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Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on March 16, 2008
Only two months ago, the American League western division was wrapped up. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had depth in the starting rotation, a series of quality arms in the bullpen, and the added bat of Torii Hunter.Â
Too bad Kelvim Escobar, an 18 game winner last year, went onto the disabled list with a shoulder injury and the Seattle Mariners added left hander Erik Bedard. This switch in pitching balance may not be enough to dethrone the Angels as division champs, but it may make this division more interesting.Â
Of course, we canâ€™t forget about the fight for third place. Both the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics are rebuilding. In a sick sort of way, it should be interesting to see which team is less bad next season.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Despite losing Escobar, the Angels have quality arms like John Lackey, Jared Weaver, and Jon Garland to front their rotation. If Escobar can return healthy and close to his 2007 form, the Angels could have the strongest rotation in the AL. Combine that with a lights-out bullpen, and they certainly have the pitching to win.Â
Of course, they need a few runs on the board. The Angels traded away shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who had a tremendous 2007 offensively and defensively. They will be counting heavily on a comeback season from outfielder Juan Rivera and quick development from their double play combination, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar. Stud prospect Brandon Wood will get his at bats, but the team must first clear the outfield logjam.
Seattle Mariners: The addition of Bedard has made Mariners fans happy, but Felix Hernandez, if he continues to develop, should make them happier. After all, Hernandez has the talent to be a top three pitcher in the major leagues. Pair him with Bedard, add some average innings in the form of Carlos Silva and Jarrod Washburn, and the Mariners have a chance to be competitive this year.Â
Pitching will not hold them back this year. What will, however, is their offense. The Mariners finished 12th in the majors in runs scored last season. This offseason, they watched Jose Guillen walk away and traded away promising outfielder Adam Jones. The only addition was Brad Wilkerson. If he and Richie Sexson can turn the calendar back to 2005, there might be hope for this team.
Texas Rangers: Their offense finished ahead of the vaunted New York Metsâ€™ offense last year in terms of runs scored. Of course, that stat is a little skewed by their 30-3 whitewashing of the Baltimore Orioles. The Ranger offense from that game returns the same players and may be, as scary as it sounds, even stronger.Â
Offseason trade acquisition Josh Hamilton, if healthy, can be a 35 home run guy. Combine that talent with Milton Bradley, Michael Young, and a healthy Ian Kinsler, and the Rangers have the deepest middle of the order in the division. Now, if Hank Blalock would stop regressing and Marlon Byrd exhibit his 2007 form again, this team could be saved from fourth place.Â
However, theyâ€™ll have quite a mountain to climb since the pitching will be doing its part to keep the team down. Last year, the staff finished 24th in ERA, and there are no Eric Gagne surprises to be had this season. The closest the Rangers may come is Jason Jennings, who is looking good in spring training, and Kason Gabbard, who had seven great starts with the Boston Red Sox last year.
Oakland Athletics: There are only a few things worth watching on this team in 2008. One of those is how the pitchers who may be traded, namely Joe Blanton and Huston Street, perform. Several contending teams could use those arms on their pitching staffs and Aâ€™s general manager Billy Beane could definitely use the prospects that would come in return.Â
Secondly, it should be interesting to see how the youngsters like Carlos Gonzalez, Gio Gonzalez, Fautino de los Santos, and Daric Barton perform. This core could be central to a contending Athletics club in, say, 2011.Â
And finally, the feel-good story. The Aâ€™s missed last year on catcher/designated hitter Mike Piazza, but Beane hopes he struck gold once again on oft-injured Mike Sweeney. If there ever was a chance for Sweeney to rebound, it would come with a down-and-out ballclub willing to give away at bats.