The AL West is the abused cousin of the league. OK, bad metaphor. But the division has two clear-cut good teams and two not so good. I don’t like how Anaheim stacks up against Seattle, who for some reason, I see as a runaway favorite. They have a balanced lineup and great pitching. Batters up, Great Northwest.
1. Seattle Mariners
I’m laying it down â€” the Mariners will run away with the AL this regular season. The offense is the same, middle-of-the-road group. Ichiro has another year or two left in the tank, as does Jose Vidro. If Raul Ibanez and Adrian Beltre can put together big seasons again, this team is strong. They’re solid top to bottom and carry a so-so- bench. The strength is the rotation, with addition Erik Bedard joining ready-to-break Felix Hernandez. Carlos Silva isn’t a bad addition and should win double-digit games. JJ Putz was the best closer in baseball last season; that could change, but he’ll still be good. The bullpen is a little suspect, but not enough to do them in. A big-time 1-2 coupled with a heavy offense in a bad division makes them the best of the AL.
Predicted Finish: 99-63
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
I just don’t see it with the Angels. They added Torii Hunter to join Vladimir Guerrero, and that’s enough to drive home Chone Figgins 110 times. Gary Matthews, while having a surreal 2006, should be better than 2007 this time around. The bench is fine and should make up for a tough bottom of the order. But around Vlad, Torii and Chone isn’t enough to compete with bigger offenses. John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar are out for a while, and that bodes poorly. They’ll need Jered Weaver to pick up the slack; if he does, they could drop into the playoffs. The bullpen isn’t bad, but if you take out Francisco Rodriguez, it has no gusto.
Predicted Finish: 87-75
3. Texas Rangers
The most faceless team in the AL for a decade now, the Rangers are the same as ever. It’s a good lineup â€” Ian Kinsler is a nice 2B option, while Michael Young is always solid. Hank Blalock is poised for a bounce-back year. Watch Josh Hamilton swat balls like Zeus. 40 HR is not out of the question. Pitching is not a strong suit. Led by former Phillies (Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla), expect mediocrity to reign. The bullpen is led by new closer CJ Wilson, who is as good as counterpart Joaquin Benoit. Both are OK. Overall, it’s a good offense and a horrible staff. Not the best mix in the American League.
Predicted Finish: 75-87
4. Oakland Athletics
The A’s dumped Dan Haren and might drop Joe Blanton. Meanwhle, the offense is without personality. Jack Cust is a big hitter but more AAA than A’s. Kurt Suzuki is the one to watch â€” has a top bat and can rake doubles. Injuries plague this group, ask Bobby Crosby. They’ll have good pitching, as always, and look for Rich Harden to have a great return in 2008. There’ll be another big pitching star â€” maybe Justin Duchscherer. Get ready for Gio Gonzalez mania. The bullpen is Huston Street â€” who blows more than he saves â€” and two old Red Sox retreads: Foulke and Embree. Nothing good here. They’ll lose enough this year; next year they’re going to be well improved.
Predicted Finish: 72-90