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2005 Preview: AL West

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Talent-wise, the Angels are far above the other teams in the division. With their starting rotation, they are hands down the best team in the AL West.

Oakland will take a step backward after trading Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, but the A's will stay competitive. Seattle will be improved with their big-money signings of Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. Texas has one of the best young lineups around, but their starting pitching is well below the caliber of the Angels' rotation.

I think it'll be a runaway for the Angels.

1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Strengths: The Angels have a very good lineup with reigning AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson, and Steve Finley will be a nice addition in center field. Also, the starting pitching is pretty stacked with five quality starters in Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Washburn, John Lackey, Paul Byrd and Kelvim Escobar. All of them are reliable and capable of going the distance. That's why the Angels only need adequate relief to get to new closer Francisco Rodriguez, who may have the best slider in the AL.

Weaknesses: Designated hitter could be considered a weak spot with Jeff DaVanon. Rookie third baseman Dallas McPherson's bad back has to be a concern, too. The Angels should only be worried about whether they can get beat the Yankees to get to the World Series, not whether they can win the AL West.

Outlook: The Angels are well above the competition in their division. The only question is how far they can go in the postseason.


2. Oakland Athletics

Strengths: General manager Billy Beane does a nice job in a small market. He's an excellent judge of talent and does real well developing young players. Barry Zito and Rich Harden now lead the starting rotation, and the A's have a good combination of righty and lefty bats with Mark Kotsay, Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, Eric Byrnes and Erubiel Durazo. The A's also added catcher Jason Kendall, who'll be a steady influence on offense and defense.

Weaknesses: After Zito and Harden, the starting pitching is inexperienced and unproven. Also, there are a lot of question marks about the bullpen. Octavio Dotel must step it up and be more consistent.

Outlook: The young A's will be competitive. I don't think they can fill the shoes of Hudson and Mulder, who were traded in the offseason for financial reasons, but their good collection of talent will get better as the season goes on.


3. Seattle Mariners

Strengths: Ichiro Suzuki is a hit machine who's coming off a record 262 hits in 2004. Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson will add a lot of punch and take pressure off the rest of the lineup, particularly Bret Boone. I like Jamie Moyer, who is 42 but is as crafty as you can get as a left-hander. He still has the ability to win games. The Mariners have a good fan base and good support overall.

Weaknesses: There's no true ace in the starting rotation with Moyer, Joel Pineiro, Gil Meche and Bobby Madritsch. So you have to wonder if the Mariners can score enough runs to support their pitching staff. The burden of driving in runs falls on Beltre and Sexson.

Outlook: First-year manager Mike Hargrove must coax quality starts out of his starting rotation. At least he'll enjoy watching Ichiro, Beltre, Sexson and Boone hit all year.


4. Texas Rangers

Strengths: The Rangers have a good young lineup that's going to get better. Michael Young, Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira are good young talents in the infield, and Alfonso Soriano should have a big year if he doesn't try to carry the whole offensive load. The addition of Richard Hidalgo gives Texas another steady right-handed bat. Closer Francisco Cordero anchors the bullpen and should be strong again this season.

Weaknesses: The starting rotation will be unpredictable with Kenny Rogers, Ryan Drese, Chan Ho Park and Pedro Astacio. It's time Park emerged as the ace after getting a big contract three years ago but going only 14-18. The Rangers lack a true, experienced DH with the planned platoon of Greg Colbrunn and David Dellucci, and center field could be a question mark offensively with Laynce Nix and Gary Matthews Jr.

Outlook: The Rangers got a taste of winning last year only to fall short late in the AL West race. They managed to hang in there because of their pitching, but I would be surprised to see that happen again this year. Manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Orel Hershiser will need to perform a little magic with this pitching staff.