2012 MLB Preview: AL West

It’s been a few weeks since I picked up my MLB Predictions. (A major school project and moving to a new house has occupied a lot of my time lately.) But I want to pick up here with the AL West, which should be a great showdown.

1st place: Texas Rangers

I know I have the advantage of nearly three weeks of baseball in the books to draw on, but we’ve known this was a formidable club for a couple of seasons now. No team boasts a deeper lineup than the Rangers: speed, power, contact skills…it’s all there. The only thing that could slow them down offensively is the injury bug: Hamilton, Kinsler, Beltre, and Cruz have all spent time on the shelf the past few seasons. If they all go down at the same time, the Angels could catch them. The starting pitching has surprised me: it looks like Darvish is for real and Holland and Harrison have continued their development. Alexi Ogando helps shore up the ‘pen, but I don’t trust Joe Nathan over a full season. I just don’t think he’s the same guy anymore. But it might not matter much; with this offense, there won’t be many three-run leads to protect.

2nd place: Los Angeles Angels

I LOVE their top four starters; that’s the strength of this team. Weaver, Haren, Wilson, and Santana should be able to carry them through a 162-game schedule with at least 60 wins. I think the Wilson signing is huge – taking away their rival’s best pitcher. I also think Jordan Walden is a lock down presence in the ninth. So the pitching will be sound. Offensively, this team can run: Erick Aybar, Peter Bourjos and even Howie Kendrick could each approach 30 steals. And, oh yeah, there’s this new first baseman in Anaheim, too. Sure, Albert is pressing right now, but his numbers will be there in the end. The rest of the lineup, though, is looking old. Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells are becoming liabilities, both at the plate and in the field. The Angels have to hope Kendrys Morales is back; he’s the only other real threat in this lineup outside of Pujols and Kendrick. But they should score enough to hang with the Rangers all year. I see them squeezing out one of the two wild card spots.

3rd place: Seattle Mariners

And now, we turn to the have-nots. Seattle has a crop of young pitchers on the way, but they’re a couple of years from contributing. In 2012, the M’s will let some of their young bats get MLB seasoning. Dustin Ackley looks like a solid 2B. He’s probably not batting-title good, but he could develop into a .290 / 15 HR / 20 SB guy at the top of the lineup. Jesus Montero has a legit bat, too. He needs 500 ABs in the majors. I think Justin Smoak has the chance to be a Geoff Jenkins / Jeromy Burntiz type hitter, but his time is running out. They need to let him play, too. Ichiro and Felix will continue to produce, but this club will be safely mired below .500 by the end of May. But in 2014, they could be really good again, especially as Texas and Anaheim continue to age.

4th place: Oakland Athletics

It seems like they’ve been rebuilding for a decade. But I don’t see a ton of MLB-ready talent on the horizon, other than future ace Jarrod Parker. At the plate, this team is kind of a mess. The Cespedes signing looks like a good one, but where do the rest of the runs come from in this lineup? Billy Beane is playing this season with an eye toward 2015, when their new stadium is supposed to be built. That means the organization’s most meaningful games played this year won’t be played at the major league level; they’ll be at the high-A and AA levels. It’ll be a long summer in Oakland.

All Division Team

C Mike Napoli

1B Albert Pujols

2B Ian Kinsler

SS Elvis Andrus

3B Adrian Beltre

LF Josh Hamilton

CF Yoenis Cespedes

RF Ichiro Suzuki

DH Mike Young

SP Felix Hernandez

SP Jered Weaver

SP Dan Haren

SP CJ Wilson

SP Yu Darvish

RP Jordan Walden

Manager Mike Scioscia

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