2018 MLB preview: AL West

ABS-CBN Sports on Mar 29, 2018 01:04 PM
2018 MLB preview: AL West
Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, right, and Alex Bregman walk to the dugout after scoring on a two-run base hit by Marwin Gonzalez in the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

By The Associated Press

Capsules of American League West teams, listed in order of finish last year:

___

Houston Astros

2017: 101-61, first place, won World Series.

Manager: A.J. Hinch (fourth season).

He's Here: RHP Gerrit Cole, RHP Joe Smith, RHP Hector Rondon.

He's Outta Here: DH Carlos Beltran, RHP Luke Gregerson, RHP Joe Musgrove, RHP Mike Fiers, RHP Michael Feliz, INF Colin Moran.

Projected Lineup: CF George Springer (.283, 34 HRs, 85 RBIs), 3B Alex Bregman (.284, 19, 71, 39 2Bs), 2B Jose Altuve (MLB-best .346, 24, 81, 39 2Bs, 32 SBs, AL MVP), SS Carlos Correa (.315, 24, 84), 1B Yuli Gurriel (.299, 18, 75, 43 2Bs), LF Marwin Gonzalez (.303, 23, 90, 34 2Bs), DH Evan Gattis (.263, 12, 55), RF Josh Reddick (.314, 13, 82, 34 2Bs), C Brian McCann (.241, 18, 62).

Rotation: LH Dallas Keuchel (14-5, 2.90 ERA, 251 Ks), RH Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.36, 219 Ks with Tigers and Astros), RH Gerrit Cole (12-12, 4.26, 196 Ks with Pirates), RH Lance McCullers Jr. (7-4, 4.25), RH Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62).

Key Relievers: RH Ken Giles (1-3, 2.30, 34/38 saves), RH Brad Peacock (13-2, 3.00), RH Joe Smith (3-0, 3.33, 1 save with Toronto and Cleveland), RH Hector Rondon (4-1, 4.24 with Cubs), RH Chris Devenski (8-5, 2.69, 4 saves), RH Will Harris (3-2, 2.98, 2 saves), LH Tony Sipp (0-1, 5.79).

Hot Spot: First Base. There aren't many concerns on this deep and talented team, but the Astros will have to adjust their roster to start the season with Gurriel expected to miss time recovering from surgery on his left hand Feb. 28. He's only expected to miss the first week or two, but will have to serve a five-game suspension when he gets healthy for a racially offensive gesture he directed at Yu Darvish during the World Series. That means Gonzalez will likely start the season at first base, leaving Derek Fisher, who hit just .212 in 53 games as a rookie last season, to fill the hole in left field early in the year.

Outlook: With almost everyone back from last year's championship team, the Astros fully expect to contend for another title. They have a right to be confident with Altuve leading a potent lineup that includes Springer, the World Series MVP, and Correa, a young All-Star shortstop coming off his best season. Their rotation is one of the best in baseball, with Cy Young Award winners Keuchel and Verlander leading the group and new acquisition Cole and young star McCullers following that 1-2 punch. Barring debilitating injuries, the Astros should win the AL West and have an excellent chance to repeat as World Series champs.

___

Los Angeles Angels

2017: 80-82, second place.

Manager: Mike Scioscia (19th season).

He's Here: RHP-DH Shohei Ohtani, RHP Jim Johnson, 3B Zack Cozart, 2B Ian Kinsler, C Rene Rivera, OF Chris Young.

He's Outta Here: 3B Yunel Escobar, 1B C.J. Cron, 2B Brandon Phillips, RHP Ricky Nolasco, RHP Jesse Chavez, RHP Yusmeiro Petit.

Projected Lineup: 2B Ian Kinsler (.236, 22 HRs, 52 RBIs, 14 SBs with Tigers), CF Mike Trout (.306, 33, 72 in 114 games), LF Justin Upton (.273, 35, 109 with Tigers and Angels), DH Albert Pujols (.241, 23, 101), RF Kole Calhoun (.244, 19, 71), 3B Zack Cozart (.297, 24, 63 with Reds), SS Andrelton Simmons (.278, 14, 69), 1B Luis Valbuena (.199, 22, 65), C Martin Maldonado (.221, 14, 38).

