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2015 MLB Preview: AL West

(Author’s Note: Sorry about the delay in posts, I’m going to try to complete this preview within the next week or so). The AL West was one of the best divisions in baseball in 2014, despite the dreadful duo of the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros at its tail end. The Los Angeles Angels, the Oakland Athletics, and the Seattle Mariners were either in the playoffs or in the hunt until the very last day. The AL West should remain fairly vicious this year, with those same three teams winning plenty of games. I do think two playoff teams will again emerge from the division this season, but the A’s will not be one of them.

Divisional Breakdown

  1. Los Angeles Angels
  2. Seattle Mariners
  3. Oakland Athletics
  4. Houston Astros
  5. Texas Rangers

Team Breakdown

  1. Los Angeles Angels

On the strength of unexpectedly solid starting pitching and Mike Trout’s first MVP season, the Angels won the most games in the league and took home the AL West title before falling to the spunky Kansas City Royals in the ALDS. The Angels’ roster didn’t change much over the offseason, which is a good thing when talking about a 98 win team. The Angels had the top-run producing offense last year, and the lineup should remain potent. Mike Trout is an outstanding talent and a perennial MVP candidate, Kole Calhoun is very good in right field, and Albert Pujols’ remaining efficacy has often been underrated in recent years. While the loss of Howie Kendrick to the crosstown Dodgers hurts, the upgrade from C.J. Cron to Matt Joyce at DH should make up for lost production. The rotation has the potential to be very good. I’m not the biggest fan of Jered Weaver or C.J Wilson, but each had a decent 2014 and can contribute in a solid rotation. The key factors in this staff are Garrett Richards and 2014 Rookie of the Year runner up Matt Shoemaker. If Richards can return (in mid-April) pitching like he did last year, and if Shoemaker can replicate his rookie year performance, the Angels’ rotation will be in good shape. If new addition Andrew Heaney can come up and contribute to the staff at some point, even better. The bullpen is in better shape than it was at the beginning of last year, with Huston Street installed as closer. Street and setup man Joe Smith form one of the better one-two bullpen combinations in the big leagues.

Verdict

Best Case- Trout wins his second straight MVP, Richards and Shoemaker are dominant once again, and the Angels take the AL West on the way to the AL pennant.

Worst Case- Age takes its toll on Pujols, Wilson, and Weaver, Richards doesn’t look the same after the injury, and the Angels fall behind the Mariners in the division.

Trout and the Angels willl be fishing for a championship in 2015.

  1. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners had a pretty good 2014, winning their most games since 2007. Robinson Cano was a welcome addition into Seattle’s lineup, Kyle Seager showed himself to be one of the better third basemen in the leagues, and Felix Hernandez added yet another fantastic season onto his resumé. The Mariners enter the season poised to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001, thanks to several key offseason acquisitions who should complement the incumbent stars well. Nelson Cruz should provide much-needed power in the heart of the lineup, and Seth Smith and Austin Jackson will make the Mariners’ once-weak outfield respectable. Meanwhile, the Mariners have one of the most fearsome rotations in baseball. King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma are a dominant one-two punch, and hopefully 2015 will be the year that Taijuan Walker shows the hype surrounding him to be true. The bullpen arms will aim to repeat the standard they set in 2014, when Seattle had the lowest bullpen ERA of any major league team. Closer Fernando Rodney is among the best in baseball, and Tom Wilhelmsen and Danny Farquhar both had sub-3 ERAs last season. The Mariners should hold on to the lead in a lot of close games this year.

Verdict

Best Case- Hernandez is a Cy Young candidate, Cano and Seager are tops at their positions, and the Mariners win the AL West for the first time since 2001.

Worst Case- Walker cannot produce at the major league level, Cruz cannot replicate his powerful production of last year, and the Mariners just miss out on a wild card spot.

Hernandez and Cano must be on the top of their games for the Mariners to reach the postseason.

