2013 AL West Preview
The AL West welcomes a new team from Houston this year, and this division that for years housed only four teams, has to be chomping at the bit. The extra team makes little difference, as the Angels, A’s, and Rangers are still the front runners of this division. 2013 will be all about which of these three teams can get the upper hand on each other. Check out the previews for each of the AL West teams by using the tabs below. Each preview has been meticulously prepared by one of the top sports bloggers for each of the respective teams, giving us the best look at how each team is projected to perform in 2013.
[tab name=’HOU Astros’]
The 2013 Houston Astros move to the American League West with a roster designed to win the top overall draft choice for 2014, their third straight top pick. They are following the recent formula of the Tampa Bay Rays and Washington Nationals to suck badly for a few years in order to draft the best prospects, only Jeff Luhnow is raising this to an art form, trading every warm body with major league value in order to infuse what was a low-ranked farm system.
Whoever Luhnow chooses with the first pick this June will instantly become the highest paid player in the organization. Three New York Yankees will make more money this year (Sabathia, Teixeira, Rodriguez) than the entire Houston payroll. The designated hitter they signed this winter batted .197 last season. Need I say more?
The Astros’ key contribution this year may be to get three divisional foes into the playoffs because of the 19 head-to-head encounters each will have against Houston in the new schedule format. Already, AL East fans are whining about that.
[/tab][tab name=’LA Angels’]
This 2013 Angels preview was written by yours truly, because I was unable to find an Angels blogger willing to guest write an article about their team. Maybe better luck next year, eh?
The Angels are following a similar game plan to the one they used prior to the 2012 campaign, but hopefully with better results this time around. Last year, the Los Angeles Angels signed Albert Pujols, the top free agent name on the market. In 2013, the Angels signed Josh Hamilton, arguable the biggest free agent name available this year.
The signing of Hamilton is important for two reasons. One, it strengthens the Angels roster, giving them one of the most potent outfields in the majors (with the possible exception of the Atlanta Braves). Secondly, it weakened an AL West opponent in the Texas Rangers, who were unable to re-sign one of their top producing players after last season. This signing is likely the biggest reason why the Angels are favorites to win the AL West in 2013.
Below is the Angels probable lineup on opening day.
And here is their probable starting rotation
There’s no doubt that hitting for power is the primary strength of the Angels in 2013. Mike Trout, Hamilton and Pujols each have the ability to hit over 30 home runs while maintaining a batting average over .300 – and we wouldn’t be surprised if all three of them did it this year, with all the protection they afford each other in the lineup.
The Angels aren’t all about power, however, which makes their lineup even that much more potent. They have speed and consistent on-base ability up and down the lineup, giving the LA Angels the ability to score as many runs as we’ve seen any team score in the past decade.
If the Angels have any glaring weaknesses, they come in the starting pitching rotation. Jered Weaver is a solid number one starter, but beyond him, there are quite a few blanks and question marks. CJ Wilson is returning from elbow surgery and Tommy Hanson is having trouble regaining the velocity he once had prior to his injury. Overall, the starting rotation won’t be under too much pressure to keep opponents from scoring runs, especially with the potent ability of their offense to outscore anyone, but pitching still wins in the offseason and this team lacks depth in the rotation.
While many have the Angels as favorites to win the AL West, they won’t be able to just walk on the field and collect their crown. They still need great production out of their big three (Hamilton, Pujols, Trout), and they still need the Rangers and Oakland Athletics to perform at or below expectations. There’s no reason why this team couldn’t win the division, but they still need to start hot and take control early.
[/tab][tab name=’OAK Athletics’]
This A’s preview is brought to you by Kelly from AthleticsforLife.net. Stay up to date on everything happening in the Oakland organization by following her blog or Twitter account @Athletics4Life. Enjoy!
The Oakland Athletics were a team that shocked the world in 2012. Predicted by many pundits to lose 100 games and come in last in the A.L. West, the A’s turned the tables on those notions and not only contended for the playoffs, but knocked off the defending A.L. West champion Texas Rangers for the division title on the final day of the season.
The big question as the A’s head into 2013 is, was last year flash in the pan, or are they contenders to defend their division title?
The A’s were not going to be able to add a guy like Josh Hamilton like their division rivals the Los Angeles Angels did this winter. But what they can and did do is add depth to the current roster. Despite having a full outfield with Yoenis Cespedes in left, Coco Crisp in center, and Josh Reddick in right, they traded for Chris Young from the Arizona Diamdbacks as added depth. He can spell Crisp in center and provide some insurance should one of the others miss significant time.
They added depth on the infield as well, picking up Jed Lowrie in a trade with the Houston Astros. Lowrie is a switch hitter who can play all four infield positions. With the unproven Josh Donaldson at third, Japanese newcomer Hiroyuki Nakajima at short, and second baseman Scott Sizemore coming off an injury that cost him the entire 2012 season, Lowrie should provide plenty of depth on the infield for the A’s.
The pitching is also deep, as it always is for the A’s. Despite losing fan favorite Brandon McCarthy to free agency, they’ll have Brett Anderson back for a full season, and last year’s rookies will come in with more experience under their belts. Veteran Bartolo Colon is also back to provide some leadership, and they’ll have major league quality depth to tap into in AAA if needed.
A lot of things had to go their way for the A’s to get where they did in 2012. By adding more depth pieces this offseason, Billy Beane and company look to take luck out of the equation as much as possible and put the team in a position to be able to withstand some lengthy injuries and underperformance. And if that depth is never tested, even better. They won’t be able to sneak up on anyone this year but with this deep roster, they should have what it takes to stick around in the A.L. West race well into the season.