Rotation: RH Garrett Richards (0-2, 2.28 ERA in 6 starts), RH Shohei Ohtani (3-2, 3.20 for Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan), LH Tyler Skaggs (2-6, 4.55 in 16 starts), RH Matt Shoemaker (6-3, 4.52 in 14 starts), RH J.C. Ramirez (11-10, 4.15), LH Andrew Heaney (1-2, 7.06 in 5 starts).

Key Relievers: RH Blake Parker (3-3, 2.54, 8/11 saves), RH Cam Bedrosian (6-5, 4.43, 6/11 saves), RH Jim Johnson (6-3, 5.56, 22/31 saves with Braves), RH Keynan Middleton (6-1, 3.86, 3 saves), LH Jose Alvarez (0-3, 3.88, 1 save).

Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. Ohtani's arrival has prompted the Angels to begin the season with six starting pitchers, but years of injury woes have left them with no sure things around the Japanese two-way prospect. Richards, Heaney, Skaggs and Shoemaker are all hoping to feel normal after long injury absences, as is potential starter Nick Tropeano. Even Ohtani is coming off an injury in Japan. The Angels are hoping they'll finally get a few breaks on the mound after years of poor health.

Outlook: The Angels made several apparently savvy offseason moves and are in position to end the big-budget franchise's eight-year stretch without a playoff victory. They've assembled veterans Upton, Kinsler and Cozart around Trout and Pujols to create a potentially dangerous lineup, and they should be one of baseball's best defensive teams with Gold Glove winners Simmons and Maldonado leading the way. The rotation is fairly deep if not spectacular, and the bullpen has a chance to be good. Yet the most compelling aspect of these Angels is Ohtani, who chose Orange County for his dramatic move stateside as he attempts to become the majors' first significant two-way player in decades. Early returns from spring training aren't promising, but the Angels are committed to investing the playing time and patience required for Ohtani's rare talent to shine.

___

Seattle Mariners

2017: 78-84, tied for third place.

Manager: Scott Servais (third season).

He's Here: CF Dee Gordon, 1B Ryon Healy, RHP Juan Nicasio, INF-OF Andrew Romine, OF Ichiro Suzuki, LHP Dario Alvarez.

He's Outta Here: 1B Yonder Alonso, OF Jarrod Dyson, LHP Drew Smyly, 1B Danny Valencia, C Carlos Ruiz, RHP Yovani Gallardo, RHP Emilio Pagan.

Projected Lineup: CF Dee Gordon (.308, 2 HRs, 33 RBIs, .341 OBP, MLB-best 60 SBs with Miami), SS Jean Segura (.300, 11, 45, 22 SBs), 2B Robinson Cano (.280, 23, 97), DH Nelson Cruz (.288, 39, 119), 3B Kyle Seager (.249, 27, 88), 1B Ryon Healy (.271, 25, 78 with Oakland), RF Mitch Haniger (.282, 16, 47 in 96 games), C Mike Zunino (.251, 25, 64), LF Ben Gamel (.275, 11, 59) or Ichiro Suzuki (.255, 3, 20 in 215 plate appearances with Miami).

Rotation: LH James Paxton (12-5, 2.98 ERA, 156 Ks), RH Mike Leake (10-13, 3.92 with Cardinals and Mariners; 3-1, 2.53 ERA in 5 starts with Seattle), RH Felix Hernandez (6-5, 4.36 in 16 starts), LH Marco Gonzales (1-1, 5.40 in 10 games, 7 starts), LH Ariel Miranda (8-7, 5.12).

