American League West Division Preview 2017

American League West

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Opening Day was full of surprises on Sunday and yet still most teams from around baseball have yet to play, including teams in the American League West, AL Central and the National League East.

So while teams in the American League West, the AL Central and the NL East have yet to play, other teams have already gotten down to business and the results were surprising.

In the AL East the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees, in the NL Central the reigning World Champion Chicago Cubs lost to their bitter rivals the St. Louis Cardinals and in the NL West, no matter how hard Madison Bumgarner tried to do it all by himself, the team lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

So on Monday many teams begin the long and arduous 162-game season.

In the AL West those teams include the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland Athletics.

The consensus among experts from around the league is that the Rangers or the Astros will end up atop the division come October.

They also that it’s possible the one on the losing end could potentially grab a Wild Card Spot.

After all, the Rangers won the most games in the American League in 2016.

The Mariners, who improved their team over the offseason, could be one of those teams that no one expects or sees coming and then takes the division.

A victory for Seattle would end the longest playoff drought in Major League Baseball today and ensure that “King” Felix Hernandez doesn’t end up the only pitcher in the Hall of Fame that never went to the postseason.

The Angels and A’s, who finished fourth and fifth respectively in the American League Western Division last season, are pretty much expected to be just as bad as they were in 2016.

However, that is not always the case. Either of the teams could be a surprise as well, however unlikely it may seem. This is baseball, the game where anything can happen.

American League West

Sep 21, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis (11) celebrates his two-run home run with Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1) during the sixth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kenny Karst-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Astros

2016 Record:  84-78

After a strong 2015 during which they dominated the regular season, they came within five outs of defeating the future World Champion Kansas City Royals.

Despite a decent regular season, in which much more was expected of them, in 2016, they failed to even make the playoffs finishing third in the division, two games behind the Seattle Mariners.

Now they look to change their luck and right the wrongs of 2016. But can they?

Over the offseason they added slugger Brian McCann, Gold Glove right fielder Josh Reddick and brought Carlos Beltran back into the mix.

The rest of their lineup should be killer and one of the best in baseball with 2015 ROY Carlos Correa, two-time AL batting champion Jose Altuve – who last season found unexpected power at the plate, especially for a guy who is 5’5″ (and that is being generous and Evan Gattis, who hit 32 home runs of his own last season.

The only issue the Astros face is their starting pitching, which could end up being their downfall. After winning 20 games and the Cy Young Award in 2015, Dallas Keuchel leads the way.

But he wasn’t the same pitcher in 2016 going just 9-12 with a 4.56 ERA. The Astros will need him to bounce back if they want to have a chance at winning the west.

Following Keuchel are Mike Fiers and Lance McCullers but then, with Colin McHugh on the disabled list, they have Joe Musgrove and Charlie Morton neither of whom started more than 10 games in 2016 and both of whom had ERA’s over 4.00.

The Astros’ bullpen is strong with three guys who can all close. Luke Gregerson proved that he can be among the league’s elite when with his performances in the World Baseball Classic this year.

Plus, they have the hard throwing Ken Giles and Will Harris who posted a 2.25 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP in 66 appearances last season.

If the Astros fail to make the playoffs it will likely be their starting pitching that is their downfall.

American League West

Oct 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Texas Rangers players Adrian Beltre (left) and Rougned Odor (right) round the bases after a two-run home run by Odor against the Toronto Blue Jays in the fourth inning during game three of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Rangers

2016 Record: 95-67

The Texas Rangers won the most games in the American League last season but were eliminated yet again from the postseason.

The team is so overwhelmed with injuries, at least right now that they might not be the same team they were in 2016.

They have a great 1-2 punch in Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels to lead their starting rotation, however, after those two their rotation is shaky at best, not to mention the fact that they literally do not have a fifth starter.

After Darvish and Hamels the Rangers have Martin Perez and A.J. Griffin. With the exception of 2013 Perez has consistently had an ERA well about the 4.00 mark and his strikeout to walk ratio has always been low and he’s had injury issues that have limited him to eight games in 2014 and 14 games in 2015.

Griffin missed all of 2014 and 2015 after having complications coming off of Tommy John surgery. While he was quite good in 2012 and 2013 with the Oakland Athletics posting a 3.60 ERA over that span, he does have a tendency to allow a lot of  home runs, a category he led the league in in 2013. Last season he started 14 games for Texas and posted a 5.07 ERA.

Beyond Griffin, with all the injuries the Rangers are facing it looks as though the fifth spot in the rotation will be a revolving door of whoever is healthy.

The lineup in Texas always seems to be good. They have the young players in Rougned Odor (33 HR, 88 RBI), Nomar Mazara (20 HR, 64 RBI) and Jurickson Profar. They added slugger Mike Napoli to party with them over the offseason and Jonathan Lucroy will get a full season with the Rangers after coming over at last season’s trade deadline.

Of course never to be forgotten is future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre who is going to get his 3,000th hit this season and is likely just two seasons away to becoming  one of the very few to have 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.

The bullpen appears to be hit or miss with the exceptions of closer Sam Dyson and Matt Bush, who will be staples when the Rangers need to rely on their  bullpen in the late innings.

