AL West Preview

Posted: 04/28/2015 by levcohen in Uncategorized

It’s taken a while, but I’m finally finishing my MLB predicted standings today… three weeks into the season. Luckily, in the division I’ve left for last, the AL West, the two preseason favorites, the Angels and Mariners, are still just a game apart with both being slightly under .500. Surprisingly enough, the division, which I thought would be a pretty good one, is just 5-15 against other divisions so far this season, with the obligatory “small sample size” warning thrown in. Three weeks in, only the Astros are over .500, which helps illustrate just how little three weeks generally mean. Can Houston hold on for a shocking division crown, will the Angels and Mariners become the teams we thought they would be, or will Oakland or Texas sneak in for the division crown? Here’s how I think it will go down:

#1. Seattle Mariners (90-72): The Mariners were one of the teams I had going over their total, so I haven’t been thrilled with the 8-11 start or especially the -20 run differential, worse than only the Twins, Phillies, Brewers, and Giants. There are some reasons to be optimistic, though. Nelson Cruz has been great, but almost nobody else in the lineup has been; expect Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and the three regulars hitting between .132 (Mike Zunino) and .200 (Dustin Ackley) to get better. The Mariners have scored just 3.68 runs per game this season, closer to their historically bad offense a few years ago than the one I thought this offense could be. I’d expect the offense to trend closer to 4.5 runs per game as the weather gets warmer, Cano warms up (as he did last year), and the role players begin to produce. More surprising has been the fact that the M’s are giving up 4.74 runs per game, second worst outside the AL East, where nobody can pitch (by the way, check out the 4-16, -50 run diff Milwaukee Brewers, who are scoring 3.05 runs per game and allowing 5.55). Felix Hernandez is pitching as well as he always does, but usually-reliable Hisashi Iwakuma has a 6.61 ERA and is now on the DL due to a minor injury, while talented young starters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton have each given up 15 runs in 19.2 innings. All of this is a lesson in small sample size theater. The Mariners haven’t been playing well, but their stars — Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez — are fine, and they will be too. I still have them winning more games than any other AL team.

#2. Houston Astros (83-79): You can call me crazy, but after going on about the danger of small sample sizes, I kind of believe in this Houston team! Not enough to put them in the playoffs or anything, but enough to give them a huge boost on what I would have given them three weeks ago. Why? Well, part of it is the 12-7 record that I can take to the bank, but more importantly, I think the roster is a lot better than people are giving them credit for. I’ll start with the rotation. Is it me, or is the duo of Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel pretty darn good atop the rotation? The two have combined to post seven out of eight quality starts while going 5-0 in 53.2 innings with a 1.68 ERA with 41 strikeouts and 15 walks. But they were also pretty good last season. After putting up ERAs above 5.00 his first two years, Keuchel was at 2.93 last year with 5.1 Baseball Reference WAR in 200 innings. Meanwhile, McHugh also broke out last year after allowing 47 runs in 47.1 innings in his first two seasons. His ERA was 2.73 as he struck out more than a batter an inning. McHugh is the more dominant and, I think, better pitcher, but I think they are both legit. The rest of the rotation is suspect, but the bullpen, which is led by Luke Gregerson and has a 2.42 ERA so far, has more than made up for it. But I’m more interested in the offense, which has a lot of interesting pieces. Jose Altuve led the league in hits last year and is the favorite to do it again this year. The Astros have added Colby Rasmus and Evan Gattis, each of whom has massive power. Speaking of power, Chris Carter is one of the few players in baseball who can hit under .200 and still slug close to 40 homers. But the young guys, George Springer and Jake Marisnick, are most interesting. Springer has started the year poorly and is clearly a streaky hitter, but he has the potential to have the best power-speed combination in baseball. Meanwhile, Marisnick is off to a torrid start, hitting .362 with a .990 OPS. It’s a deep lineup, with catcher Jason Castro hitting eighth and Marisnick ninth, and it could be a pretty good one. I think this is the year the Astros go over .500.

#3. Los Angeles Angels (82-80): I was all set to give the Angels 87 wins and a wild card spot when I realized that everything I said about the White Sox being a top-heavy team holds true with the Angels. Now, the guy LA is relying on, Mike Trout, happens to be the best player in baseball by far. But baseball is still a team sport, and it’s showing. Trout is playing extremely well, with a .318/.432/.545 triple slash, four homers, five steals, and nearly as many walks as strikeouts, but the Angels are still under .500. He’s scored 16 runs, and nobody else on the Angels has scored more than 10. Trout needs help, and while he’s getting it from leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun and from a few of their starters (ace Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago, and C.J. Wilson), he’s not getting much from the rest of the team. It looks like a 73 win team that just so happens to have Mike Trout, which is why I’m going to give them 82 wins.

#4. Oakland Athletics (79-83): Despite am 8-12 start, I’ve actually been pretty impressed with the Athletics, and I think they are ticketed for a near-.500 record. It’s a classic Billy Beane team, one full of no-names that combines to make a mismatched team that somehow plays .500 ball. Billy Butler and Ben Zobrist are about as well-known as any other players on the team, and Zobrist is injured right now. But Sonny Gray is one of the best starters in baseball, and maybe the most underrated one in baseball. And guys like Stephen Vogt, Ike Davis, Sam Fuld, and Mark Cahna always step up for them. It’s not a playoff team, but again, it looks as if it’s better than the some of its parts.

#5. Texas Rangers (71-91): Well this under pick looks pretty good right now. The Rangers are 7-12, and they aren’t going to be a good baseball team. Almost nothing has changed since I wrote about the Rangers. They have arguably the worst pitching staff in baseball without Yu Darvish, and while Prince Fielder is bouncing back in a big way, the lineup isn’t good enough to supplement a terrible pitching staff. Shin-Soo Choo, coming off a down year, is hitting .096, and that isn’t a typo. Elvis Andrus is a liability at the plate, Robinson Chirinos is the worst starting catcher in baseball, and Rougned Odor hasn’t proven that he can hit anywhere near league average. Add in the fact that Leonys Martin, owner a career .313 OBP, is the leadoff hitter, and the lineup doesn’t look that great. Adrian Beltre is an anchor in the middle of the lineup and Fielder is going to have a good year, but it won’t be anywhere near enough. The Twins might be worse, but this is by far the second worst team in the American League.

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Comments
  1. dpcathena says:

    Even Josh Hamilton, Part 2, doesn’t give you hope for the Rangers?

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