Saturday, March 23, 2013

MLB Preview 2013: AL West

     The American League West welcomes a new member to its ranks this season: The Houston Astros. Abandoning the NL Central to join its natural rival, the Texas Rangers, the Astros are in dire straits right now. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels continue to load up their lineup, adding center fielder Josh Hamilton and pitchers Joe Blanton and Jason Vargas. The AL West will once again be intriguing to watch.

  1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Plus: Josh Hamilton (.285, 43 HR, 128 RBI) joins an already lethal lineup which includes first baseman Albert Pujols (.285, 30 HR, 105 RBI), left fielder Mark Trumbo (32 HR, 95 RBI), and of course, the phenom outfielder Mike Trout (.326, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 49 SB, 129 runs scored in 139 games played last year). This lineup can even go toe-to-toe with the Detroit Tigers' lineup in terms of offense. Minus: Jered Weaver (20-5, 2.81 ERA, 142 SO, 1.02 WHIP) needs a lot of help from his fellow pitchers in the rotation. C.J. Wilson must cut down on his walks (91 BB in 2012 compared to 74 in 2011) while striking out more batters (173 SO in 2012 compared to 206 SO). Getting Jason Vargas from Seattle's a step forward, but there's still concern. Fellow acquisition Tommy Hanson (From the Atlanta Braves) must quickly adjust to the American League, especially since his 4.48 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 27 home runs allowed in the National League is just unacceptable. Jerome Williams must strike out more batters in his own right (4.58 ERA, 98 SO last year).
  2. Oakland Athletics: Plus: The reason for why Oakland surprised everyone by winning the AL West was mainly due to their pitching. Not a single A's starting pitcher had an ERA over four last season. But it wasn't the rotation that was the shining light for the Athletics. Their bullpen held down the fort for Oakland when they needed it most. Ryan Cook, Sean Blevins, Grant Balfour, and Sean Doolittle all combined for 40 saves and 68 holds last season. Minus: It'll be interesting to see if the Athletics can duplicate their success from last year. It'll solely depend on their hitting and this lineup had a hard time getting on base. Although the A's ranked 14th in runs scored (713 runs as a team) and ranked 15th in slugging percentage (.404), they ranked 28th in batting average (.238 team average) and 24th in on-base percentage (.310). That's because Oakland hit a TON of home runs as a means of offense (7th in the MLB in home runs with 195). Yoenis Cespedes (.292, 23 HR, 82 RBI) will provide the Athletics, but he can't be the only means of offense for Oakland in terms of base hits.
  3. Texas Rangers: Plus: Joe Nathan didn't disappoint for the Rangers last season, recording 37 saves for Texas. They signed Joakim Soria from Kansas City to bolster their pen even further. Hopefully they can keep the ball within the Ballpark in Arlington. Meanwhile, the Rangers may have lost a lot of power in their lineup with Hamilton and Napoli bolting, but there's still plenty of production to go around. You still have second baseman Ian Kinsler (26 HR, 74 RBI), outfielder Nelson Cruz (24 HR, 90 RBI), third baseman Adrian Beltre (.321, 36 HR, 102 RBI), shortstop Elvis Andrus (nine triples, 21 stolen bases), and newly-acquired catcher A.J. Pierzynski (27 HR, 77 RBI, 68 runs). Hell, Texas even has a few prospects to get excited about; second baseman Jurickson Profar (seventh-ranked prospect in the country, projected for 16 HR, 67 RBI, and 20 stolen bases) and Leonys Martin (batted .323 with 16 HR, 84 RBI, 101 runs scored, and 29 SB in just 128 minor league games) both provide Texas with a bright future. Minus: This is the best Rangers rotation I have seen in quite awhile, yet it's still a major concern. Why? Because Ranger Ballpark in Arlington is very homer-friendly. Compared to Angel Stadium, which allows 1.99 HR per game, the Ballpark in Arlington allows 2.49 HR per game (seventh in the MLB). And alhough both Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison combined for a -wait for it-WAR of 10.2 in 2012, it's hard to keep your opponents' runs down when you either walk too many (Darvish walked 89 batters last year) or strike out too few (Harrison had 133 SO last year).
  4. Seattle Mariners: Plus: Getting Felix Hernandez locked down for a long-term contract was a must for the Mariners this offseason. But the Mariner ace (13-9, 3.06 ERA, 223 SO) did have plenty of help behind him. Seattle committed the 2nd-fewest errors in baseball last season and tied for the best fielding percentage in baseball as well (.988). Of course, pitching in cavernous Safeco Field also helps. Minus: Speaking of cavernous Safeco Field, the Mariners' bats ranked dead last in almost every offensive category last year. Getting Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, Michael Morse, and Kendrys Morales helps, but it doesn't solve the entire problem. Seattle has to know how to utilize Safeco Field as a means of offense in order to truly surprise people this year.
  5. Houston Astros: Plus: Well, let's see. Second baseman Jose Altuve is a bright spot on this roster. The lone All-Star for the Astros last year had a batting average of .290, hit four triples, and stole 33 bases last year. Other than that, there's not much else to be excited about as an Astros fan other than maybe the move to the American League. Minus: Everything else. It's going to be a long season for Houston.

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