[MLB] Preview: AL West, NL West

The AL West was the sorriest division in baseball last season, with just one team finishing above .500. That team, the LA Angels of Anaheim, ran away with the division, clinching weeks before the season was over.

This is the final installment of our preview of the upcoming MLB season.  You can find the preview of the AL East and NL East preview here, and the Central divisions can be found here.


Predicted order of finish

1.)Los Angeles Angels

2.)Oakland Athletics

3.)Texas Rangers

4.)Seattle Mariners

The AL West was the sorriest division in baseball last season, with just one team finishing above .500. That team, the LA Angels of Anaheim, ran away with the division, clinching weeks before the season was over. The A’s and Rangers were remarkably average, and the Mariners were remarkably bad. The Angels will look for a repeat of last season (aside from their early playoff exit).

The A’s look to improve by bringing in some veterans to mentor their budding stars. The Rangers brought in some pitchers, but in typical Rangers fashion, failed to bring in any good pitchers. And the Mariners are going nostalgic bringing back an old favorite – although it will likely have little impact on their ability to win games.

Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim): The Angels had baseball’s best record last season, but were ousted in the divisional round of the playoffs. They will once again have one of the strongest rotations in the majors, led by 16-game winner Ervin Santana and 17-game winner Joe Saunders. Their rotation is strong from top to bottom, with a couple of youngsters vying for the 5th starter spot. Their infield is solid, but not spectacular. Losing Mark Teixeira hurts, but they do have a deep bench. Their outfield gets a boost with the addition of Bobby Abreu, who is also a positive influence in the clubhouse. Vlad Guerrero remains a strong presence in the lineup, although he is prone to injury. The situation at first base is unsettled since Teixeira followed the green to New York, but Mike Napoli showed very good power for a catcher, slugging 20 HRs last year.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Ervin Santana
2.) Joe Saunders
3.) Jon Lackey
4.) Jered Weaver
5.) Dustin Moseley

Predicted lineup:

FB: Kendry Morales
SB: Howie Kendrick
SS: Erick Aybar
TB: Chone Figgins
C: Mike Napoli
RF: Vladimir Guerrero
CF: Torii Hunter
LF: Bobby Abreu
DH: Juan Rivera

How they’ll do: The Angels should win the West, although not as soundly as last year. They lost a few key players, and the players faced with the task of replacing them are not quite on par. Although they are a good regular season team, they don’t seem built to advance far into the playoffs, and it’s easy to forget that they won the World Series with many of these same players back in 2002. Their pitching staff is their strongest suit, and their lineup is solid, but not spectacular. They do benefit from playing in the division they play in, and likely would not make the playoffs if they played in the East.

Predicted Win Range: 90-95

Oakland Athletics: After winning their division in 2006, the A’s took a big step backward the past 2 seasons, failing to reach the 80 win mark in each of them. Last season, they struggled at the plate, posting by far the lowest batting average in the AL, and the 4th fewest homers. They attempted to address some of their offensive woes by bringing in Orlando Cabrera, Nomar Garciaparra, and Matt Holiday, and bringing back fan-favorite Jason Giambi. The A’s sport a very young and relatively unknown rotation anchored by Justin Duchscherer, who despite being only 10-8 last season, had a 2.54 ERA in his 22 starts. The bullpen was very strong last season and will need to be again this season as the young starters are sure to have some tough outings.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Justin Duchscherer
2.) Dana Eveland
3.) Sean Gallagher
4.) Dallas Braden
5.) Gio Gonzalez

Predicted lineup:

FB: Jason Giambi
SB: Mark Ellis
SS: Bobby Crosby
TB: Eric Chavez
C: Kurt Suzuki
RF: Travis Buck
CF: Ryan Sweeney
LF: Matt Holliday
DH: Jack Cust

How they’ll do: Oakland should improve over last season, but they likely won’t have enough starting pitching to fully close the gap on the Angels. Giambi should be more comfortable back in the sun, and out of the media melting pot that is New York. Getting Eric Chavez back from injury will be a big boost, as will the addition of Holliday. The rotation might surprise a few people, especially given Oakland’s propensity for developing young pitchers. This team has added some strong veteran presences to the clubhouse, and the A’s are known for being loose and having fun. This is a team that could surprise, especially if the Angels get off to a slow start, or lose some key players to injury.