American League West

Mar 22, 2017; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz (right) and shortstop Jean Segura (2) joke around in the dugout before the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Peoria Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle Mariners

2016 Record: 86-76

Seattle played better than expected in 2016 finishing third in the division. Over the offseason, president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto made some moves.

He traded pitcher Taijaun Walker, who after quite a few years had never had the breakout season they had hoped for and brought in Jean Segura who led the National League in hits last season while with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

He also brought in Jarrod Dyson from the Kansas City Royals to add some speed to the lineup and utility man Danny Valencia to play first base.

Segura added to a lineup that already includes big names like Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz along with Kyle Seager should definitely boost the team’s chances of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

Their rotation is surprisingly good too with Felix Hernandez leading the way, then Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton and Yovani Gallardo. Unfortunately for the Mariners the guy who was supposed to round out their rotation, Drew Smyly, will be out 6-8 weeks with a strained elbow.

He’ll be replaced by Ariel Miranda who started only ten games last season, appearing in a total of just 12 games. Still the 28-year-old put up a 3.88 ERA and that is encouraging.

As far as the bullpen goes, things could go any which way for the Mariners. Their closer is 22-year-old Edwin Diaz, who despite going 0-4 last season, still managed to convert 18 of 21 save opportunities and put up an ERA of just 2.79.

American League West

Mar 31, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) and right fielder Kole Calhoun (56) warm up before the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Angels

2016 Record: 74-88

Besides having the greatest player in the game today in Mike Trout and the aging but still always powerful Albert Pujols on the team the Los Angeles Angels appear that they may be in for if not a worse year than last year than a year that is going to be pretty much the same as 2016.

Despite having those two in their lineup, the remainder is really lackluster. Kole Calhoun had a good season last year hitting .271 with 18 home runs but that hardly will help the Angels score a ton of runs, meaning they’ll have to rely on their pitching which is simply like their lineup, uninspiring.

They’ve tagged 34 year old Ricky Nolasco as their opening day starter against the Oakland Athletics’ Kendall Graveman.

The rest of the rotation does have potential with Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs and Jesse Chavez. However, they’ve had trouble keeping the first three mentioned here healthy in the past couple of season.

When it comes to Chavez, he has been moved around quite a bit in his roles on the different teams he’s played for. He was first a spot starter and then a starter with Oakland but he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen last season for the Toronto Blue Jays. It will be yet another adjustment for Chavez.

With Huston Street on the disabled list the closing duties will go to youngster Cam Bedrosian who pitched well over his 40.1 innings in 2016 posting a 1.12 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP.  They’ve got a former Rookie of the Year in Andrew Bailey but he struggled last season posting a 5.36 ERA. A couple other notable names are Yusmiero Petit and Jose Alvarez.

Still, it doesn’t appear that the Angels will improve much upon what they did last season.

American League West

Sep 18, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Oakland Athletics left fielder Khris Davis (2) celebrates his 39th home run with shortstop Marcus Semien (10) during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Athletics

2016 Record: 69-93

With the deterioration of ace Sonny Gray last season, the Oakland Athletics spent a second straight season in the cellar of the American League West. And they did so despite having sluggers left fielder Khris Davis who hit 42 home runs and shortstop Marcus Semien who almost doubled his 2015 total with 27 homers in 2016.

It was more than just Gray’s injury that caused the A’s demise in 2016. Their entire rotation was a carousel last season. Kids like Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, Dillon Overton and many others were called up and sent down over and over again, just so the team could have five starters. By mid-season Kendall Graveman was the only static players in the rotation and he rose to the occasion to lead it in just his sophomore season.

The A’s lineup wasn’t the problem with Davis, Semien, Stephen Vogt, Ryon Healy who was called up directly from Double-A and even Coco Crisp, who may not have had the best batting average but was as clutch as always.

More problems stemmed from their defense. Marcus Semien had moved leaps and bounds forward from the trouble he had in 2015 but still needed work. Danny Valencia was terrible at third and even after Healy was brought up to replace him, he was just a rookie.

These defensive issues should continue to improve in 2016 as should the starting rotation.

Even without Sonny Gray, the A’s have been readying a young core of players all either hitting the big leagues this season or will be here sooner than later. Graveman, Manaea and Jharel Cotton will be the team’s top three starters to begin the 2017 season with Andrew Triggs and Raul Alcantara picking up the slack at the backend until more of the A’s young minor league talent are ready for the majors.

The bullpen, the team’s main issue in 2015, was solid in 2016 until the issues with the rotation began and they became extremely overworked. Ryan Dull, who will be starting his sophomore season set a big league record for not allowing any inherited runners to score from April into early July. The team will also finally have a healthy Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and they recently brought in Santiago Casilla as added insurance.

The A’s should see more and more players coming up from the minors this season, even though they signed Trevor Plouffe to play third base, he is more of a stopgap than anything else.

After having a revival that saw them reach the postseason 3 straight years from 2012-14, the Oakland A’s are compiling another group of young, talented players led by Khris Davis (40 HR, 102 RBI), Marcus Semien (27 HR), Ryon Healy (.861 OPS in 72 games) Franklin Barreto and Matt Chapman,” writers Rivalry Sports and Entertainment Network’s Mark Kelly.

And that is naming only a select few of the next generation of Oakland Athletics. Even if they don’t improve much this season, they will soon become a force in the American League West.

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