Monday, March 19, 2007

2007 Preview: AL West

After a weekend of imbibing Guinness and Jameson causing you to see strange things involving leprechauns and a shillelagh, and watching your NCAA bracket fall apart before your very's back to baseball!

The AL West for the better part of this decade has been a two horse race. The Angels or the A's have won the division crown six out of the past seven years, with the loser getting the wild card in 2001 and 2002. Seattle has slipped to the bottom slowly ever since Ken Griffey and A-Rod left town. The Rangers haven't been relevant since Johnny Oates guided the team to the playoff in the late 90's. So what's on tap for this year? To the teams:

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Silly ass name aside, the wherever they say they reside Angels of whatever city they actually play in, have been one of the better teams of the 2000's averaging 87 wins a season. I don't know if I agree with the huge contract handed out to Gary Matthews Jr. this offseason, which looks even worse after that whole HGH story came out. No word if the Angels will take action against Matthews for his possible involvement with the scandal. If they do that leave the Angels with an depleted outfield if you factor in the offseason injury to Juan Rivera, who should return in a few months. Look for Shea Hillenbrand to shift to third, and Chone Figgins to see more time in the outfield if that is the case. The rest of the field is filled with potential breakout players like Casey Kotchman, Howie Kendrick and Mike Napoli, and solid veterans like Garret Anderson and Vlad Guerrero. The rotation, like the field, is a mix of young talent and vets as well. John Lackey was third in the AL in K's and fifth in ERA. The Angels can hope that Jered Weaver follows Ervin Santana's career path and improves in his second year. Joe Saunders looks ready to fill in if Bartolo Colon doesn't return from a litany of injuries. The Angels look like a team doing their part to stay atop the AL West.

Oakland Athletics
While the A's provided myself one of the most exciting moments of my life, Ken Macha can assure you it wasn't part of the plan in Oakland. So how did Oakland spent the offseason? A new manager, the last of the Big 3 departed, their best hitter left as well. Those losses aren't as substantial as they may seem. Rich Harden if injury free is more than capable to jump into the #1 spot vacated by Zito, and free agent signing Mike Piazza had surprising stats in a pitchers park in San Diego. There's no reason to think that with him DHing full time as Thomas did, that he can't come close to the production of Thomas. The rest of the lineup isn't spectacular (Mark Ellis, Marco Scutaro, Dan Johnson), but is very solid (Eric Chaves, Nick Swisher, Milton Bradley). The same can be of the pitching staff. If Dan Haren, Esteban Loaiza, Joe bloat Blanton, and Joe Kennedy can give the bullpen (featuring Kiko Calero and Justin Duchscherer) a lead they should hold on to it, unless it's Magglio vs. Huston Street, then all bets are off.

Seattle Mariners
In keeping with their theme of questionable offseason moves in the past decade(see Carlos Guillen trade, Adrian Beltre, Rich Aurilla, Scott Spiezio), the Mariners management offers these for your perusal:
- gave Jeff Weaver over $8 Million.
- traded awesome set-up man Rafael Soriano for a crappy starter Horacio Ramirez, who incidentally sounds like he should be a Spanish sea captain
- traded prospect Chris Snelling to the Nationals for Jose Vidro. Vidro plays second base a position occupied by All-Star Jose Lopez
- feeling the team needed more crazy after the release of Carl Everett, they signed Jose Guillen. Guillen is looking to break Reggie Sanders record of teams played for in a career.
- Did I mention Weaver got over $8 million?
A quick summation of a Seattle game this year, Ichiro gets on base, but no one can drive him home, and the pitchers give up a lot of runs. At least the denizens of the Emerald City will have King Felix to marvel over.

Texas Rangers
It seems Sammy Sosa has remembered how to speak English, and will be in the line up as a DH for the Rangers. Speaking of sort of washed up players accused of using steroids, Eric Gagne is slated to be the closer. All jokes aside the Rangers have an excellent core of young players in their infield with, Hank Blalock, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and Mark Teixeria. They replaced outgoing Gary Matthews with the older, but capable Kenny Lofton, and added former White Sox prospect Brandon McCarthy to join Kevin Millwood and Vincente Padilla. If they get some help from young guys Kameron Loe, Robinson Tejeda, and John Koronka in the back of the rotation, The Rangers could be in contention this season. The Rangers could even be a dark horse if the A's or Angels get off to a slow start.

Final Standings
1) Los Angeles Angels (94-68)
2) Oakland A's (89-73)
3) Texas Rangers (87-75)
4) Seattle Mariners (72-90)

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