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Thursday, April 14, 2011

2011 MLB Predictions: AL West

Hamilton looks up after attempting to set the record for highest infield pop-fly.

Texas Rangers
Best Player: Josh Hamilton was last year's MVP.  I think it's safe to say he's the best player on the team.
Best Pitcher: Neftali Feliz. Another team whose best pitcher is a reliever. They toyed with making him a starter in spring training but decided not to fix what's not broken.
Biggest off-season move:  Tired of Michael Young's "defense" in the infield, the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre and his gold glove to man the hot corner.  Young is now the team's utility player and DH.
Biggest off-season loss: When Cliff Lee bolted for Philly, the Rangers lost their only stud starter.
Biggest Questions:
1. Can the rotation hold up well enough for the Rangers to repeat as division champs?  As I stated earlier, Cliff Lee was a big game pitcher for this team.  They hope CJ Wilson wasn't a flash in the pan and that Derek Holland and Scott Feldman can continue to improve.
2. Will Josh Hamilton stay healthy enough to play a full season?  We already know the answer to this question is no as Hamilton broke his arm this week.  Hamilton's only managed to play 135 games one time in his career.
3. Will Michael Young be happy in his new role? I doubt he is but will he keep his mouth shut and produce enough to be around when Texas plays in October? He already voiced his displeasure in the off-season about being replaced but the guy needs to look in the mirror and see he's not the player he was even three seasons ago.
Expectations: Texas' offense should finish in the top three in runs scored in the American League. The bullpen will be decent enough as long as Feliz is used as needed, but the major question is with the starters. I imagine they'll do just fine as Texas makes it back to the playoffs and possibly the World Series.
Opening day lineup:
1. Kinsler 2B
2. Andrus SS
3. Hamilton LF
4. Beltre 3B
5. Young DH
6. Cruz RF
7. Napoli 1B
8. Torrealba C
9. Borbon CF
SP CJ Wilson

Oakland Athletics
Best Player: David DeJesus
Best Pitcher: Brett Anderson
Biggest off-season move: There are several to choose from here but I think the single move that will pay the most dividends is getting DeJesus. He's no superstar but he does a lot of things well and his skill set should translate nicely to Oakland's large park.
Biggest off-season loss: The A's lost a couple of role players but losing Jack Cust is probably the most noticeable loss. Cust was the only serious power threat on the team though many feel his best days are behind him.
Biggest Questions:
1. Can they hit enough? Gone are Rajai Davis and Jack Cust with Ryan Sweeney moving to the bench. In come Josh Willingham and David DeJesus. Daric Barton needs to build off last season's breakout and Kurt Suzuki will need to rebound as well if this team is going to finish in the top half in runs scored.
2. How good is the rotation, really?  Brett Anderson is a near elite performer when healthy. Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill had excellent seasons in 2010 when you take into account their ages and even Dallas Braden threw a perfect game.  That being said regression is possible if Anderson is injured again, Cahill's BABIP numbers aren't sustainable, and Gonzalez's improvements in control were not permanent.
3. Will the A's look to sign their young players during the season or not as it becomes more and more apparent a move to San Jose is not happening in the near future?  Billy Beane and owner Lew Wolff have been trying, pleading with California and Major League Baseball to allow them to move pronto. Unfortunately, no news is not good news for the A's.  If they don't see a revenue boost in the near future the team may continue its cycle of trading established players for prospects.
Expectations: This team is a lot like the Giants of 2009.  The pitching will be excellent and the defense should be good also. However, the offense will be maddeningly inconsistent. There's very little power on this team and not a lot of speed either. Expect a lot of low-scoring games which could go either way but with the best bullpen in baseball reaching the playoffs is the goal.
Opening day lineup:
1. Crisp CF
2. Barton 1B
3. DeJesus RF
4. Willingham LF
5. Matsui DH
6. Suzuki C
7. Ellis 2B
8. Kouzmanoff 3B
9. Pennington SS
SP Trevor Cahill

