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Quick Look at the AL West

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 30, 2007

Texas Rangers

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.

Oakland Athletics

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.

What gives?


22 Responses to “Quick Look at the AL West”

  1. Adam B. said

    I’ll believe the writing on the wall about the A’s collapse when I see it with my own eyes.

    That said, Frank Thomas and Barry Zito are going to be tough to replace, and I don’t believe Piazza and Harden have the durability (or in Piazza case; Remaining talent) to do so.

    We do have to remember though, this IS the AL West, and even an 85 win “regression” on the part of the A’s could still give them the division crown. And the A’s have the approach (if not necessarily the talent) to maintain a consistent attack even with their less then stellar offense.

    This is a team that could win a lot of one and two run games over their weak divisional competition.

  2. Goose said

    Speaking of the A’s, they just lost Dan Johnson for 3 months. In responce they traded C:John Baker for Jason Stokes and then signed Todd Walker.

    So their offense just took another hit.

  3. eh, i dunno, Johnson, who I like and think he will do fine in the bigs, sucked last year. Walker is an upgrade.

    Baker was my favorite A’s minor leaguer. I once called him Jeff Baker (Rockies minor leaguer) and the next week I called Jeff Baker, Jon.

    Jon started talking like he was tired from chasing down balls in the outfield.

  4. nighthawk180 said

    A little off topic but what was written on the sidebar of the homepage says that IF rumors are true that Carlos Truinfel and Mario Martinez might start off in Wisconsin. Will that effect there playing time if any? I cant really remember the positions that each play but will it hurt them any and do you think they are ready for the challenge?

  5. Martinez is an outfielder and Triunfel is a shortstop, currently anyways.

    It’s not even a bad thing if either’s playing time is curbed some – both are 17 and not used to playing 140 games a year.

    They’ll get plenty of PT wherever they are.

  6. Willmore said

    Did the youngsters get enough Peoria time before they are sent into the wild?

  7. Lance said

    Think the M’s have it bad? The Rangers’ celebrated DVD starting rotation of the future is in shambles. Danks was foolishly traded, Volquez has serious command issues, and possibly is a bit of a head case, and Diamond just blew out his elbow and will have TJ surgery.

    My feeling is that people will soon learn why you don’t give a GM job to an under-30 virtual baseball kid. It won’t be Ron Washington’s fault when things fall apart, but unfortunately he’ll be the one getting blasted. I don’t think it’s going to take long for things to fall apart, at all, down there.

  8. Lance said

    Here’s an interesting stat that I haven’t read from anyone yet. If you remove the 2-17 record that the M’s had vs Oakland in 2006 both teams would have finished 76-67.

    And, the main reason, IMHO, that the A’s were so able to dominate the M’s was because Seattle’s offensive approach was totally stupid. The A’s knew that. Even early in the count, they didn’t need to throw a strike. It was the baseball version of Muhammed Ali’s rope-a-dope. It was partly youthful inexperience, partly veteran hardheaded mental laziness (with a special thanks to the Emperor). That can’t, or shouldn’t, happen again this year. I’m sure Hargrove won’t tolerate it.

    Add to that Oakland’s key losses, via free agency or injury, and Seattle most likely will pass the green and gold this year without too much trouble.

  9. The M’s offensive approach isn’t going to be different. Vidro is a lil patient, but Guillen is a free swinger.

  10. Egaas said

    How long until Daric Barton is ready? I’ve been hearing about him for years. Seems he could give the A’s a lift in the second half.

    Losing Dan Johnson and Kotsay for half the season each is a big hit.

    Let’s not forget Gagne is gonna miss the first few weeks of the season for Texas too. I imagine this isn’t the only DL trip for him. Texas claims he’s not hurt, he just needs more time to get ready.

  11. Barton took a step back a year ago, and the questions about his future have always been centered around how much power he might ultimately develop.

    I like him a lot, and don’t give a crap whether he hits 20 homers a year or 40… he can take a walk, lots of them, and can play first base a little bit, too.

    He’s a moneyball type to the end.

    I’d think he’s about a year away, or so, barring continued injury problems.

  12. misterjonez said

    Yeah, we all seem to think that the A’s are on the verge of collapse, and they always seem to pull it off somehow. That said, Piazza is NO Frank Thomas, and Gaudin isn’t going to approximate Zito in any way, shape, or form.

    I do think Barton could be an asset, though his power has taken serious steps backwards in recent seasons, his OBP has remained elite. Couple that with the RHP-heavy rotations of the AL West, and a lefty like him could have some moderate success for pennies.

    I just don’t see it this season, though. Way too many questions. Previous A’s rosters were always anchored pretty well, but the inuries and recent difficulties of some of the regulars are going to take a toll.

  13. Travis Buck is the first A’s bat ready anyways.

    And as for the roster in Oakland, it’s not very good.

    They lose Frank Thomas to FA and then Johnson to injury and replace them with Stewart, Walker and Piazza?

    The sum of the parts dont make up for the loss of MVP production.

    And now with Loaiza headed for the DL and Kostay already on it… their rotation is Haren, Blanton, Harden, Kennedy and Gaudin…

    And that lineup is the absolute worst in the west.

  14. nighthawk180 said

    Hey Jason,

    Is there something wrong with Ho-ram that the mariners aren’t letting the fans know about? He only pitched 3 innings the last two outings. I know that the previous start was cut to one inning due to the weather but you would think they would at least give him more innings than two today. I think the highest innings he pitched all spring was 5 innings. Just wondering. Thx

  15. marinerswinws said

    I think its because there keeping his arm fresh for the season……..

  16. Ramirez is the fifth starter, and he was pushed up a day when Morrow got sick and Batista had to jump forward, too.

    So he was going on on day’s less rest than originally scheduled.

  17. Lance said

    I thought Weaver was going to be the 5th starter. Did his final 6 inning no runs stint change that, or had it already been changed?

  18. Egaas said

    Well, Weaver isn’t scheduled to go now until… what… Friday? So I’m sure he’ll still go in his spot. I don’t anticipate the M’s skipping the 5th man, while trying to keep Felix limited without actually saying so this year.

  19. Egaas said

    Back to the A’s – They decided to carry Travis Buck on the opening day roster, cutting old friend Antonio Perez.

    And yeah, their roster doesn’t look that fearsome. The only bats I’m truly worried about are Swisher and Chavez, as they seem to rake against the M’s every time we play them.

    This could be the downfall year of the A’s, but who knows, maybe Crosby will finally stay healthy and Piazza will prove to be a genius signing.

  20. What’s ridiculous is, we all know that Guillen is a better risk than Piazza, but if Piazza performs and Guillen doesn’t, Beane is a genius and Bavasi is a dummy.

  21. Chris said

    One also has to consider the in-season moves that Beane will make to improve his club by the trade deadline. If history is any indication, that will separate the A’s further from the M’s as the season goes on.

  22. Greg08 said

    if they mariners trade ichiro at the deadline, what type of players do you think that they will get?

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