The AL West is a juggernaut, producing two WS champs and three AL Champs in seven seasons including the defending champions the Oakland A’s. In every season but one an AL West team has made the LCS and in every season but one at least 2 AL West teams have made the playoffs. In season 6, three AL West teams made the playoffs.
The A’s are returning the core of last year’s team including all of the offensive starters and most of the rotation. Last year they were second only to division rival Colorado in runs scored in the AL. Bert Root, Kenny Francis and Jake Rhodes provided the pop last year with 40, 31 and 28 HRs respectively. Shayne Everett stole 35 bases, hit 24 HRs and had a staggering .440 OBP thanks to 100 walks and a .317 BA. Arnold Miller and Luis Ortiz also make critical contributions with OBPs of .382 and .391. Their pitching was sixth in the league but it features 20 game winner Marco Polcovich, one of the best big game pitchers in the game right now. The A’s may have some injury risks in the rotation, so they picked up Delino Guerrero and converted him into a starter to add depth. They also picked up Peaches Moore to strengthen their SS defense. The A’s were targeting a shutdown bullpen arm and a solid starting SS in free agency but were unable to reel in a big fish. They are hoping that these patchwork pieces will suffice as they rely on their booming offense to carry them to another championship.
The M’s are always solid contenders. Their 94 wins last season matched their best finish and they have only been under .500 once in their seven seasons in the league. As you would expect from a team that calls Safeco Field home, the M’s led the AL in WHIP and ERA last year. They return all of their starters (Melky Diaz, Aurelia Uribe, Fritz Gray and Rex Howard) from last year except spot starter Jeff Carter. However, their bullpen is gutted. The M’s are counting on newcomer Delanor Prince to bolster a bullpen that features Hughie Perkins, Bud Jarvis and Kendry Cornejo. Despite their ballpark, Matt Texeira, Frank Terrell, Trent Rivera and Rich Coco all hit 30 or more homers last year and all return to the lineup this year. Hats off to the M’s for the big pick-up in the division this year in Karl Hamill. A 40 HR, .400+ OBP monster, he gives them a lineup that can rival Oakland’s. For 6 million per year for 5 years, he is also one of the game’s great bargains. The addition of Pepper Morris gives them speed to boot. This team is going to be fun to watch and perhaps, after so many years of post season disappointments, the M’s may be ready to make a run.
The Angels finally slipped out of last place last year with a 3rd place finish. This snapped a streak of 5 straight last place finishes. They continue to focus on developing young players and bringing them to the bigs one or two at a time. Two years ago Tito Mays won the Rookie-of-the-Year hitting over .350 and he followed it up with a . 317, 31 HR season. Last year Alex Guerrero came in and smacked 25 HRs in only 379 ABs. This year they hope that Alejandro Bennett becomes the solid leadoff man they have never had and Trevor Crawford gives them a true ace. Last year the Angels were third to last in the league in runs scored and slightly below average in ERA. Theo Matthews delivered a solid .415 OBP but he, Mays and Guerrero had very little help. To win Peter Condrey, Jerome O’Shea, Peter Thurman and Alex Dodsen have to play to their highest potential. New C Francisco Mendoza and new SS Bryan Thomas will do the job defensively but will provide little to no offensive help. The Angels did nothing to bolster their offense in the offseason. They did make a trade to bolster the pitching staff picking up Matty Martinez and they added set-up man rule 5er Roberto Bonillo. They also decided to transition Vic Sanchez to the bullpen to strengthen one of last year’s brutal weaknesses. Khalil Vining is terrific and with Sanchez setting him up, the Angels may suddenly have best bullpen in the division. Martinez and Crawford are huge question marks for this season but could make a great mark on the league in the future. That defines this team generally. If their young players continue to improve, the Angels could keep climbing. Otherwise, “wait till next year” will continue to be the Angels refrain.
One of the league’s storied franchises, the Rockies won 109 games two years in a row including a World Series Championship. But last year they dropped all the way to last place despite leading the league in offense as they always do. Dutch Badenhop is one the game’s greatest players, and he hit over 50 HR’s last season. Hipilito Iglesias had an “off-year” hitting only .344 with just 34 HR’s. Another awesome star. Jeremy Schumaker and Albert Stevens both had more than 40 HR’s and 2 guys named Throneberry both hit more than 30. Danys Romero stole over 80 bases. These guys are all back. So the question is, how do the Rockies ever lose? How about a team WHIP of 1.70 and an ERA that was almost a full run higher than the next worst team? The fans get their money’s worth every day at Coors. Masao Kuo, Santiago Guillon and Jose Ramirez have been brought in to improve the starting staff. The bullpen does not look improved. It is hard to imagine this year’s Rockies being as bad as last year’s given the improvements to the rotation and the fact that many of their offensive studs are quite young. Look for the Rockies to be resurgent. Bottom line: the AL West has at least two teams that will compete for a championship, the A’s and the Mariners.