  1. Oakland Athletics

The A’s looked like the best team in baseball last season, until several ill-fated trades aimed to make Oakland even more formidable ended up backfiring. The midseason acquisitions of Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija served only to rid the team of Yoenis Cespedes and prospect Addison Russell. Somewhat poetically, Lester was on the mound for the epic Wild Card Game loss to the Kansas City Royals. Perhaps in response, the 2015 offseason has been one of massive turnover for the A’s roster. Gone are Lester, Samardzija, Josh Donaldson, Derek Norris, Brandon Moss, John Jaso, and Jed Lowrie, key components of the successful A’s squads of the past few years. In their place are several promising pieces which, if everything pans out, could turn out to be extremely valuable. The lineup is interesting blend of speed and power, with Coco Crisp and Billy Butler serving as examples of each attribute. Brett Lawrie, Ben Zobrist, and Josh Reddick form a solid heart of the batting order, but it remains to be seen if Ike Davis can be a starting first-bagger at the big league level. Similarly, the rotation could be very good, but there are nagging question marks. Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir are a solid top two in the staff, but after that, things look a bit rough. Jesse Chavez appeared to revive his career, and the A’s will count on him to continue his success in 2015. The bullpen, 3rd in the league in reliever ERA last year, should be good, with former Nat Tyler Clippard assuming the closing role in place of the injured Sean Doolittle. Once the latter returns, the two should form an imposing end-of-game pair.

Verdict

Best Case- The rotation holds together, Billy Beane’s roster gambles pay off, and the new-look A’s take back the AL West title.

Worst Case- The new lineup doesn’t mesh, the rotation is a tire fire beyond Gray and Kazmir, and the Athletics fall behind– gulp– the Astros in the AL West.

Jesus- sorry, Josh Reddick and the new-look A’s hope to maintain the team’s recent success.

  1. Houston Astros

It’s difficult to imagine that a team that went 70-92 could be considered improved, but the 2014 Astros were Houston’s most successful squad since 2010. There were several brights spots for Houston– George Springer’s powerful debut, the breakout seasons of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh — but the brightest of all was diminutive second baseman Jose Altuve, who took home the AL batting title. Although the Astros won’t quite be in playoff contention in 2015, there should be plenty of hope for the future in Houston. The lineup is improved, even with the departure of Dexter Fowler. New additions Jed Lowrie and Colby Rasmus should be solid replacements at short and in center, and Evan Gattis, Chris Carter, and Springer form a powerful middle of the lineup. The lineup will look even better if Jon Singleton can realize his potential at first, and if Carlos Correa and his impressive bat can reach the majors by September. The rotation is less impressive at the moment, but it has the potential to be fairly good. If Keuchel and McHugh continue their 2014 success, new acquisition Dan Straily produces at the level he did in his rookie season, and top prospect Mark Appel impresses enough to reach the Show this season, the Astros might begin to scare some teams around the league. The bullpen, statistically the worst in the league last year, should be much improved. Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek are two of the better righty relievers in the league, so things should be a little less hopeless in the Houston ‘pen this year.

Verdict

Best Case- Houston’s pitchers realize their potential, the position player prospects impress, and the Astros are in the wild card race until late in the year.

Worst Case-  Correa and Appel suffer more setbacks, McHugh and Keuchel struggle, and the Astros finish in the AL West cellar.

Jose Altuve waves goodbye to the 60-win seasons of the past few years.

  1. Texas Rangers

The American League’s worst team in 2014, the injury-plagued Rangers looked nothing like their competitive teams of the last several years. Even though many of the Rangers’ struggles could be linked back to injuries to star players like Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish, I don’t believe that Texas will be much better this year. Darvish is hurt again, and Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo have yet to display why Texas invested $300 million in them as free agents last offseason. The lineup is ok, with perennial All-Star Adrian Beltre at third and Elvis Andrus at short, and should become better midway through the season, when minor league phenom Joey Gallo is projected to reach the majors. Still, Jurickson Profar has been set back yet again with injury issues, and the rest of the lineup just isn’t that eye-popping. Unless Fielder and Choo can return to their past levels of performance, Texas might have a difficult time scoring runs. The rotation is pretty unintimidating, especially without Darvish. Yovani Gallardo and Derek Holland are good starting pitchers, but not good enough to carry a rotation of Ross Detweiller, Colby Lewis, and Nick Martinez to the postseason. The bullpen was already going to be a weak spot on the team after the departures of Joakim Soria and Jason Frasor over the past year, but an injury-plagued spring has made the situation even worse. Closer Neftali Feliz will have to carry the load for Texas in the ‘pen.

