With opening day mere days away, the Big League Stew crew is here to get you up to speed on the baseball season ahead. David Brown and Mike Oz will examine some of the big questions in each division, point out a few critical players and predict the final standings, division award-winners and break-out stars. Next up: The American League West.
Home of the potent Los Angeles Angels, the upstart Oakland Athletics, the still-dangerous Texas Rangers and King Felix and his Seattle Mariners. Oh, yes, and the Houston Astros are here now too. Let's welcome them — with lots and lots of losses. This is the AL West and it'll be an exciting division to watch.
1. The Astros aren't THAT bad, are they? Some astute baseball minds are picking the 'Stros for 70 wins but I don't see it. I see a major league team going on an austerity plan until the time is right to spend money. And the time isn't right, right now. They look like an expansion team right now and that's OK — just give newish G.M. Jeff Luhnow time to get the organization right from top to bottom. It's not going to happen overnight. Sixty victories would be a major accomplishment this season for manager Bo Porter. (DB)
[AL East Preview: How good are the Blue Jays?]
2. Are the Angels going to get their money's worth this time?A year ago, the big signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson were reminiscent of the good old days of Gene Autry, adding big-time free agents in an effort to get over the hump. They kind of did in 1982, winning the old AL West, but that strategy didn't get them a World Series. Now they've added Josh Hamilton to give themselves the appearance of a great lineup. But their starting pitching seems a little thin after Jered Weaver and Wilson. Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson. It's not that persuasive. (DB)
3. Will the depth of the Rangers organization make up for the loss of Hamilton and the free-agent whiffs? GM Jon Daniels is hesitant to trade Jurickson Profar, whom you'd figure would fetch a lot in return. But the Rangers have a lot of talent, hitters and pitchers, and figure to be in a good position to trade for need at the deadline. Still, it hurt losing Greinke to the Dodgers and not really adding anything near that caliber in free agency. A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman are good moves, probably. (DB)
4. Do the A's have another magic season in them? That's the thing about the coming-of-A's 2012 — if it were magic, it can't possibly repeat. We'll have to see if Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss put together a full season like the second halves they had in 2012. The pitching was a constant last year, but the resurgent offense is what turned the A's into a very good team. They still have some of the best pitching depth in the league. (DB)
5. Do the Mariners have a chance? Realistically, no. Sorry, Seattle. Felix Hernandez is great. Michael Morse had a big spring. The young pitching looks good. But this is a tough division and the Mariners aren't there yet. There are pieces to get excited about. King Felix will be his stellar self. Morse will hit the ball far. But they're not going to the postseason. (MO)
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FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Brett Anderson: The Oakland pitcher, who will start opening day, can be one of the top lefties in the league if he can give 30 starts. He's coming off 2011 Tommy John surgery. He returned in late 2012, only to get hurt again. He did, however, return to get a postseason win against the Tigers.
2. Yoenis Cespedes: The Cuban slugger is poised to do even more damage in his second season. After defecting and signing with Oakland, Cespedes hit .292/.356/.505 in 129 games with 23 home runs and 82 RBIs. A full season, with more experience? Could be very dangerous.
3. Alexi Ogando: Here's the AL West version of Aroldis Chapman — only he's fled the bullpen (again). Ogando is the fourth starter for the Rangers. He's got the stuff to flourish. When he started in 2011 (and notched a 13-8 record) he was an all-star.
[AL Central Preview: No. 2 is up for grabs]
4. Jesus Montero: The Mariners could use some good news. Montero, a former top prospect with the Yankees, reaching his potential would be headline-worthy for the M's. He hit .260/.298/.386 last season. His ceiling is much higher.
5. Mike Trout: Duh.
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Order of Finish
AL West MVP
Oz: Josh Hamilton (Angels)
DB: Mike Trout (Angels)
AL West Cy Young
Oz: Yu Darvish (Rangers)
DB: Felix Hernandez (Mariners)
AL West Rookie of the Year:
Oz: Brandon Maurer (Mariners)
DB: Jurickson Profar (Rangers)
AL West Break-Through Star
Oz: Michael Morse (re-break-through?) (Mariners)
DB: Bud Norris (Astors)
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