1. Texas Rangers
The Good: The Rangers are a young talented team that has emphasized pitching over offense and this group has not hit the ceiling yet. They may have one of the best offenses in the game with MVP Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz (a MVP caliber player), Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and having 3 guys to play all 8 positions and DH with David Murphy, Mike Napoli and Mr. Ranger Michael Young. Adding Adrian Beltre was a smart move because he helps improve a shoddy Rangers defense and will benefit greatly from hitting in Texas with this lineup. The Rangers have talent on the mound as well with CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Darren O’Day and Neftali Feliz.
The Bad: How does this team fare without Cliff Lee? Granted, Lee was average in the regular season with the Rangers but, he will be sorely missed. Asking to have CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis replicate 2010, something they have never done before that, while also anchoring the rotation is the biggest key to the Rangers season. If this duo falters the Rangers are not winning this division. The bullpen has talent and plenty of nice numbers but, it needs to show more poise as they were occasionally hit up in big spots last season.
What to Look For: The balance of playing time and productivity of the Napoli-Murphy-Young trio will be interesting to watch. If RHP Tanner Scheppers and OF Engel Beltre continue to shine in the minors they could get a call up. Is Brandon Webb OK? Is he still the best sinker ball pitcher in the game? That is something to watch. Also, the learning curves of Tommy Hunter, Matt Harrison and most importantly, Derek Holland will be critical to the Rangers success.
Projection: While maybe a tick below last year’s bunch the Rangers are plenty good and could be even better. The pitching has to fall into place, like any team. It would be a wise choice not to bet against this bunch.
89-73 (1st Place)
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Good: The Angels can go toe to toe with anyone with starting pitching. Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro are a pretty safe quartet to keep you in games. Although it had some problems last year the bullpen has promise too considering it added Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs to go along with Fernando Rodney and Kevin Jepsen.
The Bad: The Angels were embarrassed in free agency this past winter and had to take on the overly bloated Vernon Wells contract. The Halos have major question marks with C Jeff Mathis and 3B Maicer Izturis. Both guys are usually bench guys with little power and are being forced into everyday roles. While it is good that the Angels are giving kids 1B Mark Trumbo and CF Peter Burjos shots at the big leagues they also need these kids to produce right away which maybe too much to ask. The Halos can only hope and wonder when 1B Kendry Morales can come back and contribute after ankle surgery. Morales is the most vital cog to the Angels offense.
What to Watch For: The Angels need top prospect C Hank Conger to make the break through to the Show sooner rather than later. The same can be said for OF Mike Trout. The outfield trio of Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu gets another year older with the same measure of offensive expectation to produce. Can they all still do it? Can Erick Aybar replicate his 2009 season or is the player we all saw last year? The bullpen while upgraded, has major issues.
Projection: Age, bullpen problems and consistent offense, not something you are used to hearing with a Mike Scioscia team. The Angels have plenty of questions but, they also have plenty of starting pitching and a good manager. If the Rangers falter don’t be too surprised to see the Angels somehow in the mix to take the AL West flag.
86-76 (2nd Place)
3. Oakland A’s
The Good: The A’s have one of the best starting rotations in the AL when all healthy. Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden and Gio Gonzalez can confound and hold down offenses most nights. The great thing about the staff is there aren’t all the same type of pitcher each one is different and has a different wrinkle throwing offenses off. Adding OF’s David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui was a major boost to a punchless offense. The A’s also have a very good bullpen as well with Grant Balfour, Brian Fuentes, Mike Wuertz, Brad Ziegler and closer Andrew Bailey.
The Bad: The A’s offense got off the hook in 2010 because the Mariners offense was so historically bad. This team needs home runs desperately because it was powerless in 2010. The A’s have to hope the additions of Matsui, Willingham and DeJesus pay off. Also, having OF prospects Chris Carter and Michael Taylor break through to the MLB Level full time would help too.
What to Look For: If the A’s stay healthy and pitch to their potential and possibly get Rich Harden healthy throwing strikes out of the bullpen then look out, this team could win the division their pitching is that good.
Projection: A down year for the AL West means the time is ripe for the A’s to strike. This is a good team that just needs more runs to be scored. Billy Beane did a solid job upgrading this team and while they are picked here at 3rd place I think if Texas loses this division it’s more likely because the A’s win it not the Angels.
85-77 (3rd Place)
The Good: A very limited selection here. The Mariners do have the reigning CY Young Award winner who is soon to be 25 in Felix Hernandez. The Marniers also have a future Hall of Famer in Ichiro Suzuki who is good for a .310 plus batting average, 30 plus steals, 200 hundred plus hits and a Gold Glove in rightfield. The Mariners boast a pretty good defensive team as well.
The Bad: The offense was so bad last year it was epically and historically atrocious. Scary thing is the only thing the Mariners did was add Jack Cust to the everyday lineup which means a lot more of unneeded strikeouts but, some much need walks and homeruns. The Mariners desperately need 2009 years from Franklin Gutierrez and Chone Figgins not the bad 2010 years they had. The bullpen had its problems last year as well. You can add David Aardsma as a guy needed to have a year like he did in 2009 not last year. Jason Vargas and Doug Fister were OK for this rotation in 2010. It would be nice to see Erik Bedard just get on the mound in 2011 doing his Carl Pavano Yankees impression for the Mariners. This staff doesn’t have a real compliment to Felix Hernandez which is a problem.
What to Look For: The Mariners desperately need 1B Justin Smoak and LF Michael Saunders to figure it out and impact the everyday lineup immediately if this team has any expectation to be decent. You better add prospects LHP Mauricio Robles, RHP Michael Pineda and 2B Dustin Ackley to that list as well. That’s a lot of things that have to happen for things to be good this year in Seattle.
Projection: The offense couldn’t be much worse than it was in 2010 could it? Or could it be? This is an odd year and the book says the Mariners will be 85 plus win team if you follow their past 5 years. I don’t know how they will pull that off this year but, then again no else saw them being good in 2007 and 2009 either. I don’t forsee them being a .500 or better team this year. But, then again I have been wrong many times before.
65-97 (4th Place)
Filed under: Digging Deep - Analysis | Tagged: A's, Adrian Beltre, Andrew Bailey, Angels, Bobby Abreu, Brad Ziegler, Brett Anderson, Brian Fuentes, C.J. Wilson, Carl Pavano, Chone Figgins, Chris Carter, Cliff Lee, Colby Lewis, Dallas Braden, Dan Haren, Darren O'Day, David Aardsma, David DeJesus, David Murphy, Derek Holland, Doug Fister, Dustin Ackley, Elvis Andrus, Engel Beltre, Erick Aybar, Erik Bedard, Ervin Santana, Felix Hernandez, Fernando Rodney, Franklin Gutierrez, Gio Gonzalez, Grant Balfour, Hank Conger, Hideki Matsui, Hisanori Takahashi, Ian Kinsler, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Cust, Jason Vargas, Jeff Mathis, Jered Weaver, Joel Pineiro, Josh Hamilton, Josh Willingham, Justin Smoak, Kendry Morales, Kevin Jepsen, Maicer Izturis, Mariners, Mark Trumbo, Matt Harrison, Mauricio Robles, Michael Pineda, Michael Saunders, Michael Taylor, Michael Young, Mike Napoli, Mike Scioscia, Mike Trout, Mike Wuertz, Neftali Feliz, Nelson Cruz, Peter Burjos, Rangers, Rich Harden, Scott Downs, Tanner Scheppers, Tommy Hunter, Torii Hunter, Trevor Cahill, Vernon Wells | Leave a Comment »