American League West
If you ask me the AL West is boring. There I said it. I mean, what kind of division has four teams? Honestly, how can you be excited about a team that goes through a fire-sale every three years? You can't! The A's used to be my favorite team in the AL West, but because their turnover rate on players is so high I just got frustrated and moved on. The Texas Rangers...it's hot there, not much else to say about them. The Seattle Mariners may be the most successful buyers in the AL West this offseason and all they did was get Erik Bedard. But then you go and look at the Anaheim Angels (division champs three of the past four years) who just buy more offense, and that just offsets anything the other teams try to do to compete. And they somehow win with one of the Weaver brothers on their roster. Who knew?
1. Los Angeles Angles of Anahiem (93-69)
Despite adding Torii Hunter and Jon Garland the Angels only real loss was that of two-time Gold Glover Orlando Cabrera. Let's start with pitching. The Angeles starting rotation consists of 4 solid starters in Lackey, Garland, Weaver, and Escobar. This rotation should give other teams trouble as long as Garland and Escobar can be productive. Look for Lackey and Weaver to have successful seasons. The bullpen is pretty solid as well. One of the best MLB has to offer, Francisco Rodriguez will be closing out games this season. Setting him up will be Shields, Spier, and Oliver, along with a few others. With little change in the bullpen from last year to this year, it is smart to say that the bullpen should be in about the same shape as last year, good. The Angles also have a dominent offense with lots of speed. Although HR's aren't as easy to come by in LA, the consistent on base production should carry them along. Chone Figgens and Casey Kotchman look to have good seasons. Let's also mention the Angeles outfield, which could be one of the best in the league. You have Anderson in LF, Hunter in CF, and Vlad in LF. Not to mention the Angeles DH Matthews who can be used as a utility OF. Angeles will have to battle the Mariners for First Place in the West, but I see the Angeles coming out on top.
Key Addition: Torii Hunter
2. Seattle Mariners (89-73)
The Colorado Rockies were last year's "dangerous when hot" team, and this year the Seattle Mariners could very well inherit that crown. It's not like they don't have the pieces to do that either. Because they most certainly do. Their rotation can be one of the most dangerous in the league, as each of this year's starters finished 2007 with at least 10 wins. Erik Bedard finished fourth in the league in strikeouts and he missed an entire month of the season. Felix Hernandez is going to be 22 this year and if he continues to improve at this rate he could have a viable shot at 300 career wins. Carlos Silva ate the AL West for breakfast last season (5-1, 16 earned runs, 25k, 10bb), and both Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista can be counted on for a handful of strong starts this season. The bullpen will be the big question this season for the M's. Yes they have one of the best closers in the game in J.J. Putz. The big problem is in who is going to get the team to that point. Aside from Putz, Seattle's bullpen is very young and inexperienced. There are three guys who could appear in this bullpen (Sean White, Brandon Morrow, Jon Huber) that their entire Major League careers combined have only appeared in 100 games. Both Eric O'Flaherty and Sean Green appeared in over 50 games last season, although that was the first 50+ game season for either reliever. Add in to that mix Mark Lowe, coming off arm surgery and only 15 appearances in 2007. Offensive production should be in abundence from a lineup that includes Johjima, Beltre, Betancourt, Lopez, Sexson, Ibanez, Suzuki, Vidro, and Wilkerson all proven players at the MLB level. Expect them to bang out runs on large orders this season. IF the Angeles don't live up to expectations, and IF the Seattle bullpen can be a little productive, the M's have a shot at the division, but I see them coming up short.
Key Addition: Erik Bedard
3. Texas Rangers (71-91)
The Texas Rangers will be in a heated battle all season long with the A's to avoid being the last place team in the division. If the Rangers want to go anywhere though they need to stay healthy. The Rangers come into the season with a rotation that suffered through injuries all of last year. Jason Jennings is coming off of elbow surgery; Vincente Padilla, Brandon McCarthy, and Kevin Millwood all spent time on the disabled list; and Kason Gabbard (who'll have to return to Boston Red Sox form) wasn't allowed to finish out the season due to arm troubles. If they stay healthy, can this rotation be strong. The answer is Yes, but it is a big IF we are talking about. Kevin Millwood will be the returning ace to this staff, but there's something about him you may not know. Yes, he was 10-14 last year with a 5.16 ERA. Yes, his hamstring was hurting him at the beginning of the season. Yes, he's started kickboxing. (OK, you may not have known that either depending on who you are.) But the interesting thing about Kevin Millwood? The way he bounces back from sub .500 years. In his career Millwood has finished at or below .500 for a season four times including last season. In two of the seasons after, Millwood finished better than .500 (in 2001 he only pitched in 21 games and finished at .500), threw more than 200 innings, won more than 15 games, and struck out more than 150 batters. The bullpen will be a question for the Rangers, but not a question of how good it will be. That comes later, as right now the Rangers have to answer who will be in the bullpen. Reading through the previews, there could be somewhere around 16 pitchers competing for the three remaining spots in the bullpen. Rather than getting into all 16 of them, here are the four players who are staring roster spots square in the eyes, while each competing for the spot of closer. Joaquin Benoit, Kazuo Fukumori, CJ Wilson, and Eddie Guardado will be sure shots for the bullpen. The ever changing outfield will consist of Byrd, Bradley, and Hamilton, with Catalanatto and Murphey as outstanding backups. Their infield is solid with Young, Kinsler, Blalock, and Broussard leading the charge.
Key Addition: Kazuo Fukumori
4. Oakland Athletics (69-93)
Well, the Moneyball theorem is hard at work again in Oakland this year. Just like Mark Mulder, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Barry Zito, and Tim Hudson before them, expensive (and soon-to-be expensive) veterans such as Nick Swisher, Marco Scutaro, Dan Haren, and Mark Kotsay were shipped out of town via trades, and Shannon Stewart, Mike Piazza, and Jeff DaVanon were left to determine their own destinies. Nothing out of the ordinary here the A's do this every three or four years. To start, their outfield is comprised of three relatively untested players-Chris Denorfia, Travis Buck, and Emil Brown. Chris Denorfia has only 144 career at-bats in the Majors, Travis Buck is a second-year pro who had a fairly productive rookie year (a .288 average is something most hitters can only dream of), and Emil Brown has been to seven different MLB organizations. After 619 games elsewhere (.262 career average, 46 homers, and 261 RBI) he is back with the team that drafted him. Throw into that Ryan Sweeney (who's seen even less major league time than Denorfia or Buck) and you've got an inexperienced outfield who'll have to learn on the fly from no one except themselves. The infield consists of Chavez (starting the season injured), Hannahan (replacing Chavez for now), Crosby, Ellis, Barton, and Suzuki behind the plate. Descent, but not great. Joe Blanton and Rich Harden are the one/two combination at the top of Oakland's rotation this year. The rub however? Neither has started more than 100 games in their careers. This doesn't sound like much until you notice that the only team that compares with the A's in that respect is non other than the Tampa Bay Rays. The rotation is filled out with Chad Gaudin and Jason Duchescherer...erererer who are both coming off injuries, while the fifth rotation spot is being filled by Lenny DiNardo. Not the best 5-Man if you ask me. On to the bullpen. The bullpen will be lead by a great closer in Houston Street (who blew a save against Boston in Japan this morning) followed by Casilla, Lugo, Embree, Calero, Meyer, and Blevins. Look for this team to battle Texas for 3rd place, but come up short because of their lack of experience.
Key Addition: Emil Brown
That concludes my MLB Predictions. If you disagree with anything please note in the comments section. Thanks and enjoy!