The Oakland Athletics stormed to the division title, the Texas Rangers narrowly missed out on the Wild Card, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim massively underperformed, the Seattle Mariners had a poor losing season and the Houston Astros continued their shocking form. Since then, each team has gone about adding the missing pieces to their line-ups, rotations and bullpens, making for an intriguing battle for the AL West title in 2014.
Firstly, the reigning champions, the Oakland Athletics. They will aim to capture the AL West for a third consecutive year. Again, the As avoidance of the big headlines and big money free agents — opting instead for small, and normally genius, deals — has once more put them in a position to challenge. Their extremely young and promising rotation includes Sonny Gray and Jarrod Parker.
They lost Bartolo Colon but added Scott Kazmir. Kazmir made a comeback in 2013 and compiled a 3.73 ERA; he will hope to continue his comeback in the Coliseum. The addition of Luke Gregerson and Jim Johnson to an already strong bullpen gives the As one of the strongest stable of relievers in the game. In terms of hitting they lack any MVP calibre players; instead, a combination of Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick will have to rack up the RBI, home runs and drive home lead-off man Coco Crisp and Josh Donaldson (who should hit second).
Secondly, one of the big spenders of 2014 was the Seattle Mariners. They finished last year with a very disappointing 71-91 record. Their lineup simply didn’t produce enough runs to support aces Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez. They will aim to change that in 2014, and what better way to do it than splasing $240 million for ten years of service from Robinson Cano? The blockbuster deal made them the center of the off-season; nonetheless, they will need to add either Nelson Cruz or Kendrys Morales if they are serious about competing. Corey Hart, Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison could add some power in the 5-6-7 spots, but again a dangerous power hitter is needed in clean-up.
Exciting top prospect Taijuan Walker should round off the rotation, which is led by two very dangerous pitchers in Iwakuma, who finished third in the Cy Young voting last year, and King Felix Hernandez, the face of the Mariners who continues to dazzle hitters at the plate. In terms of their bullpen, the Mariners are weak. The addition of Fernando Rodney gives them a much-needed closer, and staples down the ninth. The set-up men Danny Farquahar and Charlie Furbush aren’t the best, but give the Mariners enough to compete for the AL West title.
Next up, the Texas Rangers, who many consider the favorites to take the title. Their massive offseason has given them undoubtedly one of the best lineups in the game. With on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo leading off, and Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder and Alex Rios hitting in the middle of the line-up, it’s not hard to see why. Furthermore, former top prospect Jurickson Profar is set to be the everyday second baseman after Ian Kinsler was sent to Detroit for Prince Fielder, and he could be the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year given his talent.
They may have lost Joe Nathan, but will have Neftali Felix returning to the closer role he once bossed. Yu Darvish will take to the mound for opening day; Darvish finished second in the Cy Young race and recorded a whopping 240 strikeouts in only 196 innings. He will hope to continue where he left off next year, and lead a rotation which has been considerably weakened with the loss of Derek Holland to injury. Despite their weakened rotation, they still remain the hot favorites to capture the AL West title.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of 2013 were the underachievers of baseball. The middle of the lineup — which consists of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton — on paper would scare any pitcher, but Pujols and Hamilton failed to produce. Having said that, Mike Trout continued to stun and amaze baseball fans, pundits and players alike with his superlatives on the field. He could, with only a small amount of support, lead the Angels to October.
Adding David Freese to the line-up will definitely help the cause. Once more, the LA rotation is the problem. Jered Weaver and C.J Wilson have the potential to lead the rotation; the 3-4-5 starters are the worry. Hector Santiago and Taylor Skaggs, who they traded in, ought to compete for the five spot, with Garret Richards in the fourth spot. With Jimenez and Santana (among others) still available, they will need to make a move in order to challenge for the postseason. Their deep bullpen is a real asset and will play a key role in the Angels 2014.
Finally, rounding out the AL West is the Houston Astros. They are unlikely to challenge the other teams, but their offseason should allow them to improve their record massively. Dexter Fowler was added, and he will be crucial. Jason Castro, Chris Carter and Jose Altuve will need to improve their game to give the Astros even the slimmest of chances.Their rotation is a real worry; they have a load of young pitchers who hopefully will step up, and Scott Feldman will lead the way. Feldman was a great purchase, but doesn’t have the credentials to lead a rotation into the postseason. Jesse Crain, Matt Albers and Chad Qualls fortified Houston’s bullpen, and will hopefully lock down the late innings. The Astros could surprise us with their depth of young talent, but are unlikely to do so.
Overall, the AL West is poised to be the most competitive division in baseball. My bet? The Texas Rangers will outmuscle the others, but the Angels, Mariners and As all have the credentials to win the division or at least to secure a wild-card berth. With spring training upon us, the world of baseball will be fixed on the lottery that is the AL West.