Verdict

Best Case- Gallardo and Holland impress, Fielder, Choo, and Beltre form a solid core of the lineup, and the Rangers reinsert themselves into the wild card conversation.

Worst Case- The rotation and bullpen are disasters, Fielder and Choo look like shells of their former selves, and the Rangers are once again one of the worst teams in the league.

For the Rangers to have a shot at the postseason, Prince Fielder will have to stay on the field.

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2014 MLB Preview: AL West

Hello, baseball fans, and welcome to the third edition of College Sports Town’s divisional previews for the 2014 MLB season. Today, I’ll be looking at the only remaining AL division, the AL West. As has been the case for the past couple years, I expect an intense race for the AL West crown. I also expect that the race will have the same result.

Divisional Breakdown

1. Oakland Athletics

2. Seattle Mariners

3. Texas Rangers

4. Los Angeles Angels

5. Houston Astros

Team Breakdown

1. Oakland Athletics

The A’s didn’t catch the league by surprise last season as they had in 2012, but that didn’t matter. They won their second straight AL West title, and I expect that trend to continue this year. Despite an off-season with some controversial moves such as trading prospect Michael Choice to the Rangers for 4th outfielder Craig Gentry, the A’s remain the team to beat. The lineup is underrated. Coco Crisp is a great leadoff hitter, even at this point in his career. Last year, Jed Lowrie batted .290, Yoenis Cespedes launched 26 HR and won the Home Run Derby, and Josh Donaldson finished 4th in the MVP vote after his breakout season. Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick have both had 30+ HR years in the past couple of seasons, and I see no reason why they can’t replicate that success. Former Dodger Nick Punto should be an effective, if not exciting, replacement for the jettisoned Jemile Weeks. The lineup should be about as productive as it was last year. The rotation, not so much. The 2013 A’s benefitted from a breakout season from Jarrod Parker and a career year from Bartolo Colon. Parker is soon going to undergo Tommy John surgery which will keep him out for the year, and Colon signed with the Mets. Still, the A’s rotation is relatively strong. Sonny Gray and Dan Straily each had strong rookie showings, and Tommy Milone is a solid left-hander. The A’s hope that Scott Kazmir can replicate the success he had last year as a revitalized member of the Indians rotation. At least the starters should be able to rely upon a strong bullpen. Despite losing All-Star Grant Balfour, the A’s pen figures to be one of the best in the AL due to the acquisition of closer Jim Johnson and setup man Luke Gregerson. Joined with former All-Star Ryan Cook and the solid Sean Doolittle, one can expect most of the A’s leads to be preserved.

Verdict

Best Case- Cespedes and Donaldson are All-Stars, Kazmir pitches well again, the bullpen is impenetrable, and the A’s win the West for the third consecutive year.

Worst Case- The rotation is weakened without Parker and Colon, Jim Johnson continues to decline, and the A’s miss the playoffs.

Coco Crisp might have both the coolest name and best hair in all of baseball.

Coco Crisp might have both the coolest name and best hair in all of baseball.