Key Relievers: RH Edwin Diaz (4-6, 3.27, 34/39 saves), RH Juan Nicasio (5-5, 2.61 in 74 games with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and St. Louis), RH Dan Altavilla (1-1, 4.24 in 41 appearances), LH Marc Rzepczynski (2-2, 4.02 in 64 games).

Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. How pitching staffs are utilized is changing, with more reliance on the bullpen. But someone still has to start the game and the Mariners are rife with questions about their starters. Paxton has the makings of an ace but has yet to show he can stay healthy for an entire season. Hernandez had arm issues arise last year. Leake was great after arriving from St. Louis, but will American League hitters adjust? And the final two spots have no proven options.

Outlook: The Mariners' odd place in the AL was only amplified by what happened to them in spring training. Injuries illustrated the slim margin they have if they plan to contend for a playoff spot. They're talented enough to compete for a wild card, but probably not good enough to catch the Astros in the division. Pitching will be the key. Seattle used a major league-record 40 pitchers last year and would like to avoid a repeat performance. The bullpen has promise, putting pressure on the rotation to stabilize and get deep enough into games. Right-handed reliever David Phelps needs Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire season, though. Offensively, the top of the lineup has a chance to be potent with the addition of a speedster in Gordon. Healy missed most of spring training after hand surgery, but if he's productive Seattle could end up fielding its deepest lineup in years. That might be necessary with all the pitching questions.

___

Texas Rangers

2017: 78-84, tied for third place.

Manager: Jeff Banister (fourth season).

He's Here: LHP Mike Minor, LHP Matt Moore, RHP Doug Fister, RHP Jesse Chavez, RHP Bartolo Colon, 1B Tommy Joseph.

He's Outta Here: 1B-DH Mike Napoli, CF Carlos Gomez, RHP Andrew Cashner, RHP Jason Grilli, RHP A.J. Griffin, LHP Dario Alvarez.

Projected Lineup: CF Delino DeShields (.269, 6 HRs, 22 RBIs, 29 SBs, 13 sac bunts), 1B Joey Gallo (.209, 41, 80), SS Elvis Andrus (.297, 20, 88, 25 SBs), 3B Adrian Beltre (.312, 17, 71, 3,048 career hits), RF Nomar Mazara (.253, 20, 101), DH Shin-Soo Choo (.262, 22, 78), LF Drew Robinson (.224, 6, 13) or Ryan Rua (.217, 3, 12), 2B Rougned Odor (.204, 30, 75), C Robinson Chirinos (.255, 17, 38).

Rotation: LH Cole Hamels (11-6, 4.20 ERA), LH Martin Perez (13-12, 4.82), RH Doug Fister (5-9, 4.88 with Red Sox), LH Matt Moore (6-15, 5.52 with Giants), LH Mike Minor (6-6, 2.55, 6 saves with Royals), RH Jesse Chavez (7-11, 5.35 with Angels) or RH Bartolo Colon (7-14, 6.48 with Braves and Twins).

Key Relievers: LH Alex Claudio (4-2, 2.50, 11 saves), LH Jake Diekman (0-0, 2.53), RH Matt Bush (3-4, 3.78, 10 saves), RH Keone Kela (4-1, 2.72, 2 saves), RH Jose Leclerc (2-3, 3.94, 2 saves), RH Tony Barnette (2-1, 5.49, 2 saves), RH Tim Lincecum (didn't pitch in 2017).

Hot Spot: Bullpen. The relief corps was mostly unreliable last season (21 blown saves, 4.76 ERA) and the Rangers still have no set closer. Lincecum, a two-time NL Cy Young Award winner signed midway through spring training, could eventually move into that role but won't be ready for opening day. Claudio was the third pitcher to serve as the primary closer last season and had 11 saves after the All-Star break. The hard-throwing Bush, who was inconsistent closing games, got to spring training this year hoping to compete for a rotation spot, but is more needed in the bullpen. Diekman missed most of last season after three operations to replace his colon, but was strong in his return.

