Quick Look at the AL West
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 30, 2007
Yeah, they can hit. Michael Young, Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira and Ian Kinsler are all above-average offensive players for their position and provide the Rangers with plenty of sock.
But this team still has major pitching deficiencies. Kevin Millwood is solid and Vicente Padilla should eat innings, but after that it’s less than a crap shoot.
How will Brandon McCarthy do in his first full year as a starter in the big leagues? Robinson Tejeda and Kameron Loe are pitch-to-contact types, which rarely bode well for the hitters paradise that is Rangers Ballpark at Arlington.
Loe is a groundball pitcher, but how will his stuff hold when he’s going through the lineup a second and third time? Last season, Loe’s first year starting in the majors, the 25-year-old righthander allowed a .904 OPS after the 6th inning and a 1.222 OPS after pitch No. 75.
Tejeda is a flyball pitcher. Ouch. And Padilla is no surefire solidification to the rotation. He’s just as likely to implode as he is to repeat his decent 2006 season and the team’s ace, 32-year-old Millwood, is and always will be a candidate to spend extensive time on the disabled list.
The bullpen is a little bit better with Akinori Otsuka, Frank Francisco and Eric Gagne expected to anchor the relief corps. Otsuka was very good in ’06 as the team’s closer but will begin the year as the setup man to former closer-extraordinaire, Gagne, who has thrown just 15 innings over the past two seasons combined.
CJ Wilson does give new skipper Ron Washington a viable left-handed option, as does veteran Ron Mahay. But if the rotation doesn’t get them into the 7th consistently, it won’t matter much.
A ton has to go right for Texas to boast enough pitching to win more than 80 games, including health, luck with the journeymen and a few kids stepping up and taking a role by the horns.
The Rangers’ defense is also nothing to brag about, though catcher Gerald Laird has gold glove capabilities. Blalock and Teixeira are a tick above average at the corners, and Young is below average at shortstop. Kinsler, a former shortstop, is solid at second but the outfield is very ordinary without a plus defender in the group.
Ultimately, the Rangers will again need to outscore their opponents, and yet again that will likely leave them on the outside of the postseason, looking in from their living room televisions in October.
Every year, or every other year at least, Billy Beane’s ballclub takes a serious hit via free agency or financially-forced trades. Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada left for the money. Beane traded veteran starters Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder for younger arms and prospects.
Through last season it’s worked for the A’s, who have had a winning campaign seven years in a row, even after the major losses the roster has endured.
But something is different about 2007.
Let’s compare and contrast.
When the A’s dealt Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, they received Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and a strong first base prospect in Daric Barton. Haren has outpitched both Hudson and Mulder both seasons in Oakland and he’s done for a fraction of the price.
After losing offensive juggernauts in Giambi and Tejada, both former AL MVPs, the A’s went to younger bats that came through and supported the pitching staff to somewhat satisfactory levels.
Bobby Crosby, Eric Chavez and savvy role players have gotten the job done in the absence of superstars. Last season, Nick Swisher showed signs of becoming a long-term run producer who can slug .500 year-in and year-out.
Joe Blanton and Rich Harden have helped Haren replace Hudson and Mulder and the A’s haven’t missed a beat. But who’s going to make up for the loss of Barry Zito and Frank Thomas?
I think the economics of the game may have finally caught up to the A’s, as Mike Piazza and Chad Gaudin have very little chance to make an impact in the wake of Zito and Thomas.
Sure, guys can step up and take up some of the slack, but what if Harden spends more time on the disabled list and Piazza continues to decline? Can Chavez and Swisher carry the club offensively surrounded by complimentary hitters?
Just as the Texas Rangers would have to be as lucky as a drunken Irish rabbitts foot on St. Patty’s Day to compete with that pitching staff, so would the A’s to stay healthy enough and get the necessary max performances they require to score enough runs and pitch adequately enough to sustain winning streaks and stave off the long-suffering struggles of a baseball team that just isn’t all that good otherwise.
This could be the year that Oakland takes a step back, barring full seasons from Crosby and the entire pitching staff. There aren’t any ML-ready impact bats in the minors and the pitching well is as dry it’s been in the Oakland system in years.
If all goes right, they could sniff the 90-win mark. But chances are they’ll endure the bumos and bruises that most clubs do, and end up somewhere in the low-to-mid 80s – at best. A bad break or two on top of that and the first losing season of the decade could be on the horizon.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Another team with a lot of concerns health wise, Anaheim is still the favorites in the division. But with Bartolo Colon sure to miss time as he continues to eat his way out of baseball and lose velo on his heater, the Halos need Jered Weaver to get healthy fast and stay that way.
John Lackey is among the most underrated pitchers in the game and Kelvim Escobar, again – when healthy – is on that list, too, and each right-hander needs to log major innings to save the still-solid Anaheim bullpen.
Hector Carrasco can stand in for injured starters, but isn’t likely to match the effectiveness of any of the projected starting five. Southpaw Joe Saunders was strong last season and will be on speed dial from Triple-A Salt Lake if he doesn’t make the club out of spring camp.
Ervin Santana is solid, but struggles away from home. He’s still got room to develop and is a solid No. 3 starter in the making. The pen is as good as ever with K-Rod, Scot Shields and Justin Speier leading the pack.
Offensively Anaheim will need the kids to step up, starting with either Kendry Morales or Casey Kotchman at first base. With Chone Figgins to miss time with an ankle injury, Dallas McPherson or Brandon Wood will need to step in and produce to protect Garret Anderson and Vlad Guerrero. Guerrero seems to be breaking down a bit physically, but he’s as productive as ever and swiped 15 bags in 2006.
The key may be the top of the order with youngster Howie Kendrick, free-agent signee Gary Matthews Jr., and Orlando Cabrera the leading candidates to hit in the top two spots.
Only Kendrick has the plate skills to put up solid on-base numbers but that’s nothing new to a lineup card signed by the best skipper in the AL, Mike Scoscia.
The off-field distractions of Matthews, injuries to the pitching staff and the continued decline of Anderson make the keys to the Angels season the young bats. Kotchman, Kendrick, Napoli, Mathis, Morales, McPherson and Wood; At least two of them have to give the defending division champs a spark in order to hold off the three mediocre clubs in the west.
They are talented enough to win 90 or more. They are implosive enough to lose that many.