Found February 11, 2012 on NorthWest Sports Beat:
MLB Predictions & Projections

Wasn’t that just an amazing off-season for the top two franchises in the A.L.West. In all of the years of watching and covering the game of baseball, I’ve never seen this type of impact hit one team, let alone two teams in the same division.

This shouldn’t come by surprise for those who intently follow the A.L. West.  It was more of a timing issue then anything else.

Both the L.A. Angels and the Texas Rangers were in a state of waiting until both could benefit from the lucrative windfall from the regional sports networks (RSN) deals, which eventually allowed both teams to buy mega free-agents superstars Albert Pujols and Yu Darvish.

Now that the pendulum of power has swung from the National League to the American League, and then from east to west, how does this division actually shake out from a competitive standpoint?

I’m glad you asked. So now without further adieu, I present the 2012 American League West division. (We include the Mariners, Angels, Rangers, and A’s)

(In order in which I predict they will finish) 

1. Texas Rangers – 2011 – 96-66 – Lost WS Texas Rangers Logo 2012 American League West Handicapping Preview & Predictions

Rangers

The two-time defending American League champions return the majority of their team in-tact for the 2012 season. For a team that led all of MLB in hitting (.283/.340/.460/.800, 210 hr, 807 RBI, and 855 runs) that’s huge.

There wasn’t a whole lot offensive improvement that was made this off-season, which came as somewhat of a surprise considering their first base position is currently being platooned by Mitch Moreland (bats 9th when in the lineup) and Mike Napoli (2011- .320/.414/.631/1.046, 30 hr, and 75 RBI).

Time and time again this off-season, the Rangers were linked to Prince Fielder, only to be told (what seemed like every week) they had no interest in Fielder. Outside of resigning their own players, Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz, the Rangers only addition worth significance was Japanese superstar Yu Darvish.

Strengths:

Clearly their offense is what runs this Rangers machine. Their lineup is so potent 1 thru 9 that opposing pitchers are left wondering if there is such a thing as an easy out.

Their second point of strength has to be their bullpen. Anchored by Joe Nathan and Mike Adams, this bullpen runs six deep.

Weakness:

Their really isn’t too many weaknesses to the Texas Rangers. If I had pin-point one, I would have to say their starting rotation. There are a lot of uncertainties in this rotation.

Will Yu Darvish’s skills translate into success in MLB? Can Colby Lewis continue his consistency? What about Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando? What will Neftali Feliz look like in his first full season as a starter?

All these questions should have everyone closely watching the Rangers this season.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 2011 – 86-75

Arte Moreno had an agenda this off-season. Do whatever he can that’s humanly possible to narrow the gap between the Angels and the Texas Rangers.

Anaheim Angels Logo 2012 American League West Handicapping Preview & Predictions

Angels

I believe Moreno not only accomplish that goal, but also stole all the headlines in the process. It goes without saying that whenever you can add .299/.366/.541/.906, 37 hr, and 99 RBI (Albert Pujols) to your lineup, you cant help but get that due attention.

Moreno also stole headlines by poaching rom their biggest division rival, by giving 77.5 million dollars over the next 5 seasons to add LHP C.J. Wilson to an already great Angels rotation.

Strengths:

There is no doubt in my mind the biggest strength for the Angels is their rotation.

Albert Pujols 2012 American League West Handicapping Preview & Predictions

Will Albert Pujols' presence in that lineup revitalize

It was already a 4 deep rotation led by perennial Cy Young candidates Jeff Weaver, and Dan Haren. With Ervin Santana, Jerome Williams, and now C.J. Wilson inserted in the third spot, this maybe the best/deepest rotation in MLB.

Teams will have matchup fits with this rotation.

Weakness:

Even though The Machine is now anchoring this lineup for 10 more seasons, I’m still not convinced this lineup is as strong as their Texas counterparts.

If it wasn’t bad enough that the Angels lineup was already long in the tooth, another year has tacked on to Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells’ careers.

Everyone questions  how long these guys can keep up their pace that most have been accustomed to seeing from those two. Will Albert Pujols’ presence in that lineup revitalize a line that was MLB’s 15th best offense?

That’s the biggest question mark surrounding the Angels coming into the 2012 season.

3. Seattle Mariners – 2011 – 67-95 Seattle Mariners Logo 75x75 2012 American League West Handicapping Preview & Predictions

Mariners

All eyes were directly on Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik this off-season. His task was was simple. How was he going to improve an offense that was MLB’s worst in 2011.