2. Seattle Mariners

Last season, the Mariners finished fourth in the West, missing the playoffs for the 12th straight year. Following yet another disappointing year, the Mariners made a huge splash in the off-season. The squad is much improved, and even though I don’t think they’ll earn a wild-card berth this year, they’ll certainly contend for a postseason spot. The lineup, notorious in past years for its low scoring, looks powerful. New acquisitions Logan Morrison and Corey Hart are both capable of hitting 30+ HR, if their knees hold up. Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak also pack some pop, and Mike Zunino should improve in his sophomore year. Oh yeah, and the Mariners happened to sign the best second baseman in the league, Robinson Cano. Cano will have huge expectations placed on him due to the ten-year contract, the 4th largest in league history, but I guarantee Cano plays better following his huge contract than Albert Pujols did (more on him later). Even with Cano, however, the Mariners’ rotation surpasses their lineup. Ace Felix Hernandez, a perennial Cy Young candidate (link to AL awards), is followed by Hisashi Iwakuma, who actually had a better 2013 than King Felix. Then come the young guns. 23 year old Erasmo Ramirez has looked great this spring, 25 year old James Paxton has been good as well, and everyone is talking about 21 year old Taijuan Walker, whose brilliant fastball makes scouts salivate. Assuming Iwakuma and Walker recover from their injuries and return to the majors quickly, opposing batters will dread facing the Mariners’ starting pitchers. They probably won’t look forward to the bullpen, either. The Mariners signed former All-Star Fernando Rodney, who, along with set up man Danny Farquhar, should do a fine job crushing comeback attempts. Although this is a dangerous Mariners squad, I don’t have enough confidence in their pitching (besides King Felix and Iwakuma) and tenuous lineup (besides Cano) to put them in my prospective postseason.

Verdict

Best Case- Hart and Morrison stay healthy and slug, Cano wins MVP, Hernandez wins Cy Young, Walker is a ROY candidate, and the Mariners break their postseason drought.

Worst case- Hart and Morrison face knee issues again, the young members of the pitching staff falter, and the Mariners miss the playoffs yet again.

This sight is going to remain strange for a while.

This sight is going to remain strange for a while.

3. Texas Rangers

The Rangers just missed out on the playoffs last year, losing to the Tampa Bay Rays in a one-game playoff for the final wild-card spot. The Rangers will remain one of the better teams in the AL, but I predict they will miss out on the playoffs again this season. The lineup is not the most pressing issue in Arlington. Shin-Soo Choo, signed this off-season to a 7 year deal worth $130 million, is one of the best leadoff hitters in the game, and Prince Fielder, acquired for Ian Kinsler in a blockbuster trade with the Tigers, brings with him monumental power (and a horrendous contract). Adrian Beltre has been building his Hall of Fame case during his Texas tenure, and his tremendous play should continue in 2014. The acquisition of Alex Rios was one of the best deadline deals of last summer, and, even though the playoff push fell through, Rios’ contributions will be appreciated this year. The difference between this lineup being top ten or top five in the league will be the performances of of Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar. If Andrus, signed to massive extension last year, returns to his former All-Star level of performance, and if Profar is as good as promised, the Rangers’ offense will be elite. The concern with the Rangers lies in the pitching staff. Outside of Yu Darvish (currently day-to-day with neck stiffness), who has been spectacular in his two MLB seasons, the rotation is a mystery. Their second-best starter, Derek Holland, will be out until the All-Star break. Sophomore Martin Perez will have to step up, along with Matt Harrison, who is recovering from three surgeries last year. The bullpen is no more secure. All-Star Joe Nathan left for the Tigers in the off-season, leaving the closing job to former All-Star Joakim Soria. Although Soria struggled a bit last year, he has looked strong in spring training. The Rangers are hoping Soria and Neftali Feliz can return to their former elite status.

Verdict

Best Case- Fielder hits 40+ HR, Choo leads the AL in OBP, Beltre is an MVP candidate, Darvish is a Cy Young candidate, and the rotation holds up long enough to give the Rangers a playoff spot.

Worst case- Andrus and Profar disappoint, the rotation outside of Darvish is injury-prone and leaky, and the Rangers miss the playoffs for the second straight year.

Rangers fans should be glad Prince can hit a ball farther than you can throw him.

As always, Prince will be portly but powerful.

