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2015 Season Preview: AL West

Don’t look at last year’s AL West Season Preview, please don’t. Actually, go ahead, click on the link. What you’ll find is that no matter what I write here, I can’t possible be as wrong as I was in 2014.

Last season, I thought the Texas Rangers were headed to another divisional crown but an injury bug the size of the Lone Star State struck Arlington and the Angels finally put it all together to run away with the West. This season, Los Angeles has to be favored to repeat, though we can never be too sure what Billy Beane has up his sleeve. In addition, the Astros are certainly much improved and their young core continues to develop, while the Mariners have added last year’s home run champ to a lineup that needed more pop. Given the weakness of the AL East and the parity of the AL Central, it’s definitely possible that 2 of the AL’s best come from out West in 2015.

Projected Standings:

  1. Los Angeles Angels
  2. Seattle Mariners
  3. Oakland A’s
  4. Houston Astros
  5. Texas Rangers

I have to admit, I’m a little nervous projecting Texas to finish last with Adrian Beltre, Shin-soo Choo, and Prince Fielder still in the lineup–and I always get the A’s wrong one way or the other–but I feel pretty good about that projection. (Cut to me in 12 months looking like a fool.)

Los Angeles Angels: 1st place, 95-67

With these Angels pitching is always the question, but this year they seem to have the makings of a passable starting rotation. In 2014, Matt Shoemaker was a revelation and Garret Richards emerged as a Cy Young front runner before getting hurt, and they’ll both be back at full strength for the start of the season. In addition, Jarred Weaver and CJ Wilson have both suffered some serious age-related regression but are both still serviceable backend starters, which is exactly what the Angles need them to be. The wild card is new prospect Andrew Heaney who could be this year’s Shoemaker and push the Angels’ starting staff over the top.

On offense, even potentially without Josh Hamilton, LA could have the best lineup in the league. Mike Trout is the best player in the game, Albert Pujols quietly put together a really solid season last year (124 wRC+), and Matt Joyce will be a really nice DH/outfield bat. The Angels definitely got worse at second base when they traded Howie Kendrick but they should have no trouble scoring runs.

Seattle Mariners: 2nd place, 91-71

Felix Hernandez’s playoff drought will end this season. I’m calling it. The Mariners won’t win the West but they will make the playoffs as the Wild Card team.

Felix is a certain Ace and a safe bet to contend for the Cy Young yet again, and he’ll be joined by Hisashi Iwakuma (on a contract year) and James Paxton who was excellent in 13 starts last season. In addition Taijuan Walker will finally make the bigs to stay after posting a sub 3.00 ERA in 5 starts and 8 appearances last year, and the Mariners value him so highly they wouldn’t consider moving him in a deal that would have gotten them Jordan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond from the Nats.

Pitching, though, has never been a problem in Seattle. Offense always has. Robinson Cano will anchor the lineup once again, but now he’ll be joined by Nelson Cruz. Cruz will certainly not do what he did last season but might very will hit .260 with 25 bomb out of the DH spot. In center, Austin Jackson can’t possibly be as bad  as he was after joining Seattle last season, and if he returns to anything close to form he’ll be a big help. Also, people tend to discount the contributions of Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino, but Seager just signed a $100 million deal and Zunino is a well above average catcher.

The Mariners are one of my riskier picks this year but I have faith. They’ll finish second this season.

Oakland A’s: 3rd place, 86-76

Every year, it looks like Oakland comes into camp with a completely new team. This year, Josh Donaldson has been replaced by Brett Lawrie, and Billy Butler and Ben Zobrist have entered the fold.

Oakland’s bullpen is great, one of the best in the league with Sean Doolittle at the end and Eric O’flaherty and new acquisition Tyler Clippard setting him up. That’ll definitely get them a few extra wins. In addition, Sonny Gray is a stud and emerging as a legitimate Number One, but I have concerns about the rest of the rotation. I don’t trust Scott Kazmir and I think Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz, and Jesse Hahn can all be really good in stretches but I don’t think they can be counted on at this point. In addition, while I really like Ben Zobrist and think he’ll be great as usual, I think the Donaldson to Lawrie move at third was a significant downgrade and I really really don’t like the Billy Butler signing. The A’s, a team that values flexibility and has to ration its funds, spent $30 million on a pure DH who isn’t even that good! I think that’ll come back to bite them.

Oakland was one and done last year but I don’t think they’ll even get that far in 2015. But again, I’m always wrong on Oakland.

Houston Astros: 4th place, 76-86

Well, 76 wins for Houston in 2015 would be pretty good; 6 more than they had last year. The Astros are going serious boom or bust this year, as they have 7 guys in the starting lineup who could legitimately hit 20-25 homers, but 8 who could strike out at least 100 times. The Astros look primed to set all sorts of offensive records, they just have to hope they’re the good kind.

The key to the offense is batting champ Jose Altuve. He’s a monster leading off and if he can get on base like he did last season (.377 OBP) it’ll help Houston turn a lot of those Evan Gattis, Chris Carter, George Springer, Jon Singleton homers into more damaging blasts. Springer is a key in 2015. Outside of Carlos Correa (who is awesome) Springer is Houston’s most dynamic young player. If he can stay on the field in 2015, it’ll help the Astros a lot. If he’s just another big power, big K guy with a balky knee, it won’t.

The Astros rotation will hold them back. Scott Feldman is listed as the Ace and aside from the fact that I like Dan Straily, that’s all you need to know. Houston rises and falls with their power numbers but their pitching and strikeout tendencies will hold them back. I see an improvement over last year to be sure, but they won’t compete until Correa is ready and they have some real pitching.

Texas Rangers: 5th place, 74-88

Losing Yu Darvish was a big deal for this team and even though they still have Fielder, Choo, and Beltre, all are aging and Fielder and Choo are coming off extremely disappointing, injury riddled seasons. Without Darvish, the Rangers, and their rookie manager Jeff Banister, are left with Yovani Gallardo at the top of a rotation that is otherwise filled with holes. I really like Ross Detweiler but he’s a 4 starter on a bad team and Anthony Ranaudo is the man, but he hasn’t proved anything yet. The rest of thy guys in the mix are low ceiling types and Derek Holland has been having shoulder problems.

On offense, aside from the aforementioned trio, there are holes. Left field, catcher, and DH are black holes. Elvis Andrus isn’t worth nearly the bundles of cash the Rangers are paying him, and Jurrickson Profar is out for the season again. On top of all that, the bullpen isn’t very good either and it certainly isn’t reliable.

The Rangers as presently constructed aren’t great and need a lot to go right. Given their recent injury history, chances are it won’t.

Bold Predictions

  • Andrew Heaney wins 10 games and posts a 3.40 ERA
  • The A’s make the playoffs again
  • Mike Trout hits .312 with 23 homers and 45 steals and wins his second MVP
  • Derek Holland pitches for someone else by midseason
  • 4 Astros relievers finish with other teams
  • Albert Pujols hits .300 with 25 bombs
  • Jesus Montero wins Comback Player of the Year and hits .299
  • Ben Zobrist plays for someone else this season
  • Ike Davis makes the All-Star team

-Max Frankel

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