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MASON: Yup, the Rangers can win the AL West

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Steve Mason

 
   
 
Steve Mason is the host of Fox Sports Saturday Night from 8 p.m.-Midnight ET and We Are There Sunday with Steve Mason and Jim Lampley from 4-8 p.m. ET. He also guest hosts on Kiley & Booms show, in addition to appearing regularly on the Sarah & Vinnie Morning Show on ALICE 97.3 in San Francisco. His newest project, The Steve Mason Show, premieres nationally in September on PBS. The American League West is, hands down, the best division in baseball. Look at the players that have relocated there during this off-season — Jeff Cirillo, James Baldwin, Dave Justice, Billy Koch, Kevin Appier, Brad Fullmer, Carl Everett, Juan Gonzalez, Chan Ho Park, Dave Burba, Todd Van Poppel, Jay Powell and John Rocker are all in this melee. Over half of those players on the list are with the Texas Rangers, where John Hart has made sweeping changes with the hopes of pulling them out of the cellar. Texas will hit. They were a big-scoring team before adding Carl Everett and Juan Gonzalez. But Hart's strategy is to collect enough arms to get him through the summer. He signed guys like Rudy Seanez, Dan Miceli, Steve Woodard and Hideki Irabu (who was impressive in Puerto Rico). Teams will score at The Ballpark at Arlington, and it's a long, hot pennant race. Seattle remains fairly strong, but 100-plus wins is unlikely. The Mariners have clearly taken a step back. Oakland, regardless of what you hear prognosticators say, will miss Jason Giambi a lot. He was the heart of that team. And the Angels are the Angels. I do like their pitching, but there's a curse involved here ... Disney owns them. I like the combustible clubhouse in Texas to survive the summer, and the pitching staff will surprise some people. Even if the pitching falls flat, they will outscore almost anybody.

  • 1. TEXAS RANGERS — PROJECTED 2002 RECORD: 95-67 With all of the attention focused on A-Rod, Carl Everett and the return of Juan Gonzalez, few people have noticed that the new Texas rookie third baseman is a one-man wrecking crew named Hank Blalock. Nestled in the best everyday lineup in baseball, this 21-year-old will hit 30 dingers and win rookie of the year. There is no weakness anywhere in this lineup with the possible exception of the leadoff spot. But when you can bomb your opposition with seven possible 30 home-run hitters, there is no need to manufacture runs with a speedy top-of-the-order guy. Pitching is always the question mark for the Rangers. Chan Ho Park will emerge as a true No. 1 starter. LHP Kenny Rogers will return to form. Dave Burba is a horse who eats up innings. Ismael Valdez (with a minor elbow injury at the moment) will be proficient. But the two starters to watch here are Hideki Irabu and Doug Davis. Irabu has had an up-and-down career which includes an ongoing battle with the bottle, but he's lost weight, was brilliant in winter ball and seems comfortable with all of the other Rangers with checkered pasts. Davis was 7-4 after the All-Star break last season, and he's ready to bust out. The Texas bullpen will ultimately win this division. I'm not high on John Rocker, but Jeff Zimmerman had 28 saves in 31 chances last year, and he has stellar setup guys like Jay Powell (on the DL at the moment), Todd Van Poppel and Rudy Seanez. Dan Miceli, Steve Woodard and Rich Rodriguez give them the depth that they need to hold off the Athletics. 2. OAKLAND A'S — PROJECTED 2002 RECORD: 91-71 Last summer, I spoke with A's second baseman Frank Menechino, and he told me that the first thing the A's need to do to ensure long term success is to re-sign Jason Giambi. He went on to say that the second thing they need to do to ensure long term success is to re-sign Jason Giambi. He was more than just a big bat in their lineup. He was the heart of the team, the grit on the field, and the guiding conscience in that clubhouse. He is irreplaceable. The aging David Justice will be the substitute for Giambi's presence in the Oakland clubhouse, while rookie Carlos Pena replaces him at 1B. Jermaine Dye is in RF and will be very productive in his first full season there. Miguel Tejada at SS is one of the most underrated players in the game. He's coming off a 31 HR, 113 RBI season. It's the starting rotation that will keep this team in the race, with 18-game-winner Tim Hudson, 21-game-winner Mark Mulder, 17-game-winner Barry Zito, and 13-game-winner Corey Lidle. The bullpen is a question mark with Billy Koch (4.80 ERA with Toronto) and Texas castoff Mike Venafro in a key setup role. My hunch is that the A's will miss Jason Isringhausen almost as much as they miss Giambi. 3. SEATTLE MARINERS — PROJECTED 2002 RECORD: 89-73 I look at this team, and I don't know how the "experts" are picking them to repeat. They are not the team they were a year ago. The 1-2 punch of Freddy Garcia and Jamie Moyer is solid, but No. 3 starter James Baldwin is injury prone and shaky when healthy. Paul Abbott is unlikely to duplicate his 17 wins from 2001, and RHP Joel Piniero hasn't dominated over a full season yet. Aaron Sele was a playoff flop, but he gave them a lot of quality starts and was an innings eater during the regular season. Jeff Nelson handing off to Kaz Sasaki is the AL equivalent of Rodriguez to Nen. On offense, Ruben Sierra is the everyday left fielder. Texas pulled him from the scrap heap in 2001, and they were rewarded with a .291, 23 HR, 67 RBIs season, but he's only a reclamation project, not an All-Star. Jeff Cirillo is a nice get. He'll hit for average and take advantage of those big gaps at Safeco Field. But Bret Boone is unlikely to approach his remarkable numbers of a year ago. To win 116 games, everything must go your way with lots of luck and a bunch of career bests. Seattle definitely has the parts to make a run, but I doubt they surpass 90 wins. 4. ANAHEIM ANGELS — PROJECTED 2002 RECORD: 80-82 GM Bill Stoneman has the right idea ... pitching first. The Angels have a young trio of Ramon Ortiz, Jarrod Washburn and Scott Schoeneweis, but they're not exactly Hudson, Mulder and Zito. They can definitely improve with the help of veterans Aaron Sele and Kevin Appier as tutors. This rotation is not bad, it's just not good enough to get the Angels out of last place in this division. And you've got to love Troy Percival with 39 saves last year and a split-finger that buckles even spectators' knees. On offense, they'll miss the big stick of Mo Vaughn, but former Blue Jays slugger Brad Fullmer will pick up some of the slack. Troy Glaus is 40 homers automatic, but Tim Salmon and Darin Erstad may not be as good as they seemed early in their careers. Garrett Anderson is steady in LF. To this day, I believe that Anaheim made a mistake when they traded Jim Edmonds to St. Louis for Kent Bottenfield. Edmonds has that gritty, gamer mentality that this team seems to lack. Plus, anybody hear from Bottenfield lately?
  • Tagged: Angels, Yankees, Athletics, Mariners, Rangers, Braves, Astros, Mets, Cardinals, Ramon Ortiz, Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Jason Isringhausen, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, Doug Davis, Billy Koch

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