AL West Season Preview
By Patrick Gunn
Yankees Baseball is racing towards us as the winter snow melts into April rosebuds. With that said, the Yankees have some competition to get back to the World Series. I will dig into the Bombers’ competition around the league over the next few weeks, going through every division ending with the AL East. I’m basing my predictions for the season on the team’s PECOTA projected records, statistics from last season, and overall talent.
The American League West might compete with the NL Central for the worst division in baseball this year. No team appears to be a World Series contender and each team either has some fatal flaws, tragic departures, or just poor rosters altogether. Regardless, two AL West teams won a playoff series last year, and one almost pulled off a miraculous comeback. Here’s what PECOTA says about the AL West:
1. Houston Astros (91.7-70.3)
2. Los Angeles Angels (86.4-75.6)
3. Oakland Athletics (82.5-79.5)
4. Seattle Mariners (70.6-91.4)
5. Texas Rangers (66.7-95.3)
FIRST PLACE: Houston Astros
Last Season’s Record: 29-31, AL Championship Series Loss
Most Exciting Part of this Team: Young Arms
The Astros rallied in the playoffs last season behind their young arms. Enoli Paredes, Christian Javier, and Jose Urquidy came up big for Houston last season. Losing Framber Valdez hurts, but the ‘Stros have enough talent and young pitching depth coming through the system to stay afloat and supplement Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers, and Ryan Pressly.
Biggest Question: How does the core perform without George Springer?
Springer led Houston with an .899 OPS last season and was one of four players who played more than 30 games to have an OPS above .800 last season. Also, Springer has been a leader in the clubhouse in 2014. The Astros lost a major leader and a key member of their 2017 championship team. Houston needs Jose Altuve (.630 OPS), Alex Bregman (.801), Carlos Correa (.709), and Yuli Gurriel (.658) to step up from last season and provide the offense Houston needs. Of course, a healthy Yordan Alvarez and more growth from Kyle Tucker wouldn’t hurt either.
Pat’s Prediction: 88-74
I’m not too bullish about Houston, but they have the most talent in this division. Bringing Michael Brantly back is massive, as is a late spring signing of James Odorizzi. I’m giving them fewer wins than PECOTA because of the Valdez injury, but this team should get a ton of easy wins in the AL WEST.
SECOND PLACE: Oakland Athletics
Last Season’s Record: 36-24
Most Exciting Part of this Team: Matt Chapman turning double plays with Elvis Andrus
Elvis Andrus in Oakland is odd. Let’s get that part out of the way. With that said, Andrus is a very joyful player, and having one of the best defensive third basemen in the game standing next to him makes Andrus’s job easier. This could about the fact that Chapman is still in Oakland and able to hit bombs and make diving grabs, but seeing him working off Andrus’ energy? Priceless.
(honorable mention: Sean Murphy, Matt Olson, and Chapman hitting home runs).
Biggest Question: How will the starting rotation shape itself out?
Oakland easily won the West last season despite season-long struggles from its rotation. Jesús Luzardo (4.19 FIP), Sean Manaea (3.71 FIP), and Frankie Montas (4.74 FIP) all showed flashes of brilliance but were inconsistent all season. They need to step up in their development alongside Chris Bassitt veteran Mike Fiers and potentially A.J. Puk.
Pat’s Prediction: 83-79
Swapping Andrus for Marcus Semien at short is a downgrade on the field, even with Andrus’s brilliant personality. Also, losing Liam Hendriks is a blow to the bullpen. Oakland still has some good arms in the pen with Sergio Romo and Trevor Rosenthal to go with Jake Diekman, Lou Trivino, and Yusmeiro Petit. But Oakland needs its rotation and its lineup to play consistently and I like Houston’s talent just a bit more. This is a team that can push for a playoff spot, but this is a weaker A’s team than years prior.
THIRD PLACE: Los Angeles Angels
Last Season’s Record: 26-34
Most Exciting Part of this team: Mike Trout & the Batters
Trout is one of the brightest faces in the game, no question. But a lineup with him, Anthony Rendon, Shohei Ohtani, and David Fletcher? Their lineup is top-heavy, but what a top of the order that is.
Biggest Question: Can this team pitch?
This question has hung over the Angels for years now. Dylan Bundy broke out last season, but even with him, the Angels finished 20th in MLB with 3.1 WAR from their starting pitching finishing with a 4.78 FIP while allowing teams to hit an average exit velocity of 88.0 mph. Jose Quintana might help Los Angles improve that number, but Alex Cobb is a stop-gap arm rather than a major improvement for the Angels. Andrew Heaney, Jaime Barria, and Griffin Canning need to step up in the rotation this season.
Pat’s Prediction: 75-87
The Angels need to prove they can win before I feel confident in this team winning more than 81 games in a season, let alone make the playoffs. Raisel Iglesias is a good reliever for the bullpen, and any team with Mike Trout should compete for a playoff spot. The Mickey Callaway news has soured me on the Angels’ culture even more than the past few season’s performances have, and I just have no faith in this team to make the playoffs right now even with Trout.
FOURTH PLACE: Seattle Mariners
Last Season’s Record: 27-33
Most Exciting Part of this Team: Kyle Lewis and the emerging core.
Lewis, the reigning AL Rookie of the year, has been a pleasure to watch over the last two seasons. He might be the start of something fun in Seattle, with Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, and Taylor Trammell rising through the minors to join Lewis, Justin Dunn, and Justus Sheffield (side note: the Mariners might just win a trade with the Yankees with Sheffield developing. Good for Jerry Dipoto).
Biggest Question: Where are the M’s in their rebuild?
Having young exciting players does not necessarily guarantee a winning season. The M’s played hard last season, but Dunn walked 15.7% of batters he faced last season en route to a 6.54 FIP. Sheffield took a massive step forward (3.17 FIP), but hitters still hit for a 90.7 exit velocity against him. The Mariners need their young core to keep growing, and how much they improve will carry this team to any kind of success.
Pat’s Prediction: 73-89
I wanted to put this team above the Angels, but Los Angeles just has more proven talent. Also, the M’s definitely overachieved last season, and teams with a .450 winning percentage should not be two-games out of a playoff spot. With that said, I’m interested in the Mariners this season. Kelenic may not start the season in Seattle but he’s close, plus Mitch Haniger is healthy and James Paxton is back to rebuild his stock in the rotation. The Mariners are not a playoff team yet, but they can push the Angels and the Rangers in this division.
FIFTH PLACE: Texas Rangers
Last Season’s Record: 22-38
Most Exciting Part of this Team: Joey Gallo anchoring the middle of this lineup
Gallo is a king of the three true outcomes. He’s never had a season in which he’s struck out in fewer than 35% of his at-bats, but he also has a career isolated power mark of .290. Those are both elite numbers, and Gallo puts up those numbers with high exit velocity (career rate of 93.4) and he’s even improved his defensive value over the last two seasons.
Biggest Question: Can this team make any waves in 2021?
The record says it all; Texas had a rough 2020 on the field. Now, they’re saying goodbye to a franchise cornerstone in Elvis Andrus, while trading away top pitcher Lance Lynn. Also, the Rangers are still going with Rougned Odor at second base and have minimal pitching depth. Anything positive that happens next season for Texas counts as a massive victory.
Pat’s Prediction: 63-99
It looks like Texas is going to have another difficult year. There’s not much major league talent here and the farm system still needs replenishing. David Dahl is a great signing, but there’s just not much to get excited about with this team.