Wednesday, March 27, 2013

MLB Preview / A.L. West


Entering the 2012 MLB Season, the Oakland Athletics were not expected to do anything, the A's even took a chance and signed Manny Ramirez, inviting him to Spring Training since the team was lacking offense. The Rangers were coming off back-to-back World Series appearances & were being squared off to defend their division title against the other predicted playoff team in the Los Angeles Angels, after their big signings of Albert Pujols & C.J. Wilson. The Angels and Albert Pujols were slow out of the gates, and the Oakland Athletics looked dead in the water, until showing some life around the All-Star Break, they would start catching life and would make an impressive run to take the division title from the Rangers on the last day. Rookie Mike Trout puts together a historic season, but the Angels fall short of the playoffs, now they have Trout for an entire season. The Mariners didn't do anything, and now have a little extra company with the Houston Astros moving to the American League, and Houston is where we will start...

Houston's new (yet old) look for new league in 2013, got all that?


Okay, I can't resist... but Houston, we have a problem... in fact a bunch of problems going on here. For one thing they have moved to the American League, which will be an adjustment, a good one after a good deal of time I believe, even though I really didn't understand why have both Texas teams in one league (not to mention, same division) or why Milwaukee moved in the first place? It's all a can of worms that with all the variables & reasons, there will likely never be a clear way -- it's done now, anyways... it's going to be an interesting, weird season for the Astros.

We start with their breakout year from Jose Altuve, he is their second baseman & lead-off man in the lineup, he batted .290, 7 HR & 37 RBI's while swiping 33 bases for the Stros. Ronny Cedeno will be Altuve's double-play partner, after trading away Jed Lowrie to Oakland, signing Cedeno to a one-year deal.
It's really weird saying, the Astros signed Designated Hitter Carlos Pena, he has been inconsistent his entire career, especially when it comes down to batting average -- A career .234 hitter who has not hit higher than .227 since his .247 AVG in 2008! He'll likely hit the long-ball though, averaging 32 HRs per 162 games for his career. Justin Maxwell actually led Houston with 18 HR's & was second on the team with 53 ribbies. Chris Carter, acquired from Oakland (with Brad Peacock for Jed Lowrie) will have the ability to show off his power, he had 16 HR's for the Athletics (which Minute Maid Park better suits his power than Oakland's dimensions). J.D. Martinez, who showed promise in 2011, and led the team in RBI in 2012 was sent down to the minors. Brett Wallace needs to capitalize off his improvement last season, showing signs he may be finally turning that corner.

Bud Norris will be the "ace" of the Astros, even though his 4.41 ERA over the last 3 seasons dictates otherwise. Lucas Harrell went 11-11, with a 3.76 ERA as a rookie last season, as Jordan Lyles set career marks as a 21-year-old during 2012. Phillip Humber, might finally find a home at... well home, he's a native Texan, who will get plenty of time and starts for the Astros. The team added Erik Bedard in the off-season, if he can stay healthy and lower his ERA, it will help Houston's causes. The former Indian draft pick, Rockie prospect Alex White (originally acquired in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade) was acquired by Houston with another pitching prospect in exchange for Wilton Lopez; he'll either get a shot at a rotation spot or the bullpen, control issues haunts White. The team also acquired prospect Brad Peacock from Oakland as well, he could possibly start or be in the bullpen mix as well. The closer will be Jose Veras, he has plenty of experience, with 327 games under his belt (only 5 career saves). Josh Fields was the #1 overall pick in the Rule 5 draft, going 4-3, 2.01 ERA & 78 K's in the minors last year. Wesley Wright is projected as the set-up man, who is coming off a career-high 77 relief appearances. The Astros will see plenty of work from Xavier Cedeno and Hector Ambriz, while Fernando Rodriguez and Rhiner Cruz look to fix some issues.

Best Moves: No real big moves, they traded Jed Lowrie & Wilton Lopez that landed three new pitching prospects, a catching prosepct & Chris Carter (who will replace Lowrie's pop). I find it funny that Lowrie who was one of the leaders on the team with 16 HR's & 42 RBI's & J.D. Martinez (who led the team in RBI) are both not on the opening day roster (Martinez sent to minors). Plus, does a uniform change be counted as one of their best moves?

Worst Moves: It's really difficult to do anything worse with what they got, they sold and traded everything they possibly could have in the past few seasons, the Astros will basically be the equivalent of an expansion team.

