Well, the season is moving along at breakneck speed, so I’ll try to get some more previews in a bit quicker. starting with the AL West…
Houston – anyone actually remember when the Astros were losing over 110 a year and were so unpopular the Nielsen’s showed them having a statistical TV rating of 0? Nah, me neither. Well, not true but it sure seems like more than 6 years ago. The Astros have been the runaway winner in the division for a few years and that should carry right on this year. Great core of team still present and young enough to still get a bit better while old Michael Brantley is a great and cheap free agent acquisition. So too catcher Robinson Chirinos, one of the better-hitting catchers around. Yes, they lost (over-rated) Dallas Keuchel… unless they re-sign the still unsigned pitcher, but Wade Miley is an adequate replacement and they have one of the best pitching prospects in the game, Forrest Whitley bubbling under and maybe being in the rotation by the All Star Game. As long as roberto Osuna can keep his temper with his girlfriend at home, their bullpen is good enough with a rotation featuring Verlander and Cole.
Los Angeles Anaheim – yep, they have the guy many consider the best player in the game, Mike Trout, and now for another dozen seasons. Now they have about 420 million reasons to build a solid team around him, but they’ve yet to do that. The not-so-good just got worse for the Angels, with their second-best outfielder, Justin Upton now out for minimum 2 months after injuring his foot in yesterday’s game. Yes, Albert Pujols was looking like the old Pujols in spring, and Jonathan Lucroy is a good catcher they added, but this is still a rather mediocre beige lineup with one shining star. Two, if we count Shohei Ohtani, who should be able to hit for them by June, but won’t be on the mound until next year. Pitching isn’t terrible… but isn’t very good by any measure. It’ll be a big test for Brad Ausmus, the first new manager there in two decades.
Oakland – the Cinderella team last year with an unexpected 97 wins, but do they get asked to the ball for a second year? Khris Davis is one of baseball’s best power hitters, averaging 44 dingers and over 110 RBI over the past three years and already clipping a trio more longballs this season and opening weekend isn’t over yet! Mike Chapman is the unsung hero, a Gold Glover at third and an .864 OPS last year, his first full season. Ex-Blue Jay Marco Estrada is poised for a comeback and should benefit from not pitching in the bandbox parks of the East as much. Big question will be if former super-stud prospect Jurickson Profar can resurrect a flagging career now that he’s got a regular position and is removed from an unconducive Dallas environment. All in all, the team has a lot of the same pluses as last year but hard to think ’18 wasn’t a bit of a mirage.
Seattle – getting rid of your top starter, your all star closer and a superstar second baseman is hardly a recipe for winning. But it’s the Mariner way this year. Although to be fair they did try to do a bit to balance the scales. Japanese import Yusei Kikuchi, a rare Asian lefty, had been one of Nippon’s best and, based on the prior experiences of the likes of Darvish, Ohtani and their predecessors, should do well on this side of the Pacific but not as well as they did in the other league. Expect him to be a solid, middle-of-rotation guy. Unfortunately he’ll probably be expected to be an instant-ace, given the decline of Felix Hernandez, who according to one magazine preview”still sells tickets” but last year had become one of the worst starting pitchers in the game, statistically. A few years ago, a lineup boasting Edwin Encarnacion, Kyle Seager, Dee Gordon and Jay Bruce would have inspired a lot of fear in opposing pitchers. Nowadays one might think of them more as an ad for the AARP in the making. Just as Profar has a fresh start in Oakland, former-Phils super-prospect JP Crawford is there trying to salvage a career that’s quickly gone downhill.
Texas– I watched this aft’s game against the Cubs, which ended in an 11-10 win , winning run coming in on a wild pitch, and it showed a lot of what Rangers fans can expect this year… home runs, bad fielding and worse pitching. Yet, if new manager Chris Woodward, a great student of the game and hard worker in his playing days with Toronto and seattle , can keep his players motivated and alert, they just might win a few… even without their heart and soul, the recently-retired Adrian Beltre. Asdubral Cabrera has the unenviable job of replacing that future Hall of Famer. Joey Gallo is a challenger for the home run title (being 4th in the majors over the past couple of years) but needs to cut down on bad swings to become an elite hitter. Roughened Odor , as SI notes is hard-headed and doesn’t take instruction well, which isn’t a great way to live up to one’s potential for anything other than starting brawls on the field. Jeff Mathis is a great defensive catcher, but not much of a hitter (although he did notch a home run today on his 36th birthday) , but that may still be an upgrade given the Rangers-trademarked poor pitching staff. Mike Minor’s returned alright but is far from the staff ace he’s billed as and Lance Lynn may be well beyond his prime now. Jason Hammelwas penciled in for the staff but retired during the Cactus League. Jose Leclerc is the new closer and seems to be among the best of those already; last year he had a 1.56 ERA and about 13 strikeouts per 9 innings in his first year at the role. He very quickly could overtake Derek Holland as the best active pitcher to come through the Texas organization.
HOUSTON – 106 – 56
L.A. ANAHEIM- 82 – 80
OAKLAND – 80 – 82
SEATTLE – 79 – 83
TEXAS – 70 – 92