Predicted Win Range: 82-87

Texas Rangers: The Rangers were the same old Rangers last year: killer offense, pitching that only kills itself. The Rangers sported one of the best lineups in the league last year, featuring Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, and Milton Bradley. They return with essentially the same lineup, with the addition of Andruw Jones in the outfield or DH. The rotation may get a slight boost from the addition of Kris Benson, but probably not. Why this team looked to bring in a player like Jones, as well as Eddie Guardado, Jason Jennings, and Brendan Donnelly, instead of pooling their efforts and getting one of the 1st or 2nd tier starters that were available is beyond me. Their offense can go run for run with any in the league, but their pitching has not improved in a decade.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Kevin Millwood
2.) Vincente Padilla
3.) Scott Feldman
4.) Matt Harrison
5.) Brandon McCarthy

Predicted lineup:

FB: Chris Davis
SB: Ian Kinsler
SS: Elvis Andrus
TB: Michael Young
C: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
RF: Nelson Cruz
CF: Josh Hamilton
LF: David Murphy
DH: Hank Blalock

How they’ll do: Texas will once again fall victim to their lack of pitching. Their offense may be even more potent than last year’s, with the anticipated emergence of 20 year old shortstop Elvis Andrus, who stole 54 bases at AAA Frisco last season. His arrival shifts Michael Young to third, where he should continue to put up big numbers. They have some young pitchers who could show improvement over last season, but even that will not elevate them to the ranks of the playoff-bound. The best fans in Arlington can hope for is that the youngsters continue to develop, and management looks seriously at pitchers available for trade in July.

Predicted Win Range: 75-83

Seattle Mariners: The Mariners were downright pathetic last season, managing only 61 wins. Their lineup struggled to hit for average and for power, and their rotation struggled to keeps runs off the board. The biggest news out of Seattle this off season was the reacquisition of Ken Griffey, Jr., who returns to the team with whom he became a mega-star. Junior Griffey is much older, and his production has dipped in recent years, but the P.R. boost this will give the team and the city could be well worth it. Pitcher Felix Rodriguez was a lone bright spot in Seattle’s rotation, often falling victim to poor run support. Erik Bedard should help if he can stay healthy.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Felix Rodriguez
2.) Erik Bedard
3.) Brandon Morrow
4.) Carlos Silva
5.) Ryan Rowland-Smith

Predicted lineup:

FB: Russell Branyan
SB: Jose Lopez
SS: Yuniesky Betancourt
TB: Adrian Beltre
C: Kenji Johjima
RF: Ichiro Suzuki
CF: Franklin Gutierrez
LF: Endy Chavez
DH: Ken Griffey Jr.

How they’ll do: Once the joy of having Junior back in town wears off, reality will once again set in for Seattle fans and they will once again be left with an under-whelming team that will struggle to keep up with most every team in the league. Their pitching will be a little better, but the loss of Raul Ibanez will hurt more than most people realize. Without him, they have only Adrian Beltre as a likely 25-30 homer guy, although Griffey may approach those totals, and the improving Jose Lopez may have a breakout year. Ichiro will once again be one of the best lead-off men in the bigs, but once again will get little support to drive him in. I feel bad for Seattle; they are in a rough stretch as far as sports goes. Even Starbucks is struggling now.

