AL West, part II
SEATTLE: Two big Puget sound mysteries: one, did Kurt Cobain really kill himself, and two, are the Mariners attempting to commit suicide? It certainly is a wonder that a team with a Cy Young hurler and one of the best all-round hitters in the history of the game could manage to lose over 100 games as they did last season. Mind you, Ichiro or no, the M’s were dead last in the majors last year in batting avg., slugging, homers and virtually every other offensive category, but still…?
Miguel Olivo should improve the pathetic hitting by significantly upping the numbers posted by Adam Moore and Rob Johnson last year (sub-.200 avg, 22 extra base hits between them), but it’s still going to take significant improvements , returns-to-form if you will, by Jack Wilson, Chone Figgins and newcomer Jack Cust for anything good to happen with this team. Dustin Ackley benefits from the lacklustre big-league squad and appears to be ready to take over second base and perhaps be a rookie to pay close attention to in ’11. also fun to watch: hothead Milton Bradley vs. new manager Eric Wedge. Smart money has Bradley not lasting much longer with this team than the guy he was traded for (Carlos Silva) did at the other end.
Good news for raincoast fans, they still have Felix Hernandez and he’s probably still getting better…he is after all, still just 24 and is a whole 2011 campaign away from hitting 200 games. More good news, apparently Eric Bedard, aka Mark Prior the Second, is pitching this spring and looking good. Bad news: everything from there on down in the rotation, headed up by jason Vargas and Doug Fister and perhaps finished up by rookie who was dominant at AA (and passable at AAA) last year. It’s doubtful he could do worse than departed Ryan Rowland-smith who last year would have been hard-pressed to better his 1-10 record even in Fenway , given his 6.75 ERA. The bullpen is mediocre to weak, though will probably improve when and if (mid-May by my guess) Brandon League becomes their closer.
Maybe not trying to knock themselves out of existence, but something foul is a afield at Safeco, and this is one mystery conspiracy theorists can’t blame on Courtney Love. 2011 Prediction: 64 wins , 4th place.
TEXAS: Will the Rangers make a return trip to the World Series? No. will they repeat as division champs? Yes, almost by default. The R’s aren’t all that terribly good, but they are head and shoulders above their divisional rivals, whom they’ll play 57 times.
Sure they were disappointed by not retaining Cliff Lee, but their management have an easier time explaining it to the fanbase than their counterparts in the Bronx do. The rotation is still reasonably good, with Colby lewis, Tommy Hunter and CJ Wilson atop it, but they aren’t expecting a return to Cy Young form from Brandon Webb. In fact, 100 innings out of him would probably be a gift. Netalfi Perez is a question mark, right now it looks like he’ll return to the ‘pen where he earned his R.O.Y. Award last year. Whether he stays there or is more valuable to them as a starter, what is certain is he will benefit from taking one role and running with it rather than being shunted around from month to month. (I often wonder how good Kelvim Escobar would have been if the Blue Jays had just decided on one role for him and kept him there rather than move him from starter to closer to middle reliever to spot starter…) . The pitching all-told, is decent and good enough to win a lot of games with solid hitting going for them. Which they’ll have.
Josh Hamilton would be on anyone’s short list of players who might someday win a Triple Crown. He won’t this year, but should be close to MVP consideration once again. Ian Kinsler will rebound from an injury-marred campaign and Nelson Cruz must be the least talked about player in the game who’s hit 55 homers and .280 over the past couple of seasons. Face of the team Michael Young is angry, but mature enough to play hard and do what’s asked of him, significantly proving that last year’s .284 (not terrible but a blip in the steady .300 road the veteran has ridden for years) was merely that – a blip, rather than a sign of a player in decline. However, he still might get his wish and finish the season somewhere else. Does Philadelphia protest a wee bit too much denying their interest in him?
Elvis Andrus is excellent, but don’t expect too much from the guy on his right side, Adrian Beltre. His wallet fattened and desire no doubt flattened by a big contract, Beltre won’t come close to his .321 avg or 100+ RBI of last year (although he could easily match his HR production.)
If the Rangers win two-thirds of their games against the division, they only half to be .500 against every one else to repeat their trip to the playoffs. They’ll do that – and a little bit more. 2011 Prediction: 93 wins, 1st place. League Pennant odds: 8:1.
Next, we’ll visit the midwest and the Central division.
Happy Opening Day!