MLB Preview 2010: AL West


LOS ANGELES ANGELS

Reigning manager of the year Mike Scioscia may have his most difficult season ahead of him in years. Scioscia’s bunch looks a little different this year without Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey and Chone Figgins. They had all been staples of a team that made the playoffs five of the six years they were together. Hideki Matsui replaces Guerrero, while Joel Pinero joins the rotation after his best season as a pro. Halo fans should also take solace in knowing Fernando Rodney is joining the bullpen. He draws many comparisons to former closer K-Rod with his nasty heater, filthy off speed pitches and, at times, questionable control. Rodney will be a great setup man, and possibly even a great closer should Brian Fuentes and his awkward motion falter.

The Halos will need great pitching out of Ervin Santana if they want to lock up the AL West again. The good news for them is it seems Santana pitches better in even years than odd years. He recorded 16 wins in 2004 and 2006 compared to only 15 total wins in 2005 and 2007. Joe Saunders, who has quietly won 33 games in the past two seasons, will also need to continue improving for the Halos if they want to reach their ultimate goal of making it back to the World Series.

Prediction: 1st AL West – Out of sheer respect for Mike Scioscia, I give the Halos the nod to repeat as the champs of the west. They have enough returning pieces, and the belief that they’re capable of winning a World Series after finally beating the Red Sox, their postseason nemesis, last season.

SEATTLE MARINERS

Pop quiz! Which Mariner hasn’t made an error in his past 185 games and 1,584 chances? It’s new first baseman Casey Kotchman. He reunites with his former Angel teammate Chone Figgins in Seattle’s new look infield. While these two players will solidify the defense, the offense is still quite a scare. It will be up to Milton Bradley to anchor the bats, and that’s never a good or shall I say reliable thing, just ask the Cubs or the Padres. Aside from him, there’s really no pop in the lineup at all. Figgins and Ichiro Suzuki will each have to reach close to a .400 OBP and steal 40 bases if they want to be a contender in the AL West. Ichiro had a .385 OBP and Figgins had a .395 OBP last season, so it may be possible.

The Mariners also will pray Ken Griffey Jr. plays like it’s 2000 and not 2010. He showed a glimmer of life only once this entire spring by hitting a walk-off grand slam to beat the Reds, which he had never done before in his career. Aside from that, he hit a dreadful .152.

The good news is they have a 1-2 pitching combination of Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, among the best in baseball. The two rank among the top in virtually every category, but maybe the most impressive stat is their ability to single handedly keep their team in games. Hernandez led the majors with 29 quality starts, while Lee recorded 24 of his own last season.

Prediction: 2nd AL West – I give the Mariners a second-place finish with some hesitation, but can easily justify it by knowing their offense just isn’t up to par with the Angels or Rangers.

TEXAS RANGERS

Vladimir Guerrero, the man who always seemed to put a dagger in the heart of the Rangers, joins the team as another power bat to an already sterling lineup that includes Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler. Another new face for the Rangers is probable leadoff man Julio Borbon. In his short 46-game stint last season, Borbon stole 19 bases, while batting .312. Although the team’s identity will remain as sluggers, Borbon along with Elvis Andrus and Kinsler are rabbits on the bases who will give the team even more scoring opportunities.

Another masher who will relish the opportunity to hit them in is Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Saltalamacchia wants to be the everyday catcher and thought he wasn’t getting enough swings this spring, so what was the answer from the Ranger brain trust? Allow him to leadoff in the first six innings of a “B” game. He went 2-for-6. You’ve got to love spring training!

The pitching, as usual, is questionable. The always injury prone Rich Harden joins the staff as the new ace. If he’s healthy, his slider is still capable of making anyone look foolish, but he’s only remained healthy for an entire season once in his career in 2004. The rest of the staff is very young and unproven. Scott Feldman had a good year last season, but that’s the only season he didn’t bounce around from the minors to the majors. The rotation also includes two 23-year-olds Derek Holland and Tommy Hunter.

Prediction: 3rd AL West – I don’t think Ron Washington’s positive cocaine test will affect the players’ on-field performance, but I just can’t see how the players will take Washington seriously when he offers them advice. I’m also skeptical about their pitching, but what else is new?

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

According to Rickey Henderson the A’s have a player who’s going to steal 75 bases. Rajai Davis, who stole 41 last season, will try not to make a liar out of Henderson. He may be the only bright spot in a lineup that finished last in the AL in slugging percentage and home runs last season. At least they signed Coco Crisp in the offseason to increase those power numbers…

The A’s will look for help from two starters who are returning from major injuries. Ben Sheets (elbow) hasn’t played since 2008 and his Spring Training numbers haven’t been a good harbinger of things to come. Sheets has lasted only 4.1 innings in three starts, but what’s worse than that is his gargantuan 31.15 ERA in those starts. Justin Duchscherer (elbow) also hasn’t pitched since 2008 and is slowly working his way back in minor league games.

Prediction: 4th AL West – I think Billy Beane has finally outdone himself. His moves have become more and more like he’s firing shots in the dark with no more purpose and Moneyball may officially be dead.

LINKS TO PREVIEWS OF OTHER DIVISIONS:

NL WEST
NL CENTRAL
NL EAST
AL CENTRAL
AL EAST

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