Best Possible Outcome: Fourth Place, but it won't happen -- the Mariners would have to muck things up really bad this season to finish lower than Houston.

Worst Possible Outcome: Competing for the worst record in MLB history?

Is this Heaven? For most Angels fans, it must certainly feel like that.


The sky is the limit, and the Angels are coming into the 2013 season feeling pretty good, after the bitter taste of failure was left in their mouths by the end of the 2012 season. A sluggish start for Albert Pujols and the team for that matter, led to some amazing finds though -- and a new leader. The franchise player and future is Mike Trout, who will be on a mission to win the Most Valuable Player award, and possibly will flirt with the 40/40 club. He batted .326, 30 HR & 83 RBI, 129 runs & 49 steals in 559 at-bats! Pujols despite his slow start, still managed to hit at least 30 HR's & 100 RBI's (105), he only had 5 RBI's in his first 27 games last season. The Angels added Josh Hamilton to a similar huge contract like Pujols, personally I think Josh Hamilton is depreciating, even though he happened to stay healthy (for the most part) last season, but his K rate started going through the roof; Hamilton still brings a big bat to the lineup regardless with his 43 HR's & 128 RBI, and to sign him away from a tough division rival is always a plus! The team recently got rid of Vernon Wells' ridiculous contract, so however Hamilton & Pujols goes down in Angels' history, their contracts won't sting as much now with Wells gone. Howard Kendrick will bat in the second slot that benefited Torii Hunter's rebound 2012 season this year. I think Mike Trumbo should bounce back from his second-half slide, if so, that will be a dangerous 1-5 in the lineup, while his teammate Erick Aybar finished the season hot. Albert Callaspo's .664 OPS is incredibly weak coming from the hot corner. The team will be rolling with a weak bench.

Jered Weaver has now been in the hunt for the A.L. Cy Young Award, the past three seasons. He posted a 20-5 record, 2.81 ERA & 142 K's in 188.2 innings. The Angels hope to be getting what they paid for in C.J. Wilson, blaming bone chips as a cause for his second-half slide; Wilson still posted a 13-10 record & 3.83 ERA, but had a 5.54 ERA during his last 16 starts. Tommy Hanson comes over with the same results in record as Wilson did for 2012, but with a higher 4.48 ERA -- Hanson's health is starting to be a concern, who once (just two seasons) ago had huge potential, maybe that's why the Braves didn't ask for much in return. Joe Blanton & Jason Vargas make up good fourth & fifth starters for the Angels. Garrett Richards will spend 2013 in the bullpen, and a spot starter for the Angels.

Ryan Madson will close games out for the Angels in 2013, who missed the entire 2012 season due to injuries; Madson saved 32 games for the Phillies in 2011. The Angels bullpen needs to step it up, after leading the A.L. with 47 blown saves during the stretch of the last two seasons! Ernesto Frieri, the setup man was virtually untouchable for his first 26 innings after the Angels acquired him from San Diego (Oh did I mention he also had 23 saves for the halos in that short time?). Sean Burnett will be a lefty specialist, who lefties could only hit a weak .211 off of him, while Burnett posted a 2.38 ERA during 57 strong innings for Washington last season. Burnett is also extra insurance for the Scott Downs situation, Downs still managed a 3.11 ERA while suffering through shoulder issues. Kevin Jepsen posted a 3.02 ERA, while striking out 38 & walking 12 in 44.2 innings, who seems to be on the right track back from his knee issues. So the forecast looks like the Angels' bullpen situation may be at it's best in years, we'll have to see how that all translates.

Best Move: Despite a hefty contract, Josh Hamilton was the big fish reeled in -- while sticking it to the Texas Rangers & unloading Vernon Wells' contract!

Worst Move: Some veteran bats on the bench would have helped, especially if something was to happen to one of the big studs (Pujols, Trout or Hamilton). They do have the money to throw around.

Best Possible Outcome: A World Championship of course, nothing short of a playoff birth.

Worst Possible Outcome: Missing the playoffs, which will certainly spell doom for Mike Scioscia. Tensions arose between GM Jerry DiPoto and Scioscia after the rocky start to the 2012 season, which eventually cost Mickey Hatcher (Hitting Coach) his job. Regardless of what happens, expect the Angels to go for Robinson Cano (in a bidding war with Detroit & New York) next! Arte Moreno (owner) will do what it takes to take the Angels to the top.

