PhillyPhanatics.com’s Major League Baseball previews begin with the American League West
In 2011, the American League champion again came from the AL West, as the Texas Rangers followed the Phillies with back-to-back World Series appearances. This time, Cliff Lee didn’t even participate. Unlike the Phillies, however, the Rangers did not win a championship. Will the third time be the charm? Or did Texas miss its window of opportunity?
Ron Opher examines this and other questions in PhillyPhanatics.com’s AL West preview
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2011 record: 96-66, 1st place
CL Joe Nathan
Season outlook: The Rangers are still a strong team, despite losing their ace to free agency for the second year in a row. Texas didn’t skip a beat when Cliff Lee left, but can the same be said for losing C.J. Wilson to the division rival Angels? Japanese sensation Yu Darvish may end up filling Wilson’s shoes, but another curious move was taking one of the top closers in the AL in Neftali Feliz and making him a back-of-the-rotation starter. To replace Feliz as closer, the Rangers are gambling that former Twins closer Joe Nathan can return to health and former dominance. Another swingman situation is Alexi Ogando, who had a blistering hot start to his 2011 season as a starter, but tailed off late and had a brutal World Series out of the bullpen, giving up 14 baserunners in 2-2/3 innings over 6 games. Ogando is ticketed to the bullpen, but if Nathan doesn’t pan out as closer or Feliz doesn’t pan out as a starter, the game of musical chairs might begin in Arlington. Some may say that won’t matter when you return just about everybody from one of the most potent lineups is baseball.
Projected finish: 2nd place
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2011 record: 86-76, 2nd place
Season outlook: The Angels stole the Rangers’ ace in free agency and on top of that, landed Albert Pujols to play first base. Not only is adding one of the best hitters of all time (and 2-time World Champion) huge, it also allows Kendrys Morales to come back as a DH after missing nearly 2 years of action.
The top 3 in the rotation – Weaver, Haren and Wilson – could give the Phillies’ top 3 a run for their money. And I would take the Angels’ lineup in a heartbeat – especially in April and May.
Is it time to print postseason tickets in Anaheim? If they stay healthy, there is no reason not to. Just please keep the rally monkey in mothballs.
Projected finish: 1st place
2011 record: 74-88, 3rd place
Key additions: Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Seth Smith, Brandon Allen, Jonny Gomes, Collin Cowgill, Tom Milone, Brad Peacock (minors), Jarrod Parker (minors), Derek Norris (minors), Manny Ramirez (50-game suspension).
Season outlook: The A’s are everyone’s darlings, thanks to Billy Beane (aka Brad Pitt) of Moneyball fame. The truth of the matter is that Beane changes players like they are underwear and gets away with it because the team is based in California, and not in the northeastern United States.
I hope the A’s get a new ballpark – because in the meantime, Beane seems to be playing fantasy baseball, constantly flipping good young players who are about to get pay raises for even more good young players who are unproven. I understand trading players away before they hit free agency (after 6 season of MLB service time), but Beane has made a habit of trading players in or before their arbitration years (after 2-3 years of MLB service time).
Will Tom Milone and Brad Peacock outpitch Gio Gonzalez? Not this season. Will Trevor Cahill pitch in the postseason for the first time in his career? That’s much more likely in Arizona than in Oakland. Coco Crisp a #3 hitter? Seth Smith a cleanup hitter? Are you kidding me? Last year, it was an elderly Hideki Matsui in the heart of the order. Have the A’s no shame?
There is no end game for Beane without a new ballpark, and in the meantime, he makes a mockery of baseball (for example, what other team would coax Manny Ramirez out of retirement to sit 50 games before he takes the field?). It defies logic and reason that Cuba’s best player chose to play in Oakland of all places. It will be interesting watching Yoenis Cespedes get acclimated to the major leagues. But it would have been even more interesting if he were on the Miami Marlins – who actually do have a new ballpark and a large local community of Cuban-Americans to cheer him on.
Maybe Cespedes’ desire to play away from such a spotlight should tell you a lot about his makeup.
Projected finish: 3rd place
2011 record: 67-95, 4th place
Season outlook: The Mariners hit rock bottom in 2010, and are making a slow climb toward respectability – having gained 6 games in the standings in 2011. They have pieced together some interesting young talent in recent trades, and have one of the majors’ best pitchers in Felix Hernandez.
Then again, dealing promising starter Michael Pineda (9-10, 3.74 ERA wih 173 K’s in 171 IP and only 133 H allowed in his 2011 rookie campaign) to the Yankees for highly touted catching prospect Jesus Montero is a head-scratcher – especially since the Mariners have two capable backstops in Miguel Olivo and John Jaso. After 69 major league plate appearances, Montero will debut in Seattle as a DH at the tender age of 22.
Seattle’s problem is that their star power is shallow, and they are still trotting out too many mediocre players to make real noise in a division with the Angels and Rangers. Being burdened by Chone Figgins‘ huge contract and poor performance doesn’t help matters. Passing the A’s is possible, but not likely in 2012 – and getting above third would be a shocking development.
Projected finish: 4th place