American League West Preview: Big Risks, Big Rewards

Dale Perth | Wed. Mar 27 2013, 04:03 pm

Good things were predicted for both the Angels and the Rangers, but on the final day of the 2012 regular season it was the A’s who stunned everybody. Can an upset happen two seasons in a row in this division? The most recent MLB futures list says “no.”

HOUSTON ASTROS

2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 59.5

To even out the number of teams in each league, the Houston Astros drew the short straw and are now divisional rivals as well as interstate competitors with the Texas Rangers. All it really means, though, is the Astros are no longer the doormats of the National League Central division: now they are the sad sacks of the American League West. There are problems here, but some bright spots, too: Jose Altuve, Rick Ankiel and, um, Carlos Pena are legitimate, while Chris Carter and Brett Wallace should get every chance they need to assert themselves as major-leaguers. The pitching staff is another story: outside of Bud Norris and maybe Philip Humber (who pitched a perfect game for the White Sox last season), there’s not a lot to talk about. It should be considered an amazing achievement if this bunch can lose fewer than 100 games. Predicted finish: Last in the division, and last in the league.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 91.5

So the Angels opened the vault last season and signed one of the biggest free agents in 1B Albert Pujols (although there’s nothing “free” about the quarter-billion-dollar price tag). Because that didn’t have the expected outcome, they’ve done it again by signing Josh Hamilton, the prize of this year’s free-agent crop. While this looks like a reminder of the famous expression about how insanity could be considered as using the same methods to achieve different results, this time it could work well for them … if Hamilton can stay focused. Mike Trout won’t have that problem: he should be able to carry on as a high-average hitter with some pop and good defense in left field, while Peter Bourjos gets another chance to prove himself in center. Pujols and Mark Trumbo should provide light-tower power, and Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo will defend the left side of the infield and be good table-setters. Trading Vernon Wells to the Yankees, even if the Angels are paying for much of his salary, must seem like addition-by-subtraction to the club. There are some questions on the pitching staff after Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson: will Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson be adequate? Who will be the closer, Ernesto Frieri or Ryan Madson? Is there enough depth in the bullpen? The thing is, the team seems to be really close to the right answers. Predicted finish: First in the division, and second or third in the league.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 84.5

How did Oakland manage to pull the rug out from under the Texas Rangers and win the division in 2012? With a bunch of walkoff wins (14, actually) and a raftload of shocking performances at the plate, on the mound and in the field. Expecting a repeat appears to be wishful thinking, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility after what they showed last year. One of the big questions was how Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes would perform in his rookie season: he ended up proving he could handle major-league pitching with 23 homers, 82 runs batted in, 16 stolen bases, a .292 batting average, a slugging percentage of .505 and a .356 on-base percentage. This year they’ve retooled again, getting Jed Lowrie to play at third, although he might have to be the shortstop because another of Billy Beane’s acquisitions, Hiroyuki Nakajima, has had a bad spring and is now dealing with an injured hamstring. After being traded for Cliff Pennington, former Diamondback Chris Young could experience a renaissance in Oakland. As with almost every team, pitching will make the difference. If Brett Anderson can stay healthy, he’ll have Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin and prospect Dan Straily (if Bartolo Colon struggles) to help carry the load in the starting rotation. Predicted finish: Third in the division, and sixth to ninth in the league.

SEATTLE MARINERS

2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 77.5

For all the good moves the Mariners have made and all the bright prospects they have, there have also been some decisions which have made some observers scratch their heads. Getting the likes of Jason Bay, Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse is enigmatic, but moving the fences in could prove to be a master stroke (pardon the pun). Locking up Felix Hernandez to a long-term deal had to be done, but much of the rest of the 25-man active roster was still in flux when this preview was posted. Could the 2013 Seattle Mariners pull off an upset the way the 2012 Oakland Athletics did? Probably not, but they’re capable of passing the A’s for third place in the division if everything breaks right for them. First, they have to prove they’re able to do that. Predicted finish: Fourth in the division, and seventh to 10th in the league.

TEXAS RANGERS

2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 86.5

After losing Hamilton in free agency, this year sees a bit of a rebuild for the Rangers. Apparently Craig Gentry is the first choice to replace Hamilton is center field, but he may give way to Leonys Martin at some point or, more likely, form a platoon. Nelson Cruz has always been a power threat as well as an injury risk, but he might be facing a PED-related suspension as well. Meanwhile, 3B prospect Mike Olt is behind Adrian Beltre, while infielder Jurickson Profar is blocked by the keystone combination of SS Elvis Andrus and 2B Ian Kinsler. Michael Young is gone too, so Mitch Moreland takes over at first base with aging switch-hitter Lance Berkman as his backup. Pitching is an issue as Colby Lewis is injured, meaning Derek Holland and Yu Darvish will be the one-two punch in the rotation, with Joe Nathan closing out games. Predicted finish: Second in the division, and fourth to sixth in the league.

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