Party Crashers? Oakland may be even better in 2013.


Expect the possibility of 'Moneyball 2' after one of the most amazing runs in baseball history transpired during the last few months of the 2012 season, making me really curious what those Vegas odds were for the Athletics before the season started. They made the playoffs despite posting a .238 batting average, the lowest for a playoff team since the 1972 Detroit Tigers (who batted .237)! The team will return in 2013 with nearly the entire roster that made their impressive run.

The Athletics' offense really hinges on their solid outfield of Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes & Josh Reddick, who cover a lot of ground, they have some depth with Seth Smith & DH-Chris Young. Young is trying to find his way back from losing his way in Arizona, a change of scenery could be a huge lift for his bat. Brandon Moss finally flashed the talent that his former teams were seeking from him, posting a .291 average, 21 HR's & 52 RBI in only 265 at-bats! He'll have to show the A's that it was no fluke, for Oakland to have a shot at the playoffs again. Jed Lowrie will be a big step up from Josh Donaldson's bat (.289 OBP) & on defense; Lowrie hit 16 HR's in 340 at-bats. Scott Sizemore, who missed the entire 2012 season, will be the second baseman despite a tough spring. Replacing Stephen Drew will be Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima, who signed a two-year deal with Oakland; Nakajima hit .302 with four seasons of 20+ Home Runs in Japan, which never guarantees success -- which may make room for Adam Rosales and Eric Sogard. Jemile Weeks, one of the few bright spots in 2011 for Oakland, was a mega disappointment in 2012 (batting only .221 in 444 at-bats)!

The rookie pitchers set a MLB record of 53 pitching victories! Led by former first-rounder, ex-Diamond Back Jarrod Parker, who sported a 13-8 record & 3.47 ERA while striking out 140 in 181.1 innings. The team's ace Brett Anderson returns, looking ready to go with no setbacks so far; he only had 6 starts in 2012, but went 4-2 with a 2.57 ERA with 25 K's in 35 IP. Tommy Milone makes a durable #3 with a 13-10 record & 3.74 ERA in 190+ innings, he should be able to repeat his performance in 2013. Bartolo Colon will return from his 50-game PED suspension, if he struggles he will be replaced by Dan Straily who led the minors with 190 strikeouts, who also posted a 3.89 ERA in 7 starts down the stretch for Oakland. A.J. Griffin on paper had a good rookie year, 7-1, 3.06 ERA, 64 K & 19 BB in 82.1 innings -- but slumped with a 7.21 ERA during last four starts of the season.

Oakland have three solid relievers at the top in closer Grant Balfour (24 SV, 2.53 ERA), Ryan Cook (14 SV, 2.09 ERA) & Sean Doolittle (3.04 ERA, 60 K in 47.1 IP), while adding Chris Resop from Pittsburgh, who is coming off a career-high 73.2 innings, while posting a 3.91 ERA & Travis Blackley who was 6-4, 3.86 ERA & 69 K's in 102.2 innings (15 starts). Pat Neshek in a limited role had a 1.37 ERA in 19.2 innings! Plus lets not forget, lefty Jerry Blevins and his 2.48 ERA, 54 K's, 1.07 WHIP in 65.1 innings.

Best Move: Chris Young could be a good move, if he is to rebound towards his better seasons. Brett Anderson, is not a move, but a full season from him would be a welcoming addition. Versatile Jed Lowrie is a good move as well -- he needs to stay healthy.

Worst Move: No bad moves, Stephen Drew seemed to have anchored everything down at shortstop, it's now up to Nakajima, if not there is plenty of options to bounce around with on the roster.

Best Possible Outcome: The A.L. West title is always possible after last season's success, I think Oakland has even a better team this season -- but I really feel it's the Angels' division in 2013. Wild Card is most likely in this division, the West could support 3 playoff teams in 2013, if the Jays or Rays stumble badly in the A.L. East.

Worst Possible Outcome: Oakland even in recent "down" years, usually don't win less than 76 games... usually floating around the .500 mark, which is pretty impressive (and speaks loudly about their backbone -- pitching) since they are a small market team.

*** Plus one more note, let's just take a moment and give their fans a big standing ovation, these are true fans that believe when no one else believes, they are faithful throughout the season (take note Marlins & Rays fans)!

King Felix can't do it alone, apparently M's abandoned the rotation.


