It’s getting tough. Lucky for the original members of the division the team they added are a triple A all-star team. I don’t like the Astros chances in a division that features a team who have added the 2 biggest free agents the last 2 years and has the best young player (if not the best player) in the game, the best team in the American League the last 3 seasons, and perhaps the best young team in the bigs. Seattle is no longer a push over either. Its a tough division and seemingly getting tougher. I thought hard about putting the Rangers last in the division and the Astros 1st after last night, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess the Astros won’t maintain the scorching hot roll they’re on…
1. LA Angels – Arti Moreno has become the George Steinbrener of the West coast! Although, he is tied with the Dodgers ownership group in that category, but never the less! Obviously this story starts with the offense. Pujols isn’t what he used to be, but after a horrific start to the season he still ended the year with 30 bombs and 105 RBI. I expect him to improve on those numbers this season, although over time I think that contract will still look awful. I’m expecting Trout to have a bit of a sophmore slump, but that probably means he still hits .290, 25 bombs, 40 SB. Nice slump! The kid is so fun to watch. And then Hamilton will have the pressure of that huge contract, but he has to know this offense isn’t built just around him. You would think hitting behind Pujols would be a dream scenario for him, but that seems too logical to be true. The rotation is overhauled as they lost Grienke, Haren and Santana, but replacing them with Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton doesn’t seem like much of a downgrade. The bullpen needs to be better out the gate then it was last season. Once they moved Ernesto Frieri to closer things were a little more settled. He will setup this season and the hope is Ryan Madson can step in after having missed the entire 2012 season. Its really the only question mark on the team. They’re expected to win the division, win the A.L., and win the World Series. Big pressure, but they have the team to do it and an owner willing to help them out along the way.
2. Texas Rangers – They have become one of those teams that just simply has a winning culture. They weren’t effected when they lost Cliff Lee after they rode him to the World Series in 2010, and I’ve never been a big believer that one bat makes a huge difference in the majors. This team has an absolutely loaded farm system so they can make a big trade, and Ron Washington gets the most out of what he has. This offense was widely regarded the last few seasons to be the best lineup in baseball. Josh Hamilton is great, but people need to remember what they still have. Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre, David Murphy all had great seasons. They added A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman who are both solid vets and good clubhouse guys (although A.J. can rub some the wrong way). And guys like Ian Kinsler, and Mitch Moreland are capable of having big seasons. There is also the possibility that top MLB prospect Jurikson Profar could be with the big club by June. So I have no doubt they’ll still put a ton of runs on the board. I love them adding Joakim Soria. He missed all of 2012 after Tommy John surgery. He has electric stuff when he is healthy and is well worth the risk. Soria, Joe Nathan and lefty Robbie Ross could give them a heck of a bullpen. The rotation like it has been the last few years doesn’t have an ace, but 1-5 its really solid. It will be interesting to see how Yu Darvish handles his 2nd season. Japanesse pitchers have fizzled out in their 2nd season traditionally. I’m higher on this team than most, but I think most agree they’ll be in the race until the end of the season.
3. Oakland Athletics – Right there with the O’s for story of the year in the majors last season, it was amazing to watch. But while some think they’ll continue to build on what they did in 2012, teams this young more often than not take a step back after such a great year. Think back to the 2008 Rays and the 2006 Tigers. Both great runs by really young teams, and neither team went back to the playoffs the following season. He wasn’t that great of player for them, but I really believe they’ll miss Jonny Gomes. He was a spark plug for them last season. Chris Young is a better player, but that doesn’t mean he will be a better fit. I do like their lineup though. Yoenis Cespedes is the one guy on this team who I expect to put up even better numbers this season now that he has had time to adjust to life in America. Offensively the guy has it all and at 27 a sophmore slump isn’t as likely to happen although there now is more of a book on him. But its tough to believe that Josh Reddick will improve on 32 HR’s and other than Cespedes and Brandon Moss nobody hit higher than .259. And while nobody doubts the arms in the rotation are amazing and have incredible upside to have a staff so young carry you the way they did last season is asking A LOT. Brett Anderson was phenominal after this callup but he only pitched 6 games, we will see how he does over a full season. The bullpen was incredible too. That I have a little more faith in for the A’s because it has more experience than the rotation and a manager can have a big influence. Bob Melvin did an unreal job last season, goes without saying. If he can do it again, it would be even more incredible.
4. Seattle Mariners – I will always have a soft spot for this team. The Mariners of the mid 90’s with Griffey, Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Johnson, man that was a sweet team! Right up there for me with both of the World Series winning Jays teams. So its been a shame for me anyway to see this franchise in the dumps like it has been for so many years now. Slowly but surely they’re starting to put the pieces in place. Getting Felix Hernandez locked down long term was huge for this organization and obviously he is among the elite pitchers in the game. I like the pickup of Joe Saunders. Crafty lefty (so a lefty who doesn’t throw hard…and how come there are no crafty righties?!) who has been through the wars. They needed a vet in that rotation, not a lot of experience other than Saunders. The bullpen might not be as good as A’s, but it doesn’t have the question marks that the Angels and Rangers bullpen’s have. Tom Wilhelmensen is a solid closer for them. As a unit they had a 3.39 ERA and opponents only hit .230 off of them last season so its definitely a strength for this team. The lineup isn’t anything to get too excited about but one thing that could really give it a boost isn’t any new additions, but rather the fact that Safeco has been reconfigured to be a lot more hitter friendly than in the past. With all the young bats they have in that lineup this could prove to be a huge boost mentally. The M’s don’t have that one ELITE prospect on the way like the Angels did with Trout, or the Rangers do with Profar, but they might have the most quality in their system. A lot of good young players already on the big club, and a lot more on the way. Might not be this year but sometime soon things are going to pop in Seattle.
5. Houston Astros – Welcome to the American League. Your reward is you get to put up with the Angels, Rangers and A’s. Not exactly the Pirates, Brewers and Cubs. I just can’t believe what has happened to this organization the last few seasons. Through much of the 90’s and 2000’s this was one of the most well run organizations in all of MLB. Year in year out they were in the hunt and from 1997-2005 they made the playoffs 6 times and of course were in the World Series in 2005. Fast forward 8 years and things sure have hit rock bottom. I love bringing back the old symbol and the new uni’s look sick! Ok, now that I’ve said all the good allow me to focus on the bad. Carlos Pena was their big free agent addition. Yep, a guy who hit under .200 was the big free agent. Now, you never know what Pena will give you. When he feels like it, Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s favorite player can still be a big bat. But year to year you just never know what he will give you. Jed Lowrie is a decent shortstop, but he can’t stay on the field. Jose Altuve has become a pretty good 2nd baseman, but he’s limited. The rotation has some ok guys with Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris at the top, but after them it is extremely thin. What’s worse is that the bullpen is even worse than the lineup or the rotation. They dealt closer Wilton Lopez this offseason, so closing duties will now go to Jose Veras who was decent for Milwaukee last season, but didn’t have a save. The focus for this organization right now is to build up the farm, but man alive the team taking the field this season is scary bad….although last night they were good.
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