2011 MLB Preview: AL West

I was preparing to write my AL West preview when the tornadoes moved through this area on April 27. Afterward, a variety of factors kept me from writing the review: no power, disaster relief, lack of motivation. Now that it’s June, it’s probably pointless, but it’s bothering me that I never made this post. So here goes:

1st place: Texas Rangers

When the season started, the Rangers came out of the gate like gangbusters. After their 10-2 start, some pundits were calling them the best team in the game. Time has proven that to be a bit of an overstatement, but this club is still solid enough to win the division easily. Losing out on Cliff Lee kept the Rangers from being one of the league’s elite teams, but Alexi Ogando has been a revelation transitioning from the bullpen into the starting rotation. CJ Wilson, Matt Harrison, and Colby Lewis have also been solid. But the team’s true strength is a deep, pliable lineup littered with veteran bats: Kinsler, Hamilton, Young, Beltre, Napoli, Cruz. There just aren’t many easy outs to be found here. In a ho hum division, Texas should cruise to a second straight division crown.

2nd place: Oakland Athletics

I consistently overrate Billy Beane’s clubs, but I just love the moves he makes. I love the addition of David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui, Connor Jackson and Josh Willingham, low cost veteran bats brought in to help reinvigorate a sleepy offense. I love the influx of veteran relievers, specifically Balfour and Fuentes. In fact, these two have helped stabilize the end game during Andrew Bailey’s recovery these first two months. I love the fact that this team can catch the ball well. And the A’s true strength comes from an emerging crop of young starters (Anderson, Cahill, Gonzalez) who could carry the A’s to wild card contention. That is, if the A’s can scratch out enough runs to contend.

3rd place: Los Angeles Angels

There’s plenty to like about a club that can boast a rotation fronted by Jared Weaver and Dan Haren. But some of the Angels’ moves are simply perplexing. Assuming the Vernon Wells contract was just a joke, as his 2011 production attests. Now Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu are starting to show their age as well. Additionally, Kendrys Morales is out for the season, further impairing an already weak offense. The bullpen should be OK, but far from dominant. Until wunderkind prospect Mike Trout gets the call, there won’t be much excitement in Anaheim.

4th place: Seattle Mariners

I know they’ve been the hottest team in baseball lately, but this team has little chance to contend. They boast perhaps the best up-the-middle defense in the majors with Franklin Guitterez, Jack Wilson, Brendan Ryan and Miguel Olivo. Throw in Ichiro in right and this team is saturated with Gold Glove caliber defenders. Another two-headed monster sits atop this club’s rotation: King Felix, whom we’ve come to expect greatness from; and rookie, Michael Pineda, who has been drawing comparisons to his elder teammate. But — like most teams in this division — the M’s are completely lacking in offensive punch. What does it say about a club when your Opening Day #3 hitter is Milton Bradley? That tells you everything you need to know about this team’s chances.

All-Division Team

C Kurt Suzuki

1B Justin Smoak

2B Ian Kinsler

SS Elvis Andrus

3B Adrian Beltre

OF Josh Hamilton

OF Ichiro Suzuki

OF Torii Hunter

DH Michael Young

SP Felix Hernandez

SP Jered Weaver

SP Dan Haren

SP Brett Anderson

SP Dallas Braden

Closer Neftali Perez

Manager Mike Scioscia

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