For the past half-decade, the Mariners have been the epitome of futility in the American League West. They have lost 100 games more times than they have had winning seasons, and have consistently finished at the bottom of the division. While perennial contenders in the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels make offseason moves to better their team, the Seattle Mariners have difficulty in attracting top talent to the Northwest.
The signing of King Felix to a long term contract should give their starting pitching rotation some stability, but heading into 2013, there are far more variables than a pennant contender would hope for. This team is built for the future, and with the new addition of the Houston Astros to the division, Seattle will have a benchmark against which to measure their rebuilding process.
Below is the Mariners’ probable opening day lineup
And here is their probable starting rotation
As we mentioned before, this team is built for the future, so the strength of this ballclub will come from their youth. It can be disheartening for young ballplayers to be on a team that consistently pumps out losing seasons, but that is where teams can separate the mentally strong from the mentally weak. The Mariners do have some exceptional young talent, and these potential stars of the future will get a lot more playing time in the present than they might otherwise on contending ballclubs.
Jesus Montero is 23 years old, and he’s coming off a relatively strong season. Look for this young catcher to bat near the middle of the Seattle order on a regular basis. The Mariners minor league system is chock full of talent that will likely see extended time in the Majors this year. Get used to hearing names like Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer and Victor Sanchez.
The Mariners struggle at the plate and much of their futility comes as a result of their inability to get on base and drive what few baserunners they get, home. Surprisingly (or perhaps not surprising to long-time Mariners fans) is that the majority of the off-season moves made by Seattle were to get players who struggled to get on base with any regularity. They were able to sign some players with long-ball capability, but on-base-percentage will be an uphill battle.
Even if the Oakland A’s have a slump of a season, it is hard to imagine the Mariners would surpass them. Ultimately, the Mariners will be trying to stay out of the cellar in the newly expanded AL West. No fans like to hear about rebuilding, especially for a team that used to win with great regularity, but Seattle has the talent and the opportunity to contend in 3-4 years. Until then, there won’t be much to cheer about in the Emerald City.
[/tab][tab name=’TEX Rangers’]
After the crushing defeat in game 6 of the 2011 World Series (twice being 2 strikes and 2 outs from winning the it all) Texas Rangers fans didn’t think it could get worse. Then came the monumental collapse down the stretch of the regular season last year in 2012. And finally, there was the offseason where the Rangers’ front office brass swung and struck out on every big free agent out there. And one of those free agents that got away was the Rangers’ own Josh Hamilton. And to pour salt in that wound he’s now playing for division rivals the Los Angeles Angels.
Nelson Cruz is embroiled in a performance enhancing drug controversy and it remains to be seen if he’s going to face a suspension.
Spots Up For Grabs: On defense it appears that center field is a competition between Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry-I would like to see Gentry get a shot at CF since he batted for average (.304)last year in a 121 GP. And since starting pitchers Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz will not be ready for opening day it appeared the 5th starter’s spot was Martin Perez’s to lose until he suffered a broken bone in his arm during Spring Training. Now that 5th starting position is maybe not a big question mark but is a question mark nonetheless at this point.
Lastly, the middle and setup relief is a going to be a huge question mark with, for example, Alexi Ogando making the move back to the starting rotation and Mike Adams another free agent that got away.
The Rangers have a good problem in the middle infield. With Ian Kinsler apparently staying put at 2B, they don’t know where to put Jurickson Profar, the number one prospect from last year. If Profar doesn’t play his way onto the big club in Spring Training then they will be keeping a close eye on him in the minors.
New additions A.J. Pierzynski (C, bats lefty) and Lance Berkman (DH, switch hitter) add lefty bats and some pop to the lineup as well bring big game experience.
Oh yeah, the Rangers have this pitcher named Yu Darvish by the way. If he builds on his performance from last year he could turn into a true ace. Nathan will be an anchor again as the Rangers’ closer. And Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando aren’t too shabby as your 2-4 starters no matter what order you put them in. Plus, starter Colby Lewis should come back from injury sometime around early to midseason and should resume his role as a starter. Neftali Feliz is due back mid-to-late in the season. Too many quality starting pitchers is another good problem to have. That means Ogando and Martin Perez, or even Feliz, could move back to and strengthen the bullpen at some point during the season.
Maybe Josh Hamilton leaving will be addition by subtraction. Here’s why that’s a possibility: the timing of Hamilton’s slump last year seemed to coincide with him giving the go ahead to film producers to make his life story into a movie with Casey Affleck writing and directing it (late June 2012). Then, Hamilton batted .223, .177 and .259 three out the last four months of the season last year. In other words, it is yet to be seen which Josh Hamilton the Rangers lost and which Josh Hamilton the Halos signed.
Mitch Moreland played last year primarily against right-handed pitchers but, with Kinsler staying at 2B it looks like Moreland is going to get a chance to be an everyday 1B. Keep your fingers crossed when he’s batting against righties.
Finally Rangers manager Ron Washington is going to have to do exactly what his job title says: manage. Everyone knows that his players love him and will run through brick walls for him. However, with so many question marks going into the season Wash is going to have to be ready to move people up, down, out of and/or into the batting order as their performance dictates. And that’s something Wash has seemed hesitant to do, instead sticking with his guys that are struggling and hoping they’ll work their way out of a slump, like he did last year for example as the Rangers squandered the AL West Division lead in the last month. The same goes for the starting rotation and bullpen. At times Wash’s decision making regarding the pitching staff has been criticized by those that watch every game. Wash has to demonstrate that he knows when to make a move and when not to. In the past the Rangers’ offense has been productive enough to cover up any questionable moves Wash has made with the pitching staff. That won’t be the case this year.
My projected lineup for 2013:
Starting Pitching Rotation
2013 Prediction: In a very close race the Rangers’ strong starting pitching and a consistent (although less powerful) offense carries them to an AL West win.
Check out the rest of our divisional previews for 2013