AL West Preview

AL West Preview

MLB Season Preview: A.L. West
by Robert Ferringo

We all know that the West Coast is filled with nothing but communists and Ralph Nadar sympathizers. This is obvious. But yet another example of the total disrespect that the West has for Dominance and Order is the way that its American League division rotates and shares the crown of This Year's Surprise Money Team.

In each of the past four seasons the A.L. West has produced one of the three most profitable teams to bet on in the entire Major Leagues. In 2004 it was Texas (+2430), in 2005 it was Anaheim (+1029), 2006 gave us Oakland (+1984) and last year it was Seattle (+1924). This could have to do with the perceived East Coast Bias, and the fact that these teams can lie in the weeds and not draw significant attention for most of the season despite playing winning baseball. Or it could be the fresh sea air. Who knows? But whatever the reason, a pure diamond is found in the rough of this rag-tag division every season and I expect the trend to continue this year.

Perhaps it's a coincidence, but I look for the cycle to reset itself as I think Texas could be a nice sleeper team in the West this year. No one is going to threaten Anaheim for the division title - they have that locked up tighter than the Mexican border - but I think the second-tier clubs, led by the Rangers, could continue to earn.

Here are one man's predictions for how the American League West will shake out:

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

ANAHEIM ANGELS


2007 Record: 94-68 (first)
Odds to win AL Pennant: 4/1
Odds to win World Series: 9/1
Wins Over/Under: 92.5

Strengths: Anaheim's strength lies in its flexibility. They have four All-Star outfielders that they can rotate in. They have two excellent utility guys in Chone Figgins and Maicer Izturis. They can outslug you or wear you down on the bases. They have a legit ace, but then five other quality starters with a variety of stuff to throw at you. All in all, this is a complete team and should be a lock for another postseason berth.

Weaknesses: There are some injury concerns on this team, and if Vlad Guerrero goes down they will still be good but won't maintain their stranglehold on this division. They start the year without John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar and if anything happens to either of those two they'll really wish they had pulled the trigger on a Johan Santana deal. The bullpen has had a solid run, but I do think that Anaheim will run into a problem with its setup men this year.

Player to Watch: Howie Kendrick, 2B. Kendrick ripped off a .322 clip in 338 AB's last year. Now that he's the everyday 2B he could be the guy that helps take this lineup to another level.

Outlook: This team is a solid World Series contender, and not just because they play in the weakest division in baseball. Mike Scioscia is a master. And with a lineup stacked with talent and experience he should be able to guide this team to a home series in the first round of the playoffs.

TEXAS RANGERS

2007 Record: 75-87 (fourth)
Odds to win AL Pennant: 50/1
Odds to win World Series: 100/1
Wins Over/Under: 74.5

Strengths: Josh Hamilton has created a buzz around this team. The Natural has had an excellent spring. And if he can build on the "rookie" season he had in Cincinnati this year then I think the Rangers could surprise some people. I am a fan of Ron Washington's and he had this team playing hard at the end of last season. They had a winning record at home last year (47-24) and if they can pick up a few more road wins this season they could threaten 80 Ws.

Weaknesses: The front end of the rotation is still pathetic. Kevin Millwood just isn't the pitcher that people give him credit for being. Mix in retreads like Vincente Padilla and Jason Jennings and that has to be the worst 1-2-3 in the A.L. Defense was a problem last year, as they had the second-worst fielding percentage in the Majors. When you pitching is that bad you just can't afford to give up extra outs.

Player to Watch: Hamilton, OF. This guy is the key to their season. If he can stay healthy there's no reason he won't be a .280-35-100 guy for this team and give Michael Young some help in the middle of this young, unproven order.

Outlook: Just two short years ago the Rangers were 300-to-1 longshots to win the A.L. Pennant. I guess that's progress. I don't know why, but this team is sticking out in my mind as a potential sleeper. I don't think they'll make a run at the postseason, but I do think that if they get anything out of the front of the rotation they could be a nice money team while playing around .500 ball.

SEATTLE MARINERS

2007 Record: 88-74 (88-74)
Odds to win AL Pennant: 15/1
Odds to win World Series: 30/1
Wins Over/Under: 84.5

Strengths: You have to love the veteran attitude of this team and their experience is vital to their success. The position players are nice names and guys that have been steady MLB contributors for their entire careers. They have a powerful lineup and one of the best home field advantages in the game. Mix in their crop of smooth, live, young arms at the top of their rotation and a clockwork bullpen and you can see why these guys should be steady again this year.

Weaknesses: Their strength is also their weakness. On the surface it looks like they have something cooking, but they have a lot of age and they got some career years out of guys last year. I just don't know if they can expect that sort of production out of guys like Miguel Batista, Jose Vidro and Raul Ibanez.

