Seeing as how Opening Day is tomorrow, I figured that now would be a good time to run down the last two divisions. I only have the AL West and NL Central left, so, here ya go with the A.L West.
1. Rangers – I think that Texas can be scary good if they remain healthy. Their bullpen is a definite strength, adding former CY award winner Eric Gagne. However, he is going to start the season on the DL. Surprise surprise. Not to worry though, Akinori Otsuka did a superb job of closing last year, so he’ll take over til Gagne comes back. The starting rotation is anchored by ace Kevin Millwood, a workhorse. Vincente Padilla also has above-quality stuff, so look for him to get better, if he can just stop hitting batters. The Rangers also picked up young Brandon McCarthy from the White Sox to be a quality starter. However, the main strength of this ballclub is the hitting. Their 3-4-5 looks like Michael Young, Mark Teixeira, and Hank Blalock. Look for Blalock to have a monster season, MVPish. We all know how good of a hitter Young is, and Teixeira is a masher. Oh, and don’t forget about Ian Kinsler, the kid can hit. If the starting rotation throws well, look for Texas to be in the playoffs.
2. Angels – By now most everyone has heard about Gary Matthews, Jr. and his HGH ordeal. If he can forget all about that, the Angels have one of the best outfields in the Majors. Left to right, Garret Anderson (who can still hit with some power), Gary Matthews Jr. (had a breakout season last year, look for him to continue it) and Vladimir Guerrero (strongest arm in the Majors, and his strike zone is 20 feet wide). Up and down this lineup, all of the guys can hit. Scoring runs shouldn’t be a problem. John Lackey is a stud as the new ace of this rotation. Look for him to have a CY type season. Behind him is Jered Weaver, Jeff’s little brother. He had a great season last year, but watch out for him to falter a little this summer. Of course, Bartolo has a CY to his name, but he is perenially injured. He is starting this season off on the DL again, and who knows when he will return. In the pen you have Francisco Rodriguez, one of the best closers in all of baseball. K-Rod will once again be in the CY running. Rounding out the rest of the pen are veterans like Scot Shields and Darren Oliver, all looking to keep the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the race for October.
3. Athletics – I just seems like Billy Beane and Oakland find ways to keep winning by playing Moneyball (which, by the way, is an excellent read). This season, I believe that the A’s will fall in the division. They just won’t score enough runs. Their hitters have power, but are lacking in the averages. Their leading home run hitter last season, Nick Swisher, hit 35 HR, but only batted .254. It is the same up and down the lineup. They need Eric Chavez and Milton Bradley to regain the form they once had to gain any ground on the Angels and Rangers. Dan Haren is the new ace, now that Barry Zito swam across the Bay. He has quality stuff, and will have a good season. Rich Harden and Esteban Loaiza are both excellent starters, so the rotation will keep the A’s in many games. Huston Street has emerged as a top-tier closer in the game, but will need the other relievers, like Alan Embree and Kiko Calero to chew up some quality innings. While the pitching is great, it’s the scoring runs that will ultimately decide whether or not the A’s are playing in October again.
4. Mariners – Seattle has some great hitters in the lineup. Look for Richie Sexson (former Brewer) to have another typical power season. Adrian Beltre may have finally regained his stroke. Kenji Johjima is a great hitting catcher, and Ichiro is still Ichiro. However, don’t count on Raul Ibanez to have the caliber of season he had last year. Still, the Mariners will hit and score plenty of runs. It is the pitching that will doom Seattle. Felix Hernandez has great stuff, he just needs to control it. Another 12-14 season just won’t cut it. He’ll be better this season. The rest of the rotation, however, is mediocre at best. Jarrod Washburn (WI native) just does not live up to his potential. The likes of Miguel Batista and company need to have outstanding seasons for the Mariners to have a chance. The pen is steady, with J.J. Putz closing out games when he gets the chance. Chris Reitsma was also signed to be the setup man. He brings some good veteran experience. Don’t look for Seattle to overcome the other three teams in this division quite yet, but they may be a sleeper team, so do keep an eye on them.