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Thursday, March 16th, 2017

2017 AL West Preview 5/5 (2)

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Photo courtesy of Kari Sullivan via flickr.com

HOUSTON ASTROS
2016 RECORD: 84-78,
No. 3 in AL WEST

After several years of the Astros being called the “team of the future,” the future now appears to be in Houston. Their offense is among the most talented in baseball, and could finally propel them to their long-awaited World Series win.

The core of the offense is second baseman Jose Altuve. Although his stature shorter than average, at 5 feet 6 inches, he remains strong. He is the only player left from the 2011-2013 teams that averaged 108 losses per year, and he finished third in the AL MVP voting last year. He hit a very impressive .338 to lead the American League in batting, while also setting career highs in home runs and slugging percentage.

Altuve will be supplemented by other star players, such as shortstop phenom Carlos Correa and outfielder George Springer. Those two combined to hit 49 home runs last year. Correa was voted the American League Rookie of the Year in 2014, and hopes to build on two very strong seasons thus far. Springer played a full season for the first time last year, and set career-highs in several offensive categories.

The offense goes even deeper than that as newly signed free agents and catchers Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran add on to the Astros’ already mashing lineup. Former super-prospect third baseman Alex Bregman will play a full season for the first time this year, and the flashes of brilliance he showed in 49 games last year has Astros fans getting excited.

The pitching in Houston remains a major question mark. Dallas Keuchel won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, but struggled throughout 2016. Collin McHugh was the best pitcher on the team last year, with a 4.34 ERA and a team-high 177 strikeouts. Lance McCullers made just 14 starts due to injury, but was promising in those outings, with 106 strikeouts in just 81 innings. If he can stay healthy this year, the 23-year-old could blossom into the Astros’ ace.

With their very impressive offense, the Astros are the team to beat in the AL West in 2017. How far it can take them in the playoffs remains to be seen.

2017 PREDICTION: 91-71, No. 1 in AL WEST

 

SEATTLE MARINERS
2016 RECORD: 86-76,
No. 2 in AL WEST

It’s been 16 years since the baseball fans of Seattle got to experience playoff baseball. That year, the Mariners won a remarkable 116 games, only to lose in the American League Championship Series. Forty years after their franchise debut, they still have never played in a World Series. Will 2017 be the year that the poor fortunes of the Mariners come to an end?

The core members of the offense include second baseman Robinson Cano, outfielder Nelson Cruz, and third baseman Kyle Seager. Cano, entering the fourth year of a massive 10-year contract, remains one of the best second basemen in the game. He hit 39 home runs last year, while scoring a team-high of 107 runs. Seager, the brother of Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, has quietly become an elite third baseman. Last year was his break-out season, as he finished 12th in the AL MVP voting while setting career-highs in virtually every offensive category. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) score of 6.9 was the sixth best in the AL. Cruz was the team’s primary power source last year, slugging 43 home runs. In two seasons in Seattle, he’s hit 87 long balls.

Starting pitcher Felix Hernandez is hoping to rebound after a difficult 2016. Just two years ago, he led the AL in ERA, at 2.14, and finished second in the Cy Young voting. Last season, he was up and down all year, with a disappointing 3.82 ERA. The Mariners are hoping he can recover his strong form this year. The team traded away starter Taijuan Walker to the Diamondbacks in exchange for shortstop Jean Segura, but the Mariners still have Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton to back Hernandez up in the rotation.

On paper, the Mariners aren’t as good as the Astros. However, if everything breaks right, baseball fans can expect to see this team in the postseason for the first time in a long while.

2017 PREDICTION: 89-73, No. 2 in AL WEST

 

TEXAS RANGERS
2016 RECORD: 95-67,
No. 1 in AL WEST

2016 ended in disappointment for the Rangers. After ending the season with the American League’s best record, they were swept in the AL Division Series by the Toronto Blue Jays, abruptly ending their season.

They go into 2017 with an offense anchored by future Hall of Fame third baseman Adrian Beltre. Beltre had an excellent season in 2016, hitting .300 with 32 home runs and 104 RBI. While Beltre has not shown signs of slowing down in old age, it is worth noting that he will turn 38 a few days into the season.

Texas lost outfielder Ian Desmond, who had a strong bounce-back campaign last year, to Colorado. However, they hope newly acquired first baseman Mike Napoli, who spent last year with the defending American League champion Cleveland Indians, will plug that offensive hole. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers at the trade deadline, and is one of the best offensive catchers in baseball.

On the starting pitching front, Texas holds a pair of aces, in Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. Darvish returned from Tommy John surgery in May of last year, and pitched well, with a 3.41 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 100 innings. Cole Hamels pitched a full season, and led the team in wins with 15.

While the Rangers remain a very good team in 2017, they will have to deal with the added heat of competition from Houston and Seattle. Their offense, while solid, is not quite as good as that of the other two teams. The Rangers are a club to be reckoned with, but they may have to work a bit harder to win the division than in years past.

2017 PREDICTION: 86-76, No. 3 in AL WEST

 

LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM
2016 RECORD: 74-88,
No. 4 in AL WEST

By far the most exciting part of the Angels’ 2017 team will be superstar outfielder Mike Trout. Last year, he won his second AL MVP in just his fifth full season of play, leading the league in runs scored, walks, on-base percentage, and On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+). His 10.6 WAR score was a career-high for Trout.

Unfortunately, he’s about the only consistently productive member of the Angels. Future Hall of Fame first baseman Albert Pujols had a decent season last year, leading the team in both home runs and RBI. However, he had foot surgery over the off-season, so it will be interesting to see how he’s able to bounce back from that. Outfielder Kole Calhoun had a respectable season last year, batting .271 with 91 runs scored and 18 home runs. For the most part, though, the offense is little to write home about.

The starting pitching also leaves a lot to be desired. Matt Shoemaker is probably Anaheim’s best starter, posting a team-low 3.88 ERA, a sharp improvement from his disastrous 2015. In 2014, he was the runner-up for the AL Rookie of the Year. In the bullpen, closer Huston Street will seek to rebound off a mediocre 2016 season that saw it end with knee surgery. Notably, reliever Cam Bedrosian allowed just five earned runs in 40 innings last year. Look for him to get an expanded role in the bullpen this season.

While Trout can once again be expected to excel, the same cannot be said out of his teammates. With three superior teams ahead of them in the division, it will be difficult for Anaheim to contend in 2017.

2017 PREDICTION: 71-91, No. 4 in AL WEST

 

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
2016 RECORD: 69-93,
No. 5 in AL WEST

Fresh off a 2016 season that saw them finish a distant last, the Athletics made a few minor moves, signing third baseman Trevor Plouffe from Minnesota and almost-World-Series hero center fielder Rajai Davis from Cleveland. They are all decent players, but none of them will be enough to launch Oakland out of their last-place hole.

Their best starting pitcher, Sonny Gray, had a disastrous season last year, after a string of good years to begin his career. This year isn’t starting off much better, as he will begin it on the disabled list. Outside of Gray, Oakland’s best pitcher is Kendall Graveman, who went 10-11 with a 4.10 ERA last year.

On the offensive side, slugger Khris Davis (no relation to the Orioles’ Chris Davis) will look to provide some pop to the team. He hit 42 home runs last year, while driving in 102 runs. However, he also brings a lot of strikeouts to the table: he whiffed 166 times last year. Third baseman Marcus Semien also has a lot of power, but he also struck out more than 100 times.

With Oakland’s roster this year, even with a healthy Sonny Gray, anything besides a last-place finish would be noteworthy.

2017 PREDICTION: 69-93, No. 5 in AL WEST

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