4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Despite massive spending the past two off-seasons, the Angels missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year last season. It seems the Angels put their eggs in the wrong baskets, and that has and will continue to hurt them, both in their pockets and in their farm system. The Angels may have the best young player in the game in Mike Trout, but any player, even a player as good as Trout, would have difficulty leading this team to the postseason. What the Angels really need is a time machine to bring back the 2010 versions of their premier players (except Trout). It hasn’t been the largest sample size, but Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols have been extremely disappointing in their Angels’ tenures. The Angels traded away their slugger Mark Trumbo, as well as the somewhat-promising Peter Bourjos, in exchange for pitching and 2011 World Series hero David Freese. The only people I trust in this lineup are Trout and Howie Kendrick. The rotation was the focus of the past off-season, so it should be improved from last season. Still, I don’t have much confidence in it, outside of former All-Stars C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver. New additions Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs could be effective pieces, but each of the lefties had slightly rocky 2013 seasons, and Mark Trumbo (who I am a believer in AS A DH) is an hefty price to pay for them. In the bullpen, former Indian Joe Smith should slightly shore up a shaky staff which includes closer Ernesto Frieri but not much else.

Verdict

Best case- Trout wins MVP, Hamilton and Pujols are improved, along with Santiago and Skaggs, and the Angels chase a wild-card spot all season, falling just short of the postseason.

Worst case- Trout is mortal, Pujols continues to decline, Skaggs and Santiago regress, and the Angels fall in the worse half of the final AL standings.

Trout seems to lead the league in both WAR and smiles.

Trout will once again lead the league in WAR (for whatever that’s worth).

5. Houston Astros

Oh boy. Last year, I concluded my Astros preview by saying that their worst case scenario was reality, and I was right. The 2013 Astros lost 111 games, and this year’s edition won’t be much better. The off-season brought several welcome improvements, but Houston fans will suffer through another tough season. The lineup is probably the worst in the league. Dexter Fowler is a good leadoff man, and Jose Altuve, Chris Carter, and Jason Castro would probably have spots on other teams. The rest of the lineup, however, might not find a home anywhere else but Houston. Much of that same sentiment is reflected by the pitching staff. Outside of new additions Scott Feldman, Chad Qualls, and Jesse Crain, most of the Astros pitchers are mediocre. Astros fans looking to avoid killing themselves (especially after suffering through the Texans season) should keep their eyes on the minor leagues and September call ups. The Astros, due to their recent ineptitude, have four of Prospect361.com’s top 30 prospects scattered throughout the minors. Hopefully for Astros fans, their development will be rapid, and they will soon join promising pitcher Jarred Cosart in the big leagues. Right now, however, I’d advise the denizens of Houston to start paying attention to the NBA and the NFL draft. That way, they won’t have to watch the 2014 Astros.

Verdict

Best Case- The youth movement arrives as quickly as possible, inspiring hope for the 2015 season.

Worst case- Once again, reality.

This photo does a good job depicting last year for the Astros, as well as previewing the next (also, any chance I have to post it, I will).

This photo does a good job depicting last year for the Astros, as well as previewing the next (besides the fact that I must post it any time it’s relevant).

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2014 MLB Preview: Playoff Picture

Hello once again, baseball fans. It’s time for my predictions for which teams will make the playoffs, and which team will bring home the vaunted World Series title for 2014. As always, the season will take many twists and turns, but these are the teams I expect to see playing for the title in October.

Divisional and Wild Card Winners AL East- Boston Red Sox

AL Central- Detroit Tigers

AL West- Oakland Athletics

AL Wild Card #1- Tampa Bay Rays

AL Wild Card #2- Kansas City Royals

NL East- Atlanta Braves

NL Central- St. Louis Cardinals

NL West- Los Angeles Dodgers

NL Wild Card #1- Washington Nationals

NL Wild Card #2- Cincinnati Reds

Wild Card Matches

AL- Tampa Bay Rays defeat Kansas City Royals

NL- Washington Nationals defeat Cincinnati Reds

Divisional Round

AL- Detroit Tigers beat Tampa Bay Rays in 4 games, Boston Red Sox beat Oakland Athletics in 5 games

NL-  St. Louis Cardinals beat Washington Nationals in 4 games, Los Angeles Dodgers beat Atlanta Braves in 5 games League Championship Matchups

AL- Detroit Tigers beat Boston Red Sox in 6 games

NL- St. Louis Cardinals beat Los Angeles Dodgers in 5 games

World Series

Detroit Tigers beat St. Louis Cardinals in 7 games

tigers

Cabrera and Verlander will finally lead the Tigers to postseason success.

