We're in the swing of things in terms of March Madness and the Huskies are DOMINATING and Opening Day is creeping ever closer! So, here's part four of six of my division preview series...the AL West!
1.Oakland Athletics The A's will end the Angels two year reign on top of the AL West in 2009. There are usually two choices in life: go big or go home. In this offseason, Billy Beane chose to go big. He traded for Matt Holliday, he brought Jason Giambi back home (WE'LL MISS YOU, BIG G!), and he also brought in Orlando Cabrera along with NOMAAAAAAAH. Offense was a big problem for the A's last season (14th in BA, 13th in OBP, and 14th in SLG), but Giambi and Holliday should help that. A 3-4-5 combination of Giambi-Holliaday-Cust could be the absolute best in the division. Oakland had a collection of no names on their pitching staff but still finished fourth in the AL in ERA and 9th in the Majors in FIP. Oakland's pitching may not be a shining star, but it is by no mean a black hole. With their improved offense, they should be able to overtake the Angels for the AL West title in 2009.
Player to Watch: Matt Holliday. Holliday came over in a trade with the Rockies. Holliday has a reputation for not hitting well away from Coors Field. He is going from a park that had a park factor of 105 last year to one that had a park factor of 97 last year. Holliday is a free agent next offseason and if he performs well outside of Coors for a whole season, he will get himself a huge deal with another AL team (maybe the Yankees? More on that at another time). If not, he could go back to the NL. No player is going to be under a bigger microscope than Matt Holliday this season.
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Aside from not having an unpretentious name, the Angels don't have much offense. Of course, Vlad is solid and they did add Bobby Abreu, but Abreu is in his decline phase. They have no power at the corner infield positions and even with the added "bonus" of Torii Hunter, the Angels offense won't be able to score enough runs. If, however, Mike Napoli can get some more PAs, he adds significant pop to the lineup. They're due for a big time pythag record correction this year as well. They were 100-62 in '08 despite having a phythag record of 88-74. Compare that to the '07 Mariners who had a record of 88-74, despite a pythag record of 79-83 (61-101 in '08 with a PR of 67-95)and the '07 D-Backs (90-72, PR: 99-83; 82-80 in '09 with an exactly similar PR.). I would expect a similar correction for the '09 Angels, despite their strong pitching staff. I don't expect the loss of K-Rod to hurt them all that much, but there just won't be enough runs to support the staff.
Player to Watch: Ervin Santana. Ervin rebounded nicely from an incredibly rough 2007 to have a very good 2008. He improved his K/BB from 2.17 to an ridiculous 4.55 and decreased his FIP from 5.13 to 3.30. Was 2008 fluky? Perhaps. But, it could just be the progression of a young, budding pitcher. Is Ervin as bad as he was in 2007? Definitely not. Is he as good as he was in '08? Probably not, but he's somewhere in the middle, and that's not bad at all.
3. Texas Rangers This team is the opposite of the Angels. All hit and no pitch. They were poised to sign Ben Sheets to correct that, but we all know how that turned out. Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler will anchor the offense that might take a hit after losing its best hitter in Milton Bradley. Hank Blalock is a consistent presence at third base, and he will have a new compliment at the opposite corner in budding youngster Chris Davis. Taylor Teagarden had a good in his brief 47 ABs and he could be a contender for AL Rookie of the Year. Texas led the AL in runs scored with 901 last year, but they also gave up 967. I see no way that Texas can improve on that disparity and with improved offense in Oakland and solid pitching in Los Angeles, there's no way the Rangers can keep up.
Player to Watch: Nelson Cruz. Cruz put up a line of .330/.421/.609 in 115 ABs last year and CHONE projects him to do .271/.374/.495 this season. If Cruz can do that, he could be a nice compliment to Josh Hamilton in the outfield and would be able to fill at least part of the gap left by Milton Bradley's departure to the Cubs.
4. Seattle Mariners There really isn't much to be excited about in the Emerald City. King Felix is great and Ichiro is still solid, but their essentially alone. Erik Bedard was good in his 15 games last season, but health is always an issue with him. The team has also lost Raul Ibanez to the Phillies and they didn't do anything to plug that hole. Adding Ken Griffey is great for nostalgia's sake, but it does nothing in terms of baseball. They played a few games below their pythag record last year, so there could be an improvement but that is unlikely. There is no one who can hit well and unless Bedard is healthy, the M's really only have one good starter.
Player to Watch: Erik Bedard. If Bedard is healthy, he and Felix Hernandez could be a great one-two punch, but if not, the M's rotation is essentially punch-less.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Check back next time for the AL Central