Predicted Win Range: 68-75


Predicted order of finish

1.) Los Angeles Dodgers

2.) Colorado Rockies

3.) Arizone Diamondbacks

4.) San Diego Padres

5.) San Francisco Giants

There must be something in the water out west, because if the AL West was the sorriest division in baseball last year, the NL West was probably the 2nd sorriest. With one team above .500, one team barely above .500, and three more who lost more than half their games, the NL West seemed to go almost unnoticed until Manny started being Manny out in LA. The Dodgers got a spark from the former Red Sox and cruised to the division title. After a Winter soap-opera, the Dodgers resigned Manny and are the early favorites again. The Arizona Diamondbacks made a good showing behind strong pitching and were very quiet in the off season. The Rockies couldn’t keep the magic going after their improbable World Series run the year before and then went and traded one of their best players. The Giants showed no improvement (or regression) in their first season A.B.B., and added even more age to their roster. The Padres, many expert’s sleeper pick last March, came no where close to living up to the hype, but a healthy starting cast would be a huge help this year.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers were sparked to the division title by the acquisition of Manny Ramirez midseason from the Red Sox. He was outstanding, and though he and Agent/Sleezebag Scott Boras made it difficult, the Dodgers eventually re-signed him for two more years. The Dodgers didn’t display a lot of power last season (until Manny arrived), but they hit for high average, and played small ball, similar to Joe Torre’s late 90s Yankee teams. Also typical of a vintage Torre team, they succeeded behind sound pitching, led by Chad Billingsley and Derek Lowe. They lost Lowe, and Greg Maddux, and will turn to Hiroki Kuroda and young Clayton Kershaw to eat up innings.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Chad Billingsley
2.) Hiroki Kuroda
3.) Randy Wolf
4.) Clayton Kershaw
5.) Jason Schmidt

Predicted lineup:

FB: James Loney
SB: Orlando Hudson
SS: Rafael Furcal
TB: Casey Blake
C: Russell Martin
RF: Andre Ethier
CF: Matt Kemp
LF: Manny Ramirez

How they’ll do: For the Dodgers, a lot will come down to how their young pitchers perform. The veterans in the rotation, while not great, should provide solid innings. The offense is underrated, as everyone hits for average, and while no one other than Manny has game-changing power, they have 5 or 6 players who could conceivably hit 20 HR. Joe Torre seemed much calmer and more relaxed out in the California sun last season. Mark him down as the latest Steinbrenner-induced casualty from the Big Apple. Look for the Dodgers to win the division again, although it may be a closer finish even than last year.

Predicted Win Range: 86-90

Colorado Rockies: The Rockies did not continue their success of the previous postseason last year. They struggled with injuries and they failed to get the timely hitting they got in ’07. In the off season, they traded away Matt Holiday, but their lineup remains solid. Although Brad Hawpe provides production from right, the other two outfield spots are vastly underpowered. The infield is better, although Troy Tulowitzski struggled to keep his average up last season. Bringing in Huston Street in the Holliday deal will help shore up the Rockies’ bullpen. A full season from Todd Helton will be a big boost to their offense and clutch hitting.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Aaron Cook
2.) Ubaldo Jimenez
3.) Jason Marquis
4.) Jorge De La Rosa
5.) Greg Smith

Predicted lineup:

FB: Todd Helton
SB: Clint Barmes
SS: Troy Tulowitzski
TB: Garrett Atkins
C: Chris Iannetta
RF: Brad Hawpe
CF: Ryan Spilborghs
LF: Seth Smith

How they’ll do: The Rockies won’t make the playoffs, but have a good shot at supplanting the Diamondbacks for 2nd in the West. Their lineup remains strong and their pitching wasn’t all that bad last season. Their bullpen will be improved and that will help in the thin air in Denver when the starters get knocked around early. Todd Helton is getting on in age, and when he goes, the face of the franchise goes. They have a few candidates to take his place, and this is a make or break season for them.

