The more things change, the more they stay the same. This particular division is a fantastic example of that saying, given that there has been some change indeed, yet the pecking order is still clearly divided among familiar lines. Oakland and Seattle will be looking up at Los Angeles and Texas from the bottom of the standings once again. Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson, Jesus Montero and Yoenis Cespedes prove that while the standings may not move around too much, there’s plenty to get excited about out west.
Los Angeles Angels
Notes: This lineup got a lot sexier when Mr. Pujols came to town. It’s not often that the best player in the game is a free agent, but the Angels paid dearly to land him. A few talented hitters in Kendrick, Morales (finally appears healthy), Aybar and Torii Hunter surround Albert. Wells and Callaspo are less interesting pieces while the team tries to trade Bobby Abreu and find somewhere to play Mark Trumbo. A question to ponder: when will we see Mike Trout? The rotation may be the best in baseball, posting a four-headed monster in Jered Weaver, Danny Haren, Ervin Santana and CJ Wilson. The 5th spot is still up in the air, but won’t matter much. Jordan Walden begins his sophomore campaign as the closer and will get help from a string of veterans in Downs, Hawkins and Isringhausen. That squad should be effective if healthy, but their age/durability concerns me a little bit.
Notes: The A’s are what they are: a cobbled together group of veterans (Crisp, Pennington, Suzuki), replacement-level players with potential to be better (Smith, Reddick), and prospects getting their feet wet (Weeks, Allen, Sogard). The only player who doesn’t fit these categories is the team’s lone big offseason purchase: Yoenis Cespedes. He’s had a good spring and nice opening series against the Mariners in Japan, so things are looking up in that regard. No matter what, this team will struggle to score all season long, no doubt about it. On the mound, the rotation is functional but completely unimpressive. The results may not be terrible, but no one is going to be excited to see McCarthy, Colon, Ross Milone and Braden take the hill. Jarrod Parker and Brad Peacock are a different story, so we’ll be waiting to see these youngsters get their feet we when they get called up. I see the bullpen as an underrated group. Balfour, Fuentes and Blevins are strong vets while De Los Santos, Carigan and Cook are youngsters with high upside.
Notes: My hometown M’s are going to stink it up on offense again this year. Only Ackley, Suzuki and Montero are worth watching at this point. Smoak, Seager, Carp and Saunders offer hope, but little in terms of proven production. The sooner Chone Figgins is out of the equation, the better off the team will be. Expect this group to be painful to watch at times. Felix Hernandez isn’t getting much help. Vargas is hit-and-miss, while Noesi, Beavan and Millwood are all replacement-level innings-eaters. Keep an eye on Erasmo Ramirez, as he could be moved to the rotation if anyone struggles. Don’t be shocked to see James Paxton and possibly Danny Hultzen get a cup of coffee come September. The bullpen is average at best. League gets the ninth inning duties while Shawn Kelley and Tom Wilhelmsen will try to stabilize the 7th and 8th. It’s going to be a long season in the Pacific Northwest... again.
Notes: This team will mash, plain and simple. Kinsler and Andrus at the top of the order will set the table for Hamilton, Beltre, Young, Cruz and Napoli. That sounds like a fantasy team, not a real one! Add to the fact that they play in an extreme hitter’s park in Arlington and you have a recipe for success. The only concern could be health, as Hamilton, Kinsler, Beltre, Young and Napoli have never been strangers to the DL. While it isn’t as sexy a rotation as the Angles’, Texas has a nice crop of starters. Lewis, Holland and Harrison are all proven big leaguers capable of getting the job done well. Yu Darvish has looked good since arriving from Japan and could be a star while former closer Neftali Feliz has transitioned to the rotation. The bullpen is very solid. Joe Nathan takes over the 9th and, if he can stay healthy, should adequately replace Feliz. Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando and Koji Uehara are excellent options at the back end, too.
1. Texas Rangers
2. Los Angeles Angels
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Oakland Athletics
This division should really be divided into two distinct races: the one for the top and the one for avoiding the bottom. I like the Rangers to slightly edge the Angels. Texas is a little more talented top-to-bottom, plus I think they have the better bullpen and I see these two playing a lot of close games against one another. Health could have a lot to say about how this shakes out, as neither team can afford to see a star player miss a big chunk of the season and expect to stay on top. Don’t count the Angels out by any means, I’m just betting on the Rangers. In a total stinkfest, I have the Mariners taking third over the A’s by the slimmest of margins. Why? I don’t know, I suppose I don’t want to watch them finish last again. If anything, I think Seattle has a little more talent in terms of prospects and that could be the difference.