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Orange County, California, United States of America
Best Player: Kendrys Morales. This team really lost all hope in contending when Morales broke his leg and was out for the season.
Best Pitcher: Dan Haren and Jered Weaver form a nice 1-2 punch but I'd give the edge to Haren.
Biggest off-season move:  Trading Mike Napoli for Vernon Wells was a bit of a head scratcher considering LAA must pay his entire salary but he'll help the outfield.
Biggest off-season loss: Juan Rivera's right-handed bat was a nice bench option. I can't think of any other losses off the top of my head.
Biggest Questions:
1. Is this team finished as a contender? Mike Scoscia is one of the best managers in baseball, consistently enabling his team to exceed their Pythagorean record. As is such, the outfield on this team is old, the best hitter is coming off a career threatening leg injury, and the bullpen is not nearly what it was several years ago. As long as Haren and Weaver pitch well the Angels will be tough to beat but they can only pitch two out of every five days and they don't hit.
2. What's wrong with Scott Kazmir?  Tampa Bay traded Kazmir because he was about to get expensive. Now Anaheim has an expensive pitcher who appears to be at a complete loss of where his stuff went.
3. Why does this team refuse to pay over x dollars for a free agent and then go and trade for Vernon Wells and his huge contract? This makes no sense. Would you rather have Carl Crawford roaming the outfield for $20 million per over the next four years or Wells at the same price? The answer is obvious to most of us.
Expectations: The Angels will still beat very good teams on some nights and may put together a couple of months where people start to take them seriously as contenders. Don't be fooled. Winning 85 games would be impressive as this team's flaws become more apparent over time.
Opening day lineup:
1. Izturis 3B
2. Kendrick 2B
3. Abreu DH
4. Hunter RF
5. Wells LF
6. Aybar SS
7. Trumbo 1B
8. Mathis C
9. Bourjos CF
SP Jered Weaver

Seattle Mariners
Best Player: Ichiro Ichiro Ichiro.
Best Pitcher: "King" Felix Hernandez.
Biggest off-season move:  Signing Jack Cust was about the only positive addition here. This is not a good ballpark for him though. I'm not a fan of Brendan Ryan regardless of what the manager says.
Biggest off-season loss: Did they lose anyone?
Biggest Questions:
1. Is Justin Smoak any good? When Seattle traded ace Cliff Lee last season they specifically asked for Justin Smoak. Texas obliged as he was only hitting .209/.316/.353 at the time. Well, once he got to Seattle he hit .239/.287/.407; not really an improvement.  He was a top ten prospect prior to last season and he seemed to not lose confidence as his dismal season progressed. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and expect he'll be an above average player as soon as 2012 and possibly a perennial All-Star during his prime.
2. What are the long-term plans for the organization?  Will younger players begin making their debuts as the season goes along or will older, mediocre players continue to play every day for this team? Seattle has a few good prospects (P Michael Pineda, 2b/lf Dustin Ackley) but not nearly enough to see a contender on the horizon. Ichiro can't play forever, guys.
3. Can Ichiro play forever? Obviously no, but now in his eleventh season with ten 200-hit seasons under his belt, the guy continues to produce. His defense remains excellent to go along with his superb baserunning. How long he keeps it up is anyone's guess. He is the most unique player I've ever seen and fun to watch.
Expectations: They should be better than last year but the playoffs are not happening.  The organization likely expects young players to improve (Smoak, Saunders), others to get their feet wet (Pineda, Ackley), and to see who is worthy of extensions when their contracts run out.  I don't have any idea who that is, and frankly neither do the Mariners.
Opening day lineup:
1. Suzuki RF 2. Figgins 3B
3. Bradley LF
4. Cust DH
5. Smoak 1B
6. Olivo C
7. Langerhans CF
8. Ryan SS
9. Wilson 2B
SP Felix Hernandez
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