American League West Preview (Daryll and Giuseppe)

The Houston Astros made history in 2017 by breaking their 56-year long championship drought after beating the Dodgers in the World Series. Now, in 2018, they will have a target on their head after finishing 20 games ahead of the second place Los Angeles Angels.

The Los Angeles Angels just barely missed out on a Wild Card spot in 2017 and after a slew of offseason acquisitions including Zach Cozart, Ian Kinsler, and Shohei Ohtani, the Angels seemed primed to make a run at the Wild Card, or even the division. The Seattle Mariners are hungrier than ever to make it back to the playoffs and are the current owners of the longest playoff drought in baseball. The Texas Rangers are going to make a charge for the Postseason led by veteran and future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre, and the Oakland A’s are going to be, well…the Oakland A’s.

Daryll Dorman and Giuseppe Vitulli are here to give their takes on the AL West, so without further delay, here are their previews.

GIUSEPPE VITULLI

1. Houston Astros

The World Series drought is officially over, and the Astros are coming back with a mission to not resemble their contemporaries and win back-to-back World Series titles for the first time since the Yankees in 1999 and 2000. 

With a dominating lineup led by American League MVP Award winner Jose Altuve, World Series MVP George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, and the catching duo of Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, and a pitching rotation that consists of Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, the newly acquired Gerrit Cole, and Lance McCullers Jr., the Astros will once again be the team to beat in 2018.

It is unlikely that any American League West team even comes close to them in 2018, and that is almost a guarantee.

2. Los Angeles Angels

After just missing out on the Wild Card Game in 2017, the Angels made a slew of offseason signings and trades and will be primed for a run at the playoffs in 2018.

The Angels were winners of the 2018 offseason after signing Justin Upton to a 5-year contract extension, becoming winners of the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, trading for Ian Kinsler, and trading for Zach Cozart. Not a bad offseason if I must say so myself. 

Mike Trout will continue to do Mike Trout things, and he will accompany arguably the best, left fielder in baseball in Justin Upton, and right fielder, Kole Calhoun in the outfield. The infield is far more well rounded now after the acquisitions of Ian Kinsler who will man second base and Zack Cozart who will move over to third for defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons. If Shohei Ohtani pans out in the Majors, Albert Pujols will play first base while Ohtani occupies the designated hitter position.

What is going to make or break the Angels are going to be their pitching staff. If Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, and Shohei Ohtani can stay healthy and produce at a steady rate, the Angels will be golden.  If not, the Halos may be able to scratch out a Wild Card regardless.

The Angels appear to be prime contenders for a Wild Card spot but will be unable to overcome the Astros for the division title.

3. Texas Rangers

The Rangers have an above average pitching rotation led by Cole Hamels and Martin Perez, and a decent batting lineup led by Future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre. Rougned Odor had the worst 30-home run season in baseball history last year and Joey Gallo (“I’m not Jerry Gallo! I’m Jerry CALLO, C-A-L-L-O”…sorry, couldn’t resist) will continue to hit home runs and strike out a ton.

But let’s face it guys, Yu Darvish gone, and Cole Hamels as the Ace? Will Bartolo Colon break into the starting line up? If he does, is that good? Absent surprises, the pitching won’t be there. And yes Adrian Beltre, but should a 39-year-old player be your most reliable guy? I do like Joey Gallo’s 41 Home Runs, but it went with a .209 batting average and 196 strikeouts! Similarly, Roughned Odor hit 30 home runs, but again it came along with a .204 batting average and 167 strikeouts. And the outfield…well…basically slow and questionable.

Bottom line, this is not the Ranger’s team that made the playoffs consistently from 2010 to 2016 (See Trevor Whenham, 2018 Texas Rangers Expert Predictions and Odds to Win the World Series)  The Rangers will be the epitome of average at best, and may finish below Seattle if things turn ugly.  At best in 2018, they will be average, nothing more, and nothing less.

4. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners have not played a game in the Postseason since they were massacred by the Yankees in the ALCS all the way back in 2001, and the way I see it, they will not be back anytime soon. Having said that, there is reason for hope in Seattle. In fact, The off season moves along with overall chemistry and potential make the Mariner’s an interesting team to watch.