The Mariners enter their first full-season without Ichiro Suzuki, and it's more evident when you look at the roster and wonder who's the leader of this group. Sure, you can give Felix Hernandez that title, but I always feel that the captain should be a position player, a guy that's in the lineup, day-in & day-out. Dustin Ackley is the future, but batted only .226 last year (while dealing with bone spurs); while DH/C- Jesus Montero might also have a chance to become that guy, with his 15 HR's (but he needs to step it up against right-handers!). The Mariners moving in the corner fences may help the offense, but will it really make that much of a difference for the bats of Brendan Ryan (.194), Robert Andino (.211), Mike Carp (.213), Justin Smoak (.217), Alex Liddi (.224) & Casper Wells (.228)? Wells may be the most promising of the group with 10 HR's in 285 at-bats, and that's not saying much when he batted only .195 vs. righties! Andino's addition to the M's is definitely a step up from Munenori Kawasaki. Smoak showed some possible, positive signs in September, but then again... haven't we been down this road before?! Overall, Smoak has been a huge dud. Jason Bay's addition to the M's may be good for both Seattle & Bay, low-market pressure can only help Bay get back to relevance. Mike Morse is the closest thing the lineup has to a star, but is he a leader? The late-career bloomer made a name for himself in Washington, but now returns to Seattle where he never quite took off, and although the fences are moved in at Safeco Field, it's still predicted to be a pitcher-friendly park, which is not good news for people that have Morse on their fantasy baseball team. The Mariners also added veteran Endy Chavez in case Bay or Franklin Gutierrez don't pan out. Kyle Seager was a pleasant surprise and 2012 contributor, who according to scouts is only supposed to get better; Seager batted .259, 20 HR's & 86 RBI during his first full season, and is only 25. The Mariners traded Jason Vargas to the Angels for somewhat comeback player Kendrys Morales, who batted .273, 22 HR & 73 RBI in 484 at-bats -- his OPS was really good the last two months of the season, which is a great sign, plus Morales' addition means less Smoak (which is good)! The problem is Morales has a history of injuries. Raul Ibanez had impressive moments in the playoffs & carried it over into the Spring, this is Ibanez's third stint with Seattle, it would be fitting if he ends his career there as well.

With the additions to the lineup, you have to wonder why they are letting the rotation (which used to keep them in games) go to waste. The only good pitcher they have is Felix Hernandez, who showed some troubling signs by posting a 0-4 record & 6.64 ERA from September 1st onward. They traded Vargas, and then resigned Hisashi Iwakuma to a 2-year, $14 million deal based solely on Iwakuma's second-half of 2012 -- after that, we have a bit of mess! The Mariners have plenty of young arms to choose from in Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez & Hector Noesi; Ramirez posted a 2.86 ERA in September. They also have prospects in the farm system to fill their needs, and may need to come up sooner than later. The M's took a flyer on former Tiger Jeremy Bonderman, whose career had been in the crossroads (actually off the road since 2010); his best season was 2006 in which he helped lead the Tigers to the post-season for the first time since 1987. During 2006, he was second in strikeouts for a right-hander with 202 K's with a career-low ERA of 4.08 (and has a career ERA of 4.89).

The bullpen is definitely more promising than the rotation, which is good since they are going to probably log many innings. Short in experience, but big potential with youngsters Carter Capps & Stephen Pryor with second-year closer Tom Wilhelmsen lead the group. The M's resigned former starting pitcher Oliver Perez who will be a good veteran to lean on. The pen is southpaw-heavy, leaving plenty of room for a trade down the stretch.

Best Move: Addition of better bats in Mike Morse, Kendrys Morales & Raul Ibanez, teamed up with the possible emergence of Ackley, Montero, and Seager -- will make the lineup better.

Worst Move: Actually was during the 2011 season, in which they traded Doug Fister to the Tigers, for 2012... I would say definitely not addressing the rotation needs.

Best Possible Outcome: Fourth place, I don't see them passing Oakland or Texas. It's a good thing they have Houston to do worse in their division.

Worst Possible Outcome: If they land lower than Houston, than all hell broke loose -- which means they need to fire GM Jack Zduriencik, who I find to be a little too wishy-washy! He is now in year #5 at the helm.

The Rangers will certainly be in the A.L. mix in 2013, led by Adrian Belte.