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2013 MLB 1/3 Season Review: Part 2

Hello, baseball fans! In a continuation of my 1/3 MLB season review, today I will be reviewing my playoffs picks.(https://collegesportstown.com/2013/03/19/mlb-2013-https://collegesportstown.com/2013/03/19/mlb-2013-preview-playoff-picture/-playoff-picture/). They range from spot-on to very off, as the 2013 season has contained massive surprises thus far.

Pretty Accurate Predictions

The Detroit Tigers win the AL Central, and the Cleveland Indians are improved

Although the success of the Tigers was not difficult to foresee, the AL Central in general is an area of pride for me so far this season. The Tigers seem poised to return to the playoffs and beyond once again this year due to the excellent performances of Justin Verlander (8 wins, 93 K, 3.71 ERA) and Miguel Cabrera (.361 BA, 69 RBI, 18 HR), which is unsurprising  but the Indians are a bit of a shock for some. The offseason splurging of the team has actually paid off in the form of 2nd place in the Central as I type. New acquisitions like Michael Bourn (.294 BA) and Mark Reynolds (13 HR) have contributed along with old mainstays such as Justin Masterson (8-5, 3.68 ERA)  to put forward a solid baseball team that has, despite recent struggles, lived up to my expectation so far.

Somewhat Accurate Predictions

The San Francisco Giants win the NL West

The Giants are playing like they have for the past few years, which is to say they’re playing  playoff baseball. At the moment, however, the Arizona Diamondbacks have a 1.5 game division lead due to breakout seasons by young guns Patrick Corbin and Paul Goldschmidt. However the Giants are a more experienced team with a more even talent breakdown, and I believe that Corbin and Goldschmidt don’t have enough other talent on their team to outplay the current world champs. Reigning NL MVP Buster Posey (.302 BA) will bring his team back to the playoffs for another season as NL West champs.

The Tampa Bay Rays will win an AL Wild Card

The Rays are, like the Giants, playing excellent baseball so far. Unfortunately for them, they must play in the AL East, where 4 of the 5 teams (besides the one I predicted to win the division- of course) have records over .500. Being as much of the Rays’ schedule is against these teams, the impact of excellent contributions of players like Evan Longoria, James Loney, and Matt Moore is extinguished. Still, I think that the excellent play of the Red Sox and Tank- excuse me- Yankees cannot continue, and the Rays wil be energized by the midseason call up of  their top prospect, Wil Meyers. The Rays should be able to claim a wild card spot after all, but it will be a hard fought battle in the hardest division in baseball.

The Cincinnati Reds will win the NL Central

 The Reds are another case of an excellent team that has the misfortune of being in the same division as a team playing even better. The major-league best Cardinals are 3.5 games ahead of the Reds while the overachieving Pirates are only a .5 game behind them. Joey Votto (.323 BA, 11 HR, .952 OPS) has produced MVP-like numbers again so far this year, and he is being aided greatly by Brandon Phillips (.293 BA, 53 RBI) and Mat Latos (6-0, 2.87 ERA), but even with their production and a potent lineup, the Reds have not been able to surpass the Cardinals this year. Based on their play so far, the Reds should earn an NL Wild Card spot and the Cardinals an NL Central division crown.

