A.L. West 2019 Prediction: It’s A Mad Scramble For Second
The American League West could be the nuttiest in baseball. After the Oakland Athletics came out of nowhere to claim a playoff berth, albeit a short-lived berth, the question this year is can they do it again?
Okay, I lied. There are multiple questions like, “Are the Mariners better off without Robinson Cano and or James Paxton? When will and how will the Los Angeles Angels put pieces in place to help Mike trout play on a winning team? Then there’s the question of how long it will take the Rangers to rebuild and whether their in-state rivals the Houston Astros have another deep Run in the playoffs.
HOUSTON: For the Astros not a lot has changed, as teams go. Jose altuve and Alex Bregman are still two pieces one of the best infield in baseball. Justin Verlander and Gerritt Cole still have the stuff to lead a rotation. But, three cogs in that playoff machine are not on the field. Can the Astros keep winning?
if you’re going to stink as badly as the Astros did in the early part of the decade you better have the same amount of success at the end of it. Houston seems poised to do just that this team is by far the class of the American League west and maybe the best team in the American League. The lineup is solid from top to bottom, though it would be nice to see George Springer hit for a little more average, maybe in the six spot. I just don’t think he focuses during every at-bat like he focuses during the postseason. Second baseman Jose Altuve is an MVP candidate: .316 AVE., 13 HRs and 65 RBIs last year while flying about the infield. Left fielder Michael Bradley doesn’t get a lot of love outside of Houston but he had a great year last year. Josh Reddick provides Gold Glove defense in right but I wonder if he was trying too hard to hit home runs last year. It’s not like they need him to. If he can get on base in the two or three spot, someone will get him home. Alex Bregman is phenomenal at third base. He and Nolan Arenado are 1A and 1 defensively in MLB.
On the mound, the loss of Dallas Keuchel (still unsigned), Charlie Morton (went to Tampa Bay) and Lance McCullers (Tommy John surgery) seems not to have dented the Astro’s force shield whatsoever. On the mound Houston’s rotation is still by far the class of the division. Verlander, Cole, Collin Mchugh and Wade Miley all had earned run averages under 3.00 last year. With Will Harris, Roberto Ozuna and Hector Rondon they’ve also got a really nice bullpen.
Projection: It’s just not fair when everybody else has three number-four starters and they’re going up against this group. Given the state of the pitching staffs in the division Houston should run away to the tune of 104 wins.
OAKLAND: Sure Khris Davis strikes out in 100% of his games but he also gets an RBI in 75% of his games. The guy is freakishly strong. I wonder how many he would hit if he were not playing in Oakland. Besides Davis, the offense is set up to mash. Matt Chapman hit 24 last year and is a gold glove third baseman. We could be watching the beginning of a Hall of Fame career Marcus Simeon has gone from having a skillet for a mitt to being a gold glove shortstop. At times he’s inconsistent at the plate but when he gets hot he can carry a team much like Davis and 3B Matt Chapman. Josh Phegley gives them a big advantage offensively over other catchers in the league. Jurickson Profar was once the next big thing. Last year that meant a .254 batting average and 20 HRs: reasonable production out of a second baseman, and not far off of Jed Lowrie’s totals.
The offense is basically the same and so is the pitching and that’s a problem. The A’s middle relievers and Blake Treinen kept them in games and in Treinen’s case, he dominated with a 0.78 ERA. The A’s ended up using an opener on several occasions and they may have to again this year as Mike Fiers is arguably their best starter. He ended the year with a 3.56 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. The rest of the staff is a bunch of fifth starters or guys who should be in the bullpen somewhere else. The good news is Jesus Luzardo is the top left-handed pitching prospect in the game and he appears ready to bring his mid 90’s fastball to the big leagues.
Projection: They won 97 games last year which was 24 more than we forecast, and we were being generous. Treinen won’t go sub 1.00 again. The stars won’t align to drop magical wins from the sky. I think they come back down to earth this year with 85.
SEATTLE: The Mariners can mash it. They may have almost as much home run capability as the Athletics and almost everyone is from somebody else’s farm system. Former Athletics 1B Ryon Healy, DH and former Blue Jay/Indian/Red Edwin Encarnacion and former Brewer, RF Domingo Santana all have 30 HRs in them. And the one guy they do have out of their farm system, 1B Daniel Vogelbach, hit one home run every four games in AAA last year. They also have two leadoff guys to bat first and 9th if they choose. Mallex Smith stole 40 bases last year while hitting .298 and D Gordon is a career .290 hitter. They lost Robinson Cano, but they didn’t seem to really miss him last year as he was serving a performance-enhancing drug suspension and they won 89.
On the mound, starting pitching is a concern. Isn’t it always? Felix Hernandez is done. Anything from Wade LeBlanc is a gift. Yusei Kikuchi is coming on so he could end up being there number one. Marco Gonzalez was a pleasant surprise last year. Maybe he improves. In the bullpen they have a bunch of guys and Hunter Strickland at the end whose stuff is electric but he’s hard-headed and kind of predictable. He did not have a good season last year and he’s on the disabled list to start this year.
PROJECTION: Kyle Seager is out with hand surgery, but the Mariners still put tons of runs on the board. This bullpen really is just a bunch of guys. If some of them show up, they’ve got a chance to match last year’s 89-win total. If they don’t show, the 78 wins they get will be very entertaining. Split the difference: 84.
Los Angeles: Mike Trout’s bonafides are certainly not in doubt and hats off to the Angels for signing him to a longterm deal. But who else is going to hit in this lineup? Third baseman David Fletcher could play Robin to Trout’s Batman. Fletcher has hit at every level and had a solid 2018 in limited duty. He and Andrelton Simmons can set the table. Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton can take it from there. Every time I think of Albert Pujols I think of him as a St. Louis Cardinal. He’s still good for double digits in home uns but he’s been overpaid for sometime. After that you have the likes of Tommy La Stella and Kole Calhoun.
This team needs pitching. It needs Ohtani to come back from injury but that’s probably not for a year? Hansel Robles has shown himself to be a number-three starter perhaps with upside. Some days Trevor Cahill looks great. Sometimes he looks like he’s never pitched before. Overall though he’s probably a solid number three. Tyler Skaggs hasn’t had a lot of experience but looks like he’s a number four/five as is Felix Pena. They need to give those guys more starts and either try to trade Matt Harvey or just released him. I guess you could have him coming out of the bullpen but after two seasons of an ERA of 6.51 and 4.59, he looks to be done. That’s too bad, too. His first three years with the Mets looked like the beginning of a Hall of Fame career. This team needs pitching but it only adds enough to maybe be a .500 club and that’s with a halfway decent offense. It’s pretty easy to see why they’ve been unable to have much success even with one of the best players of them in the game in their lineup. Hopefully for them Ohtani comes back as good as before and can at least give them a number one starter
Projection: 81 wins
But their starting pitching is just about as anemic as Oakland’s…worse even. Their best starter’s ERA is over 4.00 and that ain’t good. (They say “ain’t” in Texas a lot. Just trying to fit in.)
TEXAS: What’s the difference between the Rangers and the Mariners and the Athletics? It may very well be that bullpen. The Rangers also have a bunch of guys that hit .260 and can crush the ball including Joey Gallo (.280 48 HRs 92RBI last year.) Shin-Soo Choo hit 21 home runs and Rougned Odor hit 18.
PROJECTION: Second place is wide open if the Rangers can get their bullpen and starters to produce even middling results. They could even be in contention for the last wild-card spot with the Athletics sometime in August. I don’t think it happens, but it’s possible: 77 wins