The Mariners have a solid infield led by Kyle Seager (3B) and Robinson Cano (2B) with Jean Segura and Daniel Vogelbach filling in the gaps. Catcher Mike Zunino will continue behind the plate, and Nelson Cruz will DH as usual. I like the move with Dee Gordon in center, and starting Ichiro in left will give the fans what they want. The hitting is even more intriguing. Why? The aquisition of Dee Gordon. The acquisition of Ron Healey from the A’s who hit 20 homeruns. So along with Nelson Cruz who didn’t disappoint, and possible bounce-back seasons from Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager? Should we count out Ichiro yet? Speed at the top of the line-up along with some added power and chemistry? As Rocky said to Apollo in his come back bid…”You’ve got me curious”! 

Unfortunately, the pitching is problematic and if Ichiro turns into a charity contest, it could get ugly. So the Mariners May sink close to the bottom of the AL West or they may finish above Texas and give the Angels some headaches.

5. Oakland A’s

Despite the acquisition of Jonathan Lucroy, the Oakland A’s are going to be the Oakland A’s. The power of Khris “Khrush” Davis will be nowhere near enough to save Oakland who has a mediocre pitching rotation at best. The pitching rotation is young and thin. There’s nothing no ace! Making matters worse, they are injury prone. Four members of the pitching rotation were on the DL last year. No one on the rotation has ever thrown 200 innings in a pro season. Making matters worse, there are virtually no reinforcements close to being ready on their farm system if someone gets hurt. (Alex Hall, “Oakland A’s running out of pitchers before the season even starts”). Finally, their lineup (besides Davis) is nothing to write home about. Unless this young untested and injury prone pitching staff surprises us, the Athletics will play the role of a punching bag in the powerful American League West.

At least rebuilding works…sometimes.

DARYLL DORMAN

1. Houston Astros

This team was the class of baseball for the first half of 2017 – BEFORE they added Justin Verlander in the second half and won the World Series. Then, in the off-season, they added former Pirates ace, Gerrit Cole. Considering that Jose Altuve won the 2017 AL MVP Award and many consider shortstop Carlos Correa to be even better than him long term, things are looking up for a long time in Houston. This is all before I even mention World Series MVP or World Series Game 5 hero Alex Bregman. The Astros bullpen is still a little suspect, but they seem to have so much depth even at the Major League level they can flip where they need to make up for it.

2. Los Angeles Angels

I think Shohei Ohtani is vastly over-rated. Though I still see him as an exciting rookie, to think that he can be an impact rookie twice over (once as a pitcher, once as a hitter) seems a little far-fetched. I think like any rookie he will have growing pains. What I like more about the Angels is that they managed to re-sign Justin Upton, added Ian Kinsler, and they have some good power arms that are all healthy right now in the rotation. Andrew Heaney was a top prospect when they acquired him from Florida but has battle injuries – I’m predicting a good season for him when he delivers on that top prospect talent at still just 26 years old.

3. Texas Rangers

The Rangers have a lot of talented, athletic players that everyone keeps waiting for their breakthrough. In some irony, their future Hall of Fame third baseman Adrian Beltre wasn’t unlike some of his contemporaries on the team. Beltre came up back in 1998 for the Dodgers but it wasn’t until 2004 that he busted out with 48 home runs and hit .334. Similarly, Roughned Odor had a pretty good 2016 but slumped last year down to just a .204 batting average. Joey Gallo hit just .204 despite 41 home runs. If those players and a pitching staff that has ace Cole Hamels and an under the radar signing of former Rays ace Matt Moore, they could be contenders in the West once again.

4. Oakland Athletics

I just can’t rule out a Billy Beane run A’s team. I think the corner “Matt’s”: Chapman and Olson, have legitimate talent and with a chance to play every day in a place like Oakland could blossom quickly. The pitching staff is young and can be competitive but it could be another long season in Oakland while the Astros ride their wave of success for a while.

5. Seattle Mariners

It says a lot about this team right now that Mariners legend Ichiro Suzuki is penciled in as the starting left fielder. They signed Dee Gordon and are moving him to center field, and they have seen some spring training injuries that don’t help this franchise. They hold the longest playoff drought of any non-expansion team in professional sports, and I don’t see that changing in 2018.

Make sure to tune in tomorrow when Daryll and Giuseppe predict the 2018 Postseason.

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