MLB Breakdown: AL West
Texas will remain atop the division until someone knocks them off their pedestal. Until then, the Rangers are focused on improving their postseason performance to make a meaningful run toward a World Series. Meanwhile, Houston may not have enough to fulfill “Sports Illustrated’s” bold prediction of winning a world series this year, but expect the Astros to go toe to toe with big brother Texas for the division crown and make the tournament in October.
Seattle has a team that looks poised to make the postseason, but do they have enough to compete with Houston and Texas for a playoff berth? If they don’t, expect baseball’s longest playoff drought to continue. While the real excitement concerning L.A. baseball typically comes from up the interstate at Dodger’s Stadium, the one interesting topic from Angels headquarters is if and when they’ll trade American League MVP Mike Trout and as the Athletics continue their rebuild, the only news from Oakland is that they lost their football team.
Texas Rangers- There’s no doubt that between the two MLB franchises that reside in the Lone Star State, the Rangers are seen as the older brother. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be on their toes in 2017; however, like it or not, little brother Houston is catching up. Aside from potentially losing the division to their cross-state rivals, Texas will focus on improving their postseason performance which has been been a huge disappointment, coming off consecutive losses to Toronto in the division round. In 2016, the Rangers were barely competitive in a three-game sweep by the Jays.
The Rangers have reigned as the AL West champs the previous two seasons, and with two aces in their starting rotation, a top flight bullpen, and enough firepower offensively, the Rangers enter 2017 loaded with a combination that will help them stay atop the division for a third consecutive season.
Houston Astros- On June 30, 2014, Sports Illustrated made a bold prediction that Houston would build a team that would rise atop the major league to become “Your 2017 World Series Champs.”
With Houston averaging 100 losses a season, this prophecy didn’t look legit at the time. Fast forward to 2017 and the Astros look poised to make a possible run back to the postseason. However, whether they’ll go on a magical run to the fall classic will remain to be seen. The starting rotation was a big weakness a year ago with the starter’s ERA skyrocketing from 3.71 in 2015 to 4.37 in 2016. Starting left-hander Dallas Keuchel was the biggest drop off a year ago, posting a 9-12 record with a 4.55 ERA after putting up a 20-9 record with a 2.48 ERA in 2015.
If the starting rotation can return to their 2015 form, the Astros could be dangerous in 2017. Adding outfielders Josh Reddick and Nori Aoki to one of the league’s better offenses will not only give the Astros some extra juice when at the plate but would also strengthen Houston’s already solid defense. Factor in their strong bullpen and you’ve got a team that could make due on SI’s prophecy.
Seattle Mariners- The rebuild has been a long and agonizing process but good news for Seattle fans. The Mariners finally look ready to take the next step and make a push for the postseason. The team that surprisingly ripped off 86 wins a season ago returns with their eyes set to wipe a 15-year playoff drought – the longest in baseball – that has loomed over the franchise like a dark cloud. To do so, they’ll need improvement and constancy from a pitching rotation that was riddled with injuries.
The Mariners will rely on rookie outfielders Ben Gamel, Mitch Haniger, and 1B Dan Vogelbach to play significant roles. The trio made up of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager make a solid core that’s as good as any in baseball. The determining factors for Seattle’s success in 2017 falls on how the pieces around their core players fare this year. If they don’t do enough to move up in the standings, the dark cloud might stick around for at least another year.
Los Angeles Angels- Once upon a time, L.A. was a favorite to win a championship, but now the Angels are in transition with the future of the team sparking rumors of possibly dealing with two-time American League MVP Mike Trout. Trout, the best player in baseball, is a 25-year-old outfielder in the prime of his Hall of Fame career. If L.A. were to trade him, it would help a franchise whose current roster is drastically thin on talent, thanks to several poor front office decisions that left the Angels with one of the worst farm systems in the majors. It’s no doubt that trading Trout has the potential for a wave of fresh talent that could significantly jumpstart a rebuild.
While the Angels could always keep Trout and built a team around him, they don’t have that cap nor the development system to build anything spontaneous enough to take them to the promised land. However, the club did make some additions to help them improve; outfielder Cameron Maybin fills a major hole at left field, and shortstop Andrelton Simmons was everything L.A. had hoped for defensively and also helped improve offensive production, batting .281 a year ago.
Regardless of what the Angels front office decides to do with their young star, L.A. should be in for a below-average campaign. Expect the phones to ring at the trade deadline to inquire about Trout’s services.
Oakland Athletics- Nowhere near competing, the A’s are more focused on spending the 2017 season developing their prospects, while also battling with the city of Oakland to give them a new ballpark now that the Raiders have officially left town. Oakland didn’t win a ton of games a year ago but their prospects P Sean Manaea, 3B Ryon Healy, C Bruce Maxwell and 2B Joey Wendle all played exceptionally well in their first year in the big leagues. If the A’s can get off to a quick start in 2017 to re-energize their disgruntled fan base and get out of the habit of trading their best players instead of paying top-dollar for them, it will help Oakland move forward to become a better ball club.