Outside of trading for back-up catcher John Jaso  and uber prospect Jesus Montero,  the Mariners stood silent. Ownership is banking on breakout seasons from youngsters Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and possibles Casper wells and  and Mike Carp for an increase to their offense.

Most importantly, upper management has made it abundantly clear the offense will start with bounce back years from CF Franklin Gutierrez and RF Ichiro Suzuki, who had their worst seasons in 2011 as professionals.

Strengths:

The biggest strength of the Seattle Mariners is undeniably their pitching staff.

Led by staff ace and 2010 Cy Young award winner Felix Hernandez,  the Mariners bulked up their rotation with solid arms in Hector Noesi  and Japanese stud Hisashi Iwakuma.

If Jason Vargas  can finally put together a full season, the Mariners will most certainly have a good season in 2012. Oh yeah, their bullpen maybe the best in the division.

Weakness:

Their lineup isn’t so much a weakness as it is a complete mystery. I know that seems like a funny statement considering the Mariners had statistically the worst two year stretch of offense in American League history, but their young studs have now have had one full season under their belts playing together.

I feel like like this aspect isn’t being discussed enough. Manager Eric Wedge understands this and acknowledges the time is now for his team to step it up.

Wedge’s philosophy for 2012 is a simple, complete accountability. More professional at-bats, and the need to lead by example.

4. Oakland Athletics – 2011 – 74-88

The  Oakland A’s circular pattern of forever rebuilding took a huge hit this off-season when GM Billy Beane was forced to trade pitchers Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzales for a package of unproven prospects in an attempt to keep payroll at manageable number.

For a team who’s pitching staff that was MLB’s 10th best in 2011, the A’s now have to figure out how to find wins in an already tough west division. It wont be easy.

Oakland Athletics Logo 2012 American League West Handicapping Preview & Predictions

Athletics

With the loss of Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui from last years 24th ranked offense, the onus on offense will squarely be on the shoulders of prospects Josh Reddick and Seth Smith.

Strengths:

Even with the loss of Cahill and Gonzales, the A’s still have a very deep staff. Brandon McCarthy, Dallas Braden, and Brett Anderson are still a very talented trio, and with Fautino De Los Santos, Joey Devine, Jerry Blevins, and Brian Fuentes in the bullpen, scratching runs across against this staff will be at a premium.

Weakness:

Offense, offense, offense!  The biggest problem with this lineup is there isn’t anyone in the lineup that strikes fear in the heart of opposing pitching staffs.

At least with Willingham and Matsui you had some resemblance of power. Now the A’s are forced to play small ball this season. Putting the game in motion with their speed, and hope to get those timely hits to push across runs.

Hopefully Billy Beane formula will work this season because if it doesn’t, A’s fans will be in for a very long season.

Predictions:

A.L. West Champion: Texas Rangers – 98-64

Even with the additions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to the Angels, the Rangers still have the divisions deepest all-around team. They will be far to potent for Angels to overtake the two-time American League Champions for division supremacy.

Surprise Team: Seattle Mariners – 81-81

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to many that watch this division closely. The Mariners have quietly assembled one of the most potent nucleus’ of young talent in MLB. With the addition of Jesus Montero to the middle of that lineup, the Mariners will most certainly not be as bad as the last two seasons.

There it is folks.

The A.L. West as I see it going down. Stay tuned next week as I provide an in-depth season preview the for the first of my AL West teams.

*****

Writers note: This is the first installment of a 4 part series highlighting every team in the AL West.

Along with the witty analysis that you will  be reading in these pages, I will also be giving my predictions for each team, which will then lead to a playoff prediction and possibly a World Series prediction.

It will be a fun ride, so stay tuned.

CLICK HERE NOW TO CHECK OUT THE SEATTLE MARINERS CLUBHOUSE AT NWSPORTSBEAT!

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Post tags: 2012, 2012 Baseball Handicapping, 2012 Major League Baseball, A's, AL West, AL West Picks, AL West Predictions, AL West Preview, American League, American League West Handicapping, American League West Predictions, Angels, Athletics, Baseball Handicapping, Baseball Predictions, baseball projections, LA Angels, LA Angels Predictions, M's, Mariners, MLB Handicapping, MLB Picks, Oakland Athletics, Oakland Athletics Predictions, Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Seattle Mariners Predictions, Texas Rangers, Texas Rangers Predictions

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