AL West Preview: Can Anyone Beat the Astros?
The AL West is one of a few divisions where the better race is for 2nd rather than 1st. The Astros have the best odds for winning the division by far, and if they don't win the division it will be because of multiple injuries and will be considered a major upset.
Here's how I think the AL West will play out.
- Astros 102 - 60
- Angels 85 - 77
- Rangers 81 - 81
- Mariners 81 - 81
- Athletics 70 - 92
The Houston Astros
In 2017 the Houston Astros finished the season 21 games ahead of anyone else in the division. Then they won the World Series. Then they got even better by bolstering their rotation with Gerrit Cole, who had a 2.14 ERA in Spring Training and that was the 3rd best ERA in the rotation behind Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers. I know, Spring Training, that doesn't change the production that the rotation is supposed to have this season. It's the best rotation in the MLB and I haven't even mentioned Dallas Keuchel yet.
As good as the rotation is, the lineup might be better. Two MVP candidates in the middle of the infield, another in the outfield. Depth everywhere with reinforcements coming up as prospects.
The worst part of the Astros is their bullpen but only because the rest of the team is so good. It's like saying the worst part of Neopolitan ice cream is the strawberry part. It's not chocolate or vanilla, but it's still ice cream and I'm not going to throw it away.
It's not a matter of if the Astros will win the division, it's a question of by how many games they win it by.
The Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have the best player in the American League in Mike Trout and that's pretty much it. That's not entirely true but with Albert Pujols and Ian Kinsler, yes that Ian Kinsler, on the back end of their careers and Justin Upton in the outfield now the Angels have an intimidating lineup, if it was 2010. Just to catch everyone up, it's 2018. The lineup has potential but it isn't going to win the division.
The most intriguing Angel in 2018 is Shohei Ohtani, who comes over to the MLB from Japan billed as the next Babe Ruth. He's a starting pitcher who throws gas and a DH who hits for power. Can he be the difference maker moving forward?
The rotation for the Angels is a complete mystery, but has some serious potential. They are projected to have a 7 man rotation at times with ace Garrett Richards trying to comeback from multiple injuries. The rest of the rotation includes left-hander Tyler Skaggs and right-handers Matt Shoemaker and J.C. Ramírez.
THE SECOND TIER
I think the Rangers have some potential. Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo and Elvis Andrus are an exciting young core that are solid building blocks for the future. Willie Calhoun and Delino DeShields are interesting options in the outfield. Shin-Soo Choo will be the full time DH and Adrian Beltre is still a great hitter and an above-average fielder. The lineup won't be the problem that the Rangers face though.
The rotation, after Cole Hamels, is a potential disaster. Mike Minor, Doug Fister and Matt Moore are all guys who have seen a certain level of success in the major leagues but they won't be all-stars. The Rangers just have to hope that they don't implode before the season ends.
The bullpen is also full of potential. They have four guys who can log saves with Keone Kela and Matt Bush from the right side and Jake Diekman and Alex Claudio from the left side. Kela will get first crack at being the closer and will have to better than Sam Dyson and Shawn Tolleson, the last two opening day closers, if the Rangers have any chance at getting to .500.
Ichiro! Ichiro! Ichiro! After spending time with the New York Yankees and Miami Marlins the prodigal son returns. He will be a productive member of the team but can he be a difference maker?
I might be underestimating the Mariners, who have arguably the second best middle infield duo in the West behind the Astros. The underrated Jean Segura and Robinson Cano can provide offense in a lineup that also boasts Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Dee Gordon the converted 2B who is now in center field.
Their staff is led by King Felix, who has been dethroned in the last two years and is looking for a new nickname. If he has a resurgence and James Paxton finally takes the next step everyone has been clamoring about the Mariners could pass 85 wins. I just don't see that happening.
The Rangers and Mariners will both go only as far as their rotations take them.
THE LAST PLACE TEAM
Jonathon Lucroy joins the AL West once again. This time as an Athletic. If he bounces back offensively this is a great signing and everyone talks about his ability to frame pitches, something he was terrible at when he was a Texas Ranger. The Athletics do have young talent that could make a difference but their offensive talent doesn't match the rest of the division.
It's hard to trust the bullpen in Oakland, and it's even harder to trust their rotation that has been riddled with injuries. The Athletics do have talent remaining with Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea but if the Rangers and Mariners have big rotation questions the Athletics have ginormous rotation questions.