Outlook: AL West champs in each of Banister's first two seasons, the Rangers are coming off their second losing season in nine years. With most of their everyday lineup back, they should be able to hit and score runs again. But in a division with the defending World Series champs and other improved teams, Texas must depend on a revamped rotation — maybe using six starters in some variation — and the hope that its bullpen will be drastically improved. The Rangers scored 799 runs last year and ranked third in the majors with 237 homers. Seven returning players had at least 17. That group is led by Gallo, now the primary first baseman after playing three positions in his first full big league season. Hamels, the clear No. 1 starter now that Yu Darvish is gone, missed seven weeks in 2017 with an oblique strain and threw fewer than 200 innings for the first time since 2009. Perez could unexpectedly be ready for opening day after breaking his non-pitching elbow in a mishap on his ranch in Venezuela before Christmas. Fister didn't pitch his first major league game last season until June, and Minor hasn't started since 2014 with the Braves.

___

Oakland Athletics

2017: 75-87, fifth place.

Manager: Bob Melvin (eighth season).

He's Here: OF Stephen Piscotty, C Jonathan Lucroy, OF Dustin Fowler, RHP Trevor Cahill, RHP Emilio Pagan, RHP Yusmeiro Petit, LHP Ryan Buchter.

He's Outta Here: INF Ryon Healy, RHP Jesse Hahn, OF Jaycob Brugman.

Projected Lineup: SS Marcus Semien (.249, 10 HRs, 40 RBIs), LF Matt Joyce (.243, 25, 68, 33 2Bs), 2B Jed Lowrie (.277, 14, 69, 49 2Bs), DH Khris Davis (.247, 43, 110), 1B Matt Olson (.259, 24, 45), RF Stephen Piscotty (.235, 9, 39 with Cardinals), C Jonathan Lucroy (.265, 6, 40 with Rangers and Rockies), 3B Matt Chapman (.234, 14, 40), CF Dustin Fowler (.293, 13, 43 at Triple-A with Yankees).

Rotation: RH Kendall Graveman (6-4, 4.19 ERA), LH Sean Manaea (12-10, 4.37), RH Paul Blackburn (3-1, 3.22), RH Daniel Mengden (3-2, 3.14), RH Andrew Triggs (5-6, 4.27) or RH Trevor Cahill (4-3, 4.93 with Padres and Royals).

Key Relievers: RH Blake Treinen (3-6, 3.93, 16/21 saves with Nationals and Athletics), RH Emilio Pagan (2-3, 3.22 with Mariners), RH Yusmeiro Petit (5-2, 2.76, 4 saves with Angels), LH Ryan Buchter (4-3, 2.89, 1 save with Padres and Royals), RH Santiago Casilla (4-5, 4.27, 16 saves).

Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. What was already a question mark became an even bigger one when Jharel Cotton went down with a season-ending elbow injury in spring training. The A's made a late addition with Cahill's return to Oakland to provide some depth, but there are few proven options to start the season. The one possible bright spot there is that top prospect A.J. Puk could be an in-season promotion from the minors. Puk was sharp in spring training and flirted with a spot in the majors, but the A's opted to give the 22-year-old more time in the minors because he hasn't pitched above Double-A.

Outlook: The A's have followed up three straight playoff appearances with last-place finishes the past three seasons. There are signs of a potential turnaround but rebuilding will still take some time, especially in a division with the defending World Series champions and other possible contenders. The bullpen should be improved with the additions of Pagan, Petit and Buchter. The strength of the team is power. Davis leads the way with 85 homers the past two seasons, ranking second in the majors during that span to Giancarlo Stanton's 86. Olson made a big splash with 24 homers in 189 at-bats, a rate topped over a whole season only twice — when Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds each set the single-season home run record. The A's added depth to the lineup this spring by signing Lucroy. One of the most intriguing players will be Fowler, who played one inning in the majors for the Yankees before blowing out his knee and then getting traded to Oakland for pitcher Sonny Gray. Fowler adds needed athleticism and defense in the outfield as the A's look to build a foundation for the future.

Latest News