With Opening Day fast approaching, I will take a look at each of the American and National League Divisions, analyzing why each team could win the division and why they might not. Today, I will start with the American League West.
2017 Record: 101-61, 1st place (won the World Series)
will could win the division: Talent-wise, the defending World Series Champions are still head and shoulders above the rest of the AL West. Their top scoring offense remains mostly intact; the only major piece they lost was Carlos Beltran, who retired last November. The Astros’ lineup is filled with dynamic players like AL MVP Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa. Houston also improved their stellar rotation with the addition of former Pittsburgh Pirate Gerrit Cole. He joins former Cy Young Award winners Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel along with veteran Charlie Morton and young upstart Lance McCullers to form a stingy quintet. The front office also brought in submariner Joe Smith and flamethrower Hector Rondon to fortify the bullpen. This team has a great chance to return to the World Series and are almost a lock to repeat as division champs.
Why they might not: There isn’t much to suggest that the Astros won’t repeat as division champions. The one question mark would probably be the bullpen (16th in relievers ERA in 2017). I also doubt that Verlander will replicate his 1.95 second-half ERA for an entire season. If Verlander regresses and Keuchel pitches like he did in the second half (4.24 ERA), then the Astros might be in a little trouble. If this team struggles, it will be because of the pitching, but even that seems like a stretch.
Final Record: 97-65, 1st (eliminated in the ALDS)
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2017 Record: 80-82, 2nd place
Why they could win the division: Los Angeles (of Anaheim) still has the best baseball player in the world, Mike Trout, on their roster. That’s always a good starting point for any team. Besides Trout, the Angels boast an interesting lineup with some pop. They’ll have a full season of Justin Upton after trading for him at last August. As far as this offseason is concerned, the team signed Japanese pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani. Known for his ability to miss bats (10.3 career K/9) and his home run power (he hit 22 homers in 2016) in Japan, Ohtani should at the very least prop up an L.A. rotation that wasn’t too bad last year (12th in starters ERA). The Angels will also get a full season of Garrett Richards (2.28 ERA in 27.2 innings last year), further bolstering their starting pitching. Combine that with Trout’s presence, and the Angels have enough to compete out west.
Why they might not: Outside of Richards and Ohtani, who are question marks themselves, the Angels’ pitching situation looks shaky. Their other starters project to finish the year with an ERA above 4.00. Their bullpen also got weaker; they replaced Fernando Salas (2.63 ERA) and Yusmeiro Petit (2.76 ERA) with Jim Johnson (5.56 ERA with Atlanta) and Luke Bard (Rule Five pick). The pitching could cost the Angels the division, wasting yet another year of Trout’s prime.
Final Record: 84-78, 2nd (wild card, eliminated in the Wild Card Game)
2017 Record: 75-87, 5th place
Why they could win the division: General Manager Billy Beane shrewdly improved Oakland’s middling offense with the additions of catcher Jonathan Lucroy and Steven Piscotty. With those two joining Khris Davis (43 HR’s last year) and young boppers Matt Olson (34 projected HR’s in 2018) and Matt Chapman (24 HR’s in 59 games) A’s will have little trouble clearing the fences despite playing half of their games in the cavernous Oakland Coliseum. If the other hitters can get on base for the power threats (20th in OBP last year) and if the pitching improves, Oakland could find themselves back in the mix.
Why they might not: The Oakland rotation, which ranked 20th in ERA, features the same arms that struggled for most of 2017. Maybe some of the youngsters will pitch better, but I don’t expect any of them to blossom into staff aces. Good thing Oakland brought in Yusmeiro Petit, Ryan Buchter (2.89 ERA last year) and Emilio Pagan (3.22 ERA) to bolster the bullpen because they might see plenty of action. If the pitching can’t hold up, then it won’t matter how many home runs the A’s hit.
Final Record: 76-86, 5th
2017 Record: 78-84, tied for third
Why they could win the division: The top-heavy Mariners added to their collection of talent when they traded for Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon. The speedy son of Tom “Flash” Gordon will try his hand at centerfield this year (Robinson Cano is still at second). More importantly, Gordon brings some flair to the top of Seattle’s order in a way not seen since Ichiro Suzuki. Speaking of Ichiro, the future Hall-of-Famer returns to the city where he made his name. At 44, he obviously won’t play everyday, but it will still be cool to see him in an M’s uni again. Seattle still has one of the most feared trios in Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager. Their decent bullpen and rotation are still intact as well. Seattle is more than talented enough to compete for the division crown.
Why they might not: The Mariners always look good on paper and they always fall short of their lofty expectations. Cano isn’t the player he once was. Neither is former Cy Yong winner Felix Hernandez. Outside of James Paxton, the starters are pretty mediocre. Seattle is like the AL West version of the Toronto Blue Jays: good, but not great. Good won’t be enough to usurp the Astros.
Final Record: 83-78, 3rd
2017 Record: 78-84, tied for 3rd
Why they could win the division: The Rangers had no problem scoring in 2017, ranking ninth in runs and third in homers. Adrian Beltre continues to defy father time and put up monster numbers (.915 OPS). The rest of the offense features a good mix of power (Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor) and speed (Delino DeShields Jr., Elvis Andrus). If the pitching holds up, Texas could return to the postseason.
Why they might not: This resembles a mid-2000’s Rangers team: lots of offense and no pitching. Cole Hamels headlines the Texas rotation, but he’s far from the pitcher he once was. Retreads like Matt Moore, Doug Fister, and Mike Minor fill out the rest of the Rangers starting staff. Only Minor projects to have an ERA lower than 4.00. The bullpen projections look a little brighter, but this is largely the same group that ranked 28th in ERA and WHIP. I’m not holding my breath. Texas will lose a lot of 10-9 games, especially against their divisional foes.
Final Record: 80-82, 4th
Monday: I will look at the National League East