Player to Watch: Ichiro Suzuki, OF. IIIIII-CCCHHHH-RRRROOOOOOOOO!!!!!! It's a contract year. And I expect one of the best players in baseball, and one of the best leadoff men of all-time, to put up stellar numbers.

Outlook: I correctly tabbed the Mariners as my sleeper money team last year. I don't think they will repeat the feat now that they are actually expected to compete with the Angels. The move to get Erik Bedard helped continue the positive momentum, but I just see this team breaking down under the weight of age and increased expectations.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

2007 Record: 76-86 SU (third)
Odds to win AL Pennant: 75/1
Odds to win World Series: 125/1
Wins Over/Under: 73.5

Strengths: The hubris of youth. The Athletics are not a good baseball team by any stretch of the imagination. But they will be able to gut out some wins simply by playing good, solid, fundamental baseball. And since a majority of their roster is comprised of players that haven't spent much time in The Show or guys who are playing for a year-to-year career in the Bigs you will get maximum effort from these boys the entire year. They will likely remain a solid 'under' bet because of their weak lineup.

Weaknesses: They may be all heart, but they sure as hell don't have a full Major League roster. There are zero impact guys in this lineup and no one who is going to scare opposing pitchers. Their organizational philosophy of taking pitches and working counts and pitchers can only be effective if the opposing hurler is afraid of what will happen if they throw a strike.

Player to Watch: Emil Brown, LF. I like the kid's moxie and he is a nice little sparkplug. He hit .286 in his first two years in K.C. before a little step back, but he did hit .347 in the last six weeks of 2007.

Outlook: The A's could be a decent bet the second half of the year, but these guys will threaten 90 losses with ease. They will still jump up and bite some teams, and catching big favorites on an East-to-West trip could be a solid trend play. But "playing the game the right way" can only get a young team so far when opposing talent consistently overmatches them.

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Re: AL West Preview

AL West Preview
By Josh Jacobs

The Red Sox and Athletics officially cut the red tape on the 2008 season by splitting a game apiece in Tokyo. Spring training will complete its annual showing on Sunday (Atlanta and Washington play its first game of the season on the same day) and Monday will witness the official beginning of the ’08 regular season.

There’s only one division left to examine, the American League West.

The L.A. Angels are favored by most books to take the AL West by storm. L.A. is sitting at a chalky 4/9 odds to take the division, and 6/1 odds have been tagged to the club to win the AL Pennant.

I just wanted to wish everyone the best of luck this season and let’s all enjoy another prosperous year of hardball.

AL West

Los Angeles (94-68, +753)


It’s been eight years and counting that Mike Scioscia has reined manager of the Angels. His leadership skills have translated into winning three division titles in the last four years. In the current era, L.A. has been a frequent visitor to postseason play.

Offseason acquisitions where slow to transpire, but wrangling defensive oriented center fielder Torii Hunter and proven starting pitcher Jon Garland only raised the club’s stock.

Hunter is coming off a strong 2007 season. He ended the year with a .287 BA, 107 RBIs with 28 homeruns with Minnesota. For Garland, an inflated 4.23 ERA with a 10-13 record in 32 starts was not his strongest season.

While L.A. has a deep roster, players such as Gary Mathews Jr. and Juan Rivera find themselves sitting on the sidelines. The outfield is a crowded spot for the Angles and with Mathews Jr. singed to a $50 million contract it seems that management has bit off more then it can chew.

While there’s a high amount of veteran talent in the grass, the infield is somewhat geared towards the youth of the organization.

Howie Kendrick is heading into only his third year in the Big League. Projected to get second base duties, Kendrick is hoping for a repeat of last season (.322 BA with 39 RBIs).

Second baseman Eric Aybar is the second piece to the young and talented infield. He’s a switch hitter at the plate who’s predicted to get the brunt of work at second.

There’s really no argument over the fact that the Angles have the best starting rotation in the division. Garland, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana are effective as it gets on the hill.

Cutting veteran Bartolo Colon loose came at a good time. Registering a 46-33 record with a 4.99 ERA in his four years with the Angels, Colon’s last two seasons where marred by injury (Colon made 28 starts for a 7-13 record in those two seasons).

L.A. is once again a major contender for not only the division but a true player in the American League. Making some improvement on paper, the Angels must now prove that names like Garland and Hunter can make a difference in the season.

Bodog.com has installed the Angels at 11/1 to take the World Series.

Oakland (75-87, +367)

The A’s have consistently been known as the arch rival to the Angels. Oakland has vied year-after-year for divisional dominance, but 2008 seems to have diverted the team’s path.

The A’s opted to deal right-handed stud Dan Haren to pitcher dominant, Arizona, and shipping center fielder Mark Kotsay to Atlanta was the icing on the team’s cake to reconstruct the organization.

Oakland’s final move to dump talent in exchange for youth was placing Nick Swisher on a non-stop flight to Chicago (White Sox) in exchange for three prospects. Overall, the Bay area imported a total of nine potential minor leaguers between the Haren and Swisher deals.