Predicted Win Range: 80-84

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D-Backs’ success last season centered around their pitching; 22-game winner Brandon Webb and former-Athletic Dan Haren led the rotation, while elder statesmen Randy Johnson provided strong stuff out of the 3-slot. Johnson is gone, but Jon Garland was acquired from the Angels to help soften the blow, at least a little. Arizona’s lineup won’t terrify anyone, but they do have above-average power from many positions, and Jason Upton should only continue to get better. A trio of young outfielders could mean big things down the road, but their bullpen is a little suspect.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Brandon Webb
2.) Dan Haren
3.) Doug Davis
4.) Jon Garland
5.) Max Scherzer

Predicted lineup:

FB: Chad Tracy
SB: Felipe Lopez
SS: Stephen Drew
TB: Mark Reynolds
C: Chris Snyder
RF: Jason Upton
CF: Chris Young
LF: Conor Jackson

How they’ll do: The Diamondbacks stand to fall off a bit from last year’s pace, mostly because their pitching likely won’t be as strong. The top two spots in the rotation are locks, but beyond that it’s nothing but question marks. The bullpen doesn’t instill a great deal of confidence in me either. The lineup will score some runs, but they don’t get on base enough to get the big plays. If Jason Upton, Conor Jackson, and Chris Young continue to improve, they could be a top-tier unit in a few years. The right side of the infield lacks power, but the left side has very good pop with Drew and Reynolds. Look for Arizona to challenge the Rockies, and maybe the Padres most of the season, and finish in between the two.

Predicted Win Range: 77-83

San Diego Padres: The Dads figure to be better this season, after last season was derailed by injuries. Jake Peavy and Chris Young are both 15-20 game winners if healthy, and the bullpen is solid. The lineup could use some work, but Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Kouzmanoff will provide decent pop. However, they didn’t make any real significant moves in free agency, and these two aren’t able to carry the offense on their own. They should be in the market come the trading deadline. They may want to consider unloading some of their excess pitching talent.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Jake Peavy
2.) Chris Young
3.) Cha Seung Baek
4.) Kevin Correia
5.) Josh Geer

Predicted lineup:

FB: Adrian Gonzalez
SB: David Eckstein
SS: Luis Rodriguez
TB: Kevin Kouzmanoff
C: Nick Hundley
RF: Brian Giles
CF: Jody Gerut
LF: Chase Headley

How they’ll do: The Padres should improve slightly just as a result of having everyone healthy. However, they don’t have enough bats to show a marked improvement. If they are able to make a move or two come mid season, they may be able to put themselves in position to challenge next season. Jake Peavy is fun to watch, but how likely is it that he will stick around a loser when his contract runs out? The only thing that might keep them out of the NL West basement is the SF Giants.

Predicted Win Range: 67-71

San Francisco Giants: The Giants dropped 1 game in the win column in their first season without Barry Bonds. They actually did better than many thought they would, primarily led by NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Linecum and his 18 wins and 2.62 ERA. This year, the Big-Unit joins the rotation, and $100 million-man Barry Zito becomes $100 million-3rd starter. The offense was anemic last season and figures to be again this year, with scarcely a 25-HR threat in the lineup. There was talk briefly about Manny coming to the Bay-area, but that fizzled out faster than one of Zito’s fastballs. Even with Manny, it is unlikely the Giants would have been able to produce much at the plate.

Predicted rotation:

1.) Tim Linecum
2.) Randy Johnson
3.) Barry Zito
4.) Matt Cain
5.) Jonathan Sanchez

Predicted lineup:

FB: Travis Ishikawa
SB: Kevin Frandsen
SS: Edgar Renteria
TB: Pablo Sandoval
C: Bengie Molina
RF: Randy Wynn
CF: Aaron Rowand
LF: Fred Lewis

How they’ll do: Fred Lewis is a budding star, as is Linecum. There may be some hope for this team down the road, but I just can’t see any this year. I feel like they overachieved last year to win just 72 games. Randy Johnson seems to somehow keep it going even though he looks even older than he is. Look for more mediocrity from the Bay this season. But in case the fan interest wanes, Barr-oid is still available, isn’t he?

Predicted Win Range: 65-70

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