This is another really interesting division. It’s top heavy with two good teams in the Angels and the Mariners. Thanks to Mike Trout’s MVP numbers, a resurgent Albert Pujols, and a lights out bullpen, the Angels cruised to an MLB-best 98 regular season wins last year. If Garret Richards returns healthy, the Halos could continue to be a force in this division. Losing Josh Hamilton and Howie Kendrick makes for a different dynamic in the lineup, but Mike Scioscia has to hope that Matt Joyce and C.J. Cron can provide protection for Trout and Pujols. Rookie Andrew Heaney came over in the Kendrick deal; he may be the X factor for this year’s squad. If he asserts himself as a #3 starter in the rotation, the Angels will be formidable once again.
But I’m picking Seattle to win the division. By addressing their glaring need for right handed power in signing Nelson Cruz, the Mariners will trot out their best starting nine in over a decade. Robinson Cano, Cruz, and Kyle Seager form a dynamic left-right-left trio in the heart of the lineup. No one was hotter down the stretch than 1B Logan Morrison. And the RF platoon of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano will be fantastic. King Felix is at the top of his game and he fronts a deep rotation mixed with veterans (Hisashi Iwakuma and J.A. Happ) and young flamethrowers (James Paxton and Taijuan Walker). I think this is one of the most complete teams in the game and I could see them running away with the pennant.
The A’s had a weird offseason. I’m normally a big Billy Beane fan, but I just don’t get these moves. I’m not sure I would’ve given up Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss so easily. But the rebuild plan was seemingly stymied by the signing of Royals castoff Billy Butler to a three-year, $30 million contract. The Ben Zobrist pickup was nice, but with so many pieces being dealt off, you have to wonder if this team will score enough runs to matter. The pitching should be okay, although Sean Doolittle’s injury has to be concerning. Unless something crazy happens, I don’t see the A’s finishing higher than third in this division.
The Rangers are snakebitten. After suffering more serious injuries to key players than any other club in 2014, this spring began on a similarly ominous note as ace Yu Darvish went down with injury. Word is Prince Fielder is in killer shape, so it’ll be nice to see how he bounces back. And Adrian Beltre continues to quietly put together a HoF-worthy legacy. But the Rangers wont’ be a factor past the All-Star break.
Same thing for Houston, although this is the year Astros fans should begin to see some signs of life. Things are trending the right direction for some of the club’s prospects and the additions of Evan Gattis, Jed Lowrie, Luke Gregerson, and Pat Neshek should help the parent club. The Astros are still a couple of years away from a realistic wild card run, but I’m rooting for GM Jeff Luhnow (former member of the Cards front office).