Injuries came in bunches last season, with the A’s using the DL a total of 22 times. Oakland’s Chad Gaudin, Eric Chavez, Justin Duchscherer and Bobby Crosby where all patients of various ailments and missed considerable time off the diamond.

With a clean house approach, upper management has decided its time to develop the farm system. While plans are to remain competitive in the West, there’s no questioning that the A’s will have a difficult time in either reaching or surpassing their 76 win total from last season.

The strongest contingent for Oakland will emanate from the bullpen. A’s relievers Alan Embree and prospect Dana Eveland, combined with closer Huston Street should equate to enough talent on the hill to push the club into the ‘W’ column in close contests.

But the big question remains. Can Oakland fend off enough games while it’s in the middle of a huge rebuilding project?

Most books have listed the A’s as a 12/1 long shot to take the AL West.

Seattle (88-74, +1924)

It’s tough to make comparisons and matchups before the new season is even born, but Seattle enters a new stage in baseball history looking up at the Angels (as the rest of the West is doing).

The call to arms in the rotation yields two leaders in southpaw slinger Erik Bedard (13-5, 3.16 ERA last season) and righty Felix Hernandez (14-7, 3.92). It was imperative for Seattle to fill a need for the starting five and Bedard was a solid pickup.

Hurlers Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista, who will be assigned to the respective No. 3, four and five spots, make up the tail end of the rotation.

And there’s no doubting that closer J.J. Putz will be as effective as he was in ’07. After signing a three-year, $13.1 million deal, Putz returns with 76 saves in two years of tossing.

Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki will once again become the set pieces in an offense that sent RBIs producer, Jose Guillen to Kansas City. Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt has improved his stats across the board since becoming a Major Leaguer in 2005. In 536 at bats last season, Betancourt registered a .289 BA with 67 RBIs and an improved 48 strikeouts (versus 54 from 2006).

But the more I mull over this lineup, the more it distracts me from seeing beyond a contact first hitting lineup.

Can the Mariners trust Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson for much needed run support? Will DH Jose Vidro ever repeat those 90-plus RBI season? And did the organization cannibalize itself by dealing away Guillen in exchange for a solution to their pitching problems (obtaining Bedard)?

This is the time that we can throw all these questions up at once. Seattle has the proper elements to build a success story around, but the main concern must be on power hitting. It great to hit for average but crossing the plate is how you win games.

As a side note, the M’s finished last season as the AL’s top money line earner at +1924 and crossed the line at second as the top financial earner.

Texas (75-87, +367)

It’s been a tough stretch for the Ranger in the last few years. Having reached a peak of 89 wins in 2004 (missing the playoffs), it’s been a steady drop back down to the basement. And the way things are looking, Texas looks to continue battling back into contention for yet another season.

It’s not that the Rangers have a team annulled of talent. Quite the contrary, Michael Young is looking to log in another year of 200-plus hits, Marlon Byrd stormed from nowhere to produce career numbers in ‘07 and young Ian Kensler is feeling his way into the pros.

But with injuries (as is the case with every team), a pitching staff that couldn’t find the strike zone and an offense which lacks pop, Texas could be on a crash course with last place in the AL West.

Starting pitchers Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla combined for a 2007 heaving induced 16-24 record with a 5.46 ERA and a BAA of .300. That’s not going to get the job done.

Adding righty Jason Jennings is a question mark given his 2-9 record with a sky high 6.45 ERA when playing with the Astros and acquiring closer/reliever/injured reserve pitcher Eddie Guardado is really a flip of the coin in terms of production.

Third base is in the air with Hank Blalock recovering from a removed rib (caused by a blood clot last year) and brining in Milton Bradley (coming off surgery to his knee) could be considered a gamble to say the least.

But in all of the controversy, manager Ron Washington is remaining optimistic that his club can raise its win total up at least 10 games from last season.

Look to see if once highly touted but troubled Josh Hamilton can reach a fraction of the potential that many witnessed almost a decade ago.

The future may look bleak, but Texas is another group refusing to wait around with stale talent. Change has been made.

Most books have set the Rangers at 9/1 odds to take the AL West.

Handicapper Corner

Jimmy Boyd - The Angels were already the cream of the crop in the AL West with the best pitching staff in the division and they should be even stronger in 2008. L.A. adds more pop to the middle of the order with Torii Hunter coming over from Minnesota. They stole another AL Central talent in Jon Garland to shore up the pitching staff. I don’t expect second place to be anywhere close to the Halos and the odds that the oddsmakers have set reflect that. The Angels are a terrible value bet, but it will take a serious case of the injury bug for them not to cash futures bets in the West. The Angels were 14-4 in interleague play in 2007. Expect the Halos to beat up on the NL again this season, so be ready to back them in interleague play.

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