The Rangers now enter 2013 with even fewer guys that played huge parts in their back-to-back American League Championships of 2010 & 2011; Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson & life-long franchise icon Michael Young are all gone. Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz who played big parts as well, are nursing injuries. Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, David Murphy, Nelson Cruz & Adrian Beltre all return -- but not without question marks. 

Ian Kinsler will start again at second, coming off a so-so year of .256, 19 HRs & 72 RBI's with 21 steals; while his double-play partner Elvis Andrus had more of a productive season (minus the pop), batting .286, 85 runs & 21 steals with 180 hits. An interesting factor will be the big-time prospect Jurickson Profar, who is knocking on the door -- he'll start the season in Triple-A most likely, but if Texas's season goes south, expect Texas to make some possible moves; Andrus is a free agent after 2014, and will most likely test the market. Kinsler may see some time at first base, to get Profar into the lineup, if Mitch Moreland continues to struggle with injuries & southpaws. Adrian Beltre is coming off back-to-back big years. Nelson Cruz dealt with injuries (.260, 24, 90), and enters a contract year in 2013. The Rangers bring in two notable veterans in catcher A.J. Pierzynski, coming off one of the best years of his career, batting .278, 27 HR's & 77 RBI's; the other is the addition of Lance Berkman, which for Rangers fans would be great if he can do for them what he did for St. Louis in 2011 -- first thing's first, he needs to stay healthy. Mike Olt hit 28 HR's at Double-A, and is one to look out for in 2013.

The rotation will be durable, I think Yu Darvish will break the mold for Asian pitchers, who usually get figured out -- he may be the real deal, so better numbers might be in the forecast. He posted 221 K's in 191.1 innings with a 16-9 record & 3.90 ERA! Matt Harrison is coming off a career year (18 wins), making it now back-to-back productive seasons. Alexi Ogando, I feel is a smart move to put back in the rotation, they should have kept him there in the first place before getting the crazy idea of making Neftali Feliz, a starting pitcher (which cost them big time!); Ogando was a All-Star with a 13-8 record & 3.51 ERA in 169 innings during 2011. Feliz, was one of the best closers in all of baseball, and just like most of these teams (Yankees with Chamberlain & now the Reds with Chapman) they get greedy, and make the flamethrowers starters, and it always costs them one way or another-- Feliz returns mid-season back to the pen, recovering from Tommy John. Derek Holland can never stay consistent, but maybe it's Arlington's ballpark; Holland has a 3.50 ERA & 1.17 WHIP on the road -- compared to a 5.14 ERA & 1.42 WHIP at home, the last two seasons! The Rangers' top pitching prospect Martin Perez (21) was supposed to hold down the 5th spot for Colby Lewis, until injuring his wrist -- Nick Tepesch is slated to take over for now. Lewis, was actually having a better year in 2012 than his breakout year of 2010, with career lows in ERA & WHIP (through 16 starts).

Joe Nathan showed that he is still one of the better closers in the game, bouncing back to the form that left us in 2009 with 37 saves & 2.80 ERA (78 K's in 64.1 IP). Jason Frasor, acquired from Toronto will serve as the primary setup man until former Royal Joakim Soria returns from Tommy John surgery. Soria, was a force in KC from 2007 to 2011, in which he logged 160 Saves. Tanner Scheppers has potential, but needs to tone down the hits, he had a whopping 1.73 WHIP that contributed to his 4.45 ERA in 32.1 innings of work during his rookie year last season. Michael Kirkman was productive (3.82 ERA, 38 K's & 1.16 WHIP in 35.1 IP) last year, can he repeat this over a full 2013 season?

Best Moves: Adding A.J. Pierzynski, who can play an entire season for a catcher, will be a huge plus -- considering how much a mess the catcher position has been for the Rangers.

Worst Moves: It's never easy letting a franchise icon like Michael Young go, I understand the move, it's all still crowded with Jurickson Profar emerging -- but the team will certainly miss his leadership, bat & class.

Best Possible Outcome: They have a shot at the division title, making the playoffs with Neftali Feliz & Joakim Soria returning as legit forces in the bullpen.

Worst Possible Outcome: The team was already aging, and now added more years with Berkman & Pierzynski, the time is now to win a title -- but they were caught once by Oakland, it could certainly happen again!

1. Los Angeles Angels
2. Texas Rangers*
3. Oakland Athletics
4. Seattle Mariners
5. Houston Astros

* - Wild Card Team

NEXT: The National League East

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