Not so Accurate Predictions

The Toronto Blue Jays will win the AL East

Fine, I’ll admit it, this pick was partially the product of watching Jose Reyes, R.A Dickey, and Josh Johnson for years in competition with and against my beloved New York Mets. Unfortunately, they haven’t played up to expectation, with a 28-36 record as I type. Reyes sprained his ankle on April 13, 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner Dickey is 5-8 with a 5.11 ERA, and Johnson, who has been on and off the disabled list, is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA. Without the expensive additions to the team producing, the only reasons to watch the Jays so far have been to see Edwin Encarncion and Jose Bautista (33 combined HR) put on displays of their power and, of course, the man in these two clips (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-VqBI1D980&feature=player_embedded and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-F8oKUKbZw&feature=player_embedded). Despite the disastrous season so far, I believe that if the starting pitching staff can limit opposing runs to 4 or 5 a game, the lineup can power the Jays into respectability, if not the postseason.

The Washington Nationals will win the NL East, and the Atlanta Braves will win an NL Wild Card

While the Braves have been outstanding so far, they will likely be entering the playoffs as the champions of the NL East rather than wild card winners. Justin Upton (15 HR), Evan Gattis (14 HR), and Dan Uggla (13 HR) have provided plenty of offensive firepower, and the pitching staff led by Mike Minor (8-2, 2.44 ERA) has been excellent as well. While the Braves have received unexpectedly high levels of production from players like Gattis and Minor, the Nationals have received unexpectedly low levels of production from their young stars. Expected to win the World Series by many, the Nationals are only .500 right now. Bryce Harper (12 HR, .287 BA, .973 OPS) and Stephen Strasburg (3-5, 2.54 ERA) have dealt with injury troubles. Despite excellent play from Jordan Zimmermann (9-3, 2.00 ERA) and Ian Desmond (.282 BA, .790 OPS), the Nationals have struggled. While I expect the team to play better with a healthy Harper, they won’t be able to catch the Braves for the divisional crown. They might not be able to even snag a wild card spot.

The Los Angeles Angels will win the AL West, and the Los Angeles Dodgers will win an NL Wild Card

Perhaps the pollution in the Los Angeles air has gotten to the teams that inhabit the city. Both teams are stocked with talent from before this offseason and from it, but both are underperforming. The Angels are in third place in the AL West despite the presence of Josh Hamilton (.217 BA), Albert Pujols (.249 BA), and Mike Trout (.297 BA) in their lineup. The Dodgers, on the other hand, are in last place in the NL West despite spending like the Yankees (of old) last season and this past offseason on Josh Beckett (0-5, 5.19 ERA), oft-injured Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford,  Zack Greinke (3-1, 3.68 ERA), and Adrian Gonzalez (.312 BA, 8 HR). These additions have not been productive so far, and the teams have dug themselves into holes in their respective divisions. Ironically, I expect the Dodgers, powered by rookie sensation Yasiel Puig and NL Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw, to come closer to meeting my expectations than the Angels, who are stuck in a division with two much better teams, the Oakland Athletics and the Texas Rangers.

That’s all for now! After 33.3% of the season, what’s the most surprising development in your opinion?  Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

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MLB Preview 2013: AL West

Hello, baseball fans, and welcome to the third installment of College Sports Town’s 2013 MLB preview! Today (sorry about the delay, I have been sick the past few days), I am covering the third and final division in the American League, the West, where a new member has been added to a division already filled with talent. From this division I believe will emerge the 2013 World Series champion.

Divisional Breakdown

1. Los Angeles Angels

2. Oakland Athletics

3. Texas Rangers

4. Seattle Mariners

5. Houston Astros

Team Breakdown

Los Angeles Angels

Last year, the Angels experienced both highs and lows. Although they missed the playoffs by 4 games (they finished 89-73, 3rd in the division), they had a no-hitter thrown by Jered Weaver, Albert Pujols performing up to his Cardinals standard in the second half of the year, and of course, Mike Trout playing like the best player in baseball in his rookie season. This year, expect the Angels to build on their performances and then some. With the important addition of Josh Hamilton, the Angels have built the best lineup in baseball. As long as the rotation and pitchers Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Tommy Hanson play well, the Angels will go far.

Image

If Trout can make more catches like this, they’ll be fine!

