list as well. Hernandez had a down year, but any sort of rebound makes this staff one of the league’s best. Meanwhile, the bullpen is a grab-bag of arms, but it should be fine enough provided good health.
Most Important Player(s): 1. Hernandez. He’s the ace. He’s the King. If he is in legit decline, there’s no one else to really strike fear into opposing lineups.
2. Segura. After good 2016 with Arizona, the young shortstop looks primed to be a great under-the-radar grab for the M’s.
3. Mike Zunino. He’s been a god-awful hitter his entire career, but he was rushed all the way. Maybe at 26 he figures something out. He’d better, since Seattle has precious little depth behind him.
2017 Predicted Finish: 2nd place
Team Name: Texas Rangers
2016 Record: 95-67, Won American League West, lost ALDS 3-0 to Toronto Blue Jays
Big Questions: 1. Will the Rangers be able to get anything positive out of the bottom 60% of their rotation (slated to be Martin Perez, A.J. Griffin, and Dillon Gee)? Other candidates include Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, but both of them will be on the disabled to kick off 2017.
2. Can this team stay excellent in one-run games again (MLB-best 36-11 last year)?
3. Are they going to get anything useful from Joey Gallo?
Synopsis: Texas is walking a tightrope of integrating youth with veterans while contending, and it’s going pretty well. The team won the AL West in 2015 and 2016 while doing it, and there’s little reason to think they will not be competitive this season.
Texas boasts a good veteran core, surrounding the youth of Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, and Nomar Mazara. While all of those young guns have holes in their game, they are still among the top greenhorns in the league.
With Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, and a deep-if-underwhelming bullpen, the Rangers should be in the thick of the AL West all year. I’ve got them pegged for third base on some regression from the youth, some decline from the vets, and that unreliable one-run game record.
Most Important Player(s): 1. Matt Bush. Every bullpen needs a closer, and if incumbent Sam Dyson falters, the former No. 1 pick Bush has the stuff to take over.
2. Perez. Beyond Hamels and Darvish, the rotation is dicier than a Vegas craps table. The soft-tossing 26-year-old needs to step up.
3. Profar. The Rangers have the one-time super-prospect penciled in to start in left field. His potential is far superior any other options the Rangers have out there.
2017 Predicted Finish: 3rd place
Team Name: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2016 Record: 74-88, 4th in AL West
Big Questions: 1. Can Mike Trout win a division all by himself?
2. Can a decent defense, a patchwork pitching staff, and the best player in the game really make a run?
3. Has Albert Pujols paid off Father Time yet again?
Synopsis: This is not a very good team. It just is not. Outside of Trout, there are no superstars, or even emerging superstars. Heck, the Angels do not even have any players who are emerging stars. It’s The Mike Trout Show and it is pretty likely to stay that way until he leaves as a free agent (2021) or the team gets desperate to rebuild and trades him. Meanwhile, the Angels are still paying the ghosts of C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver, and Josh Hamilton a combined $47.1 million this year! For those three guys to NOT play for them!
And that is all there is to say about that.
Most Important Player(s): 1. Garrett Richards. The top guy in the Halos’ rotation went down with a torn UCL last year, usually a Tommy John necessity, but he opted for platelet-rich plasma treatment instead. His performance in 2017 will be watched closely by both the baseball and medical worlds.
2. Trout. Without him, this would a be contender for worst team in baseball. However, he’ll keep them respectable. Some pundits are seeing Anaheim as a sleeper. They are squinting really damn hard.
2017 Predicted Finish: 4th place
Team Name: Oakland Athletics
2016 Record: 69-93, 5th in AL West
Big Questions: 1. Which veterans get shipped out and what do they bring back?
2. With the Oakland Raiders being approved to move to Las Vegas, will it open any doors for the A’s to bolt too?
3. Could Khris Davis (42 homers in 150 games last year) become the second Oakland player (and third Athletics player) to launch 50 in a season? Mark McGwire in 1996 hit 52 and Jimmie Foxx with the Philadelphia A’s hit 58 in 1932.
Synopsis: This team is going to stink, but there is hope. The A’s have been slowly rebuilding a farm system that was among the worst from 2013 to 2015. Many fans and pundits got comfy with Billy Beane constantly defying the odds every year, and fielding a contender. And then, of course, the chorus of disappointment in October, followed by the “My #$%@ doesn’t work in the playoffs” speech and another long winter of beating the odds again.
Well, everyone caught on to Beane’s #$%@ and now teardowns and shrewd drafting and the way to go. Instead of trailblazing, Beane is following the crowd.
It’s the crowd he assembled, he just blends in now as an observer at the Altar of Epstein. Same as the rest of them.
Most Important Player(s): 1. Sonny Gray. Is he healthy? His pulling out of the World Baseball Classic has to raise a few eyebrows.
2. Every player who could be considered a “veteran” or “expensive”. Listed because they could all be traded, and what they bring back is far more valuable to the A’s than whatever they do while in the Green ‘N Gold.
2017 Predicted Finish: 5th place
American League Champions:
Joel Barnhart: Houston Astros
Chris Jordan: Boston Red Sox
National League Champions:
JB: Chicago Cubs
CJ: Chicago Cubs
World Series Winner:
JB: Houston Astros
CJ: Boston Red Sox
JB: Manny Machado
CJ: Mookie Betts
JB: Corey Seager
CJ: Kris Bryant
AL Cy Young:
JB: Justin Verlander
CJ: Corey Kluber
NL Cy Young:
JB: Madison Bumgarner
CJ: Clayton Kershaw
We’ll see you all tomorrow for our foray into the National League East. Have a great day, Nation!