MLB Season Preview: A.L. West
by Robert Ferringo - 03/25/2008
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
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.
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.
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.
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.