Best Case- The lineup produces as expected, Trout wins the MVP, Wilson finishes top 5 in Cy Young voting, and the Angels win their second World Series in 11 years

Worst Case- Trout regresses, Pujols performs like he did in the first half of last year, Hamilton gets injured, the pitching isn’t serviceable, and somehow the Angels miss the playoffs again

Oakland Athletics

Last year, the A’s came out of nowhere, finishing first in the division after going 94-68. Even though they lost to the Tigers in the ALDS, the A’s inspired disenchanted fans with the production they received from Yoenis Cespedes (who finished second in AL ROY voting), Josh Reddick, and Coco Crisp. This year, however, the A’s will regress- they were a bit flukey last year and although their team is good, I don’t think they’ll be good enough to win this division or get a wild card spot again, at least not this year.

Image

Hopefully, last season will lead to a sequel for this, though!

Best Case- Cespedes only gets better and finishes top five in MVP voting, Crisp steals 50 bases, the pitching staff plays pretty well, and the Athletics return to the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in 10 years

Worst Case- Injuries plauge the team, Cespedes regresses, the pitching staff is horrendous, and the A’s finish 4th in the division.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers experienced disappointment despite a great season last year, as they lost the division crown on the last day of the season and lost the intial AL wild card game to the Orioles right after. The goat of the wild card game, former AL MVP Josh Hamilton, is now with the division rival Angels, but the lineup is still potent with Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre, and Elvis Andrus. The new additions of Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski should help soften the blow, and the rotation is still is good shape, with Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison (not to mention the stellar bullpen with many former All-Stars). There is also young talent on the way up, with Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar, so there might be midseason trades if the Rangers aren’t playing well.

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Don’t expect to see a new version of this for 2013…

Best Case- The Rangers don’t miss Hamilton, as the mainstays, young guns, and new additions all produce, Yu Darvish wins the AL Cy Young Award, and the Rangers go back into the playoffs and at least the ALDS.

Worst Case- Hamilton is sorely missed as Cruz is implicated in steroid cases and Andrus, Berkman, Beltre are dealing with injury troubles, Darvish underperforms, and the Rangers miss the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners performed poorly as expected last season, going 75-87 and finishing 4th place in the division. They traded away long-time All-Star Ichiro Suzuki, but also had a perfect game pitched by ace Felix Hernandez. This year, although the Mariners likely won’t go to the playoffs, they are looking much better. They added Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, and Jason Bay to the lineup, and Oliver Perez and Jeremy Bonderman to the rotation/bullpen. This team has real promise if young players like Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak, and Dustin Ackley can produce.

Hopefully Mariners fans will see more celebrations over the next 4 or 5 years.

Hopefully Mariners fans will see more celebrations over the next 4 or 5 years.

Best Case- Reclamation projects like Bay, Perez, and Morales work out as they produce like they did when they were highly-touted players, Montero hits 30 HR, Ackley and Smoak bat .300, and Felix Hernandez wins the AL Cy Young. The Mariners seem like they are headed in the right direction.

Worst Case- The offseason moves don’t pay off, the young players are disappointing yet again, Hernandez’s contract extension’s injury clause needs to be used. The Mariners have to wait another a couple seasons for a path to contention.

Houston Astros

Cringe now, folks- this is probably the worst team in the MLB yet again a season after going 55-107. The bright spot of the offseason was the signing of Carlos Pena, followed closely by their new uniforms and the fact that they are now in the AL West (which is only good in terms of fan attendance). Otherwise, this a team that got worse (somehow), trading .290 batter Jed Lowrie. The best player on this team is probably Jose Altuve, which is really not a good thing. If the Astros can win 60+ games, I’ll be impressed.

The literal bright spot of the season.

The literal bright spot of the season.

Best Case- The city of Houston wakes up from a collective nightmare and finds out it is 2005 again.

Worst Case- Reality.

There you have it! The Angels will take the division and perhaps the World Series after fierce yearlong competition from most of the other teams. Next time, the NL overviews begin, starting with the NL East. Be on the lookout!

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