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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Baseball Preview--AL West!

With another baseball season having already begun, I wanted to give a little play to one of the putative subject of this blog--our national game. For those of you interested in American League West baseball, today's your day! Guest blogger Dic Humphrey, a good friend and colleague from Dallas, has generously provided his thoughts on the AL West. Take it away, Dic! And thanks!


AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST PREVIEW 2008
By Dic Humphrey

Right now, it looks like a two-team race; the Los Angeles Angels won last year and look even better. They had the best rotation in the division in 2007, which is improved with the addition of Jon Garland. Frankie “K-Rod” Rodriguez is an elite closer, giving the club the best pitching staff in the division. They have the best manager and outfield in the division as well. They will be tough to catch.


LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM

ROTATION: Staff ace John Lackey starts the season on the disabled list, and Kelvim Escobar may have a muscle tear in his right shoulder. That still leaves Garland, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, and Dustin Moseley in the rotation. The Nicks—Adenhart and Green—are also knocking on the door, and may be in Southern California sooner than expected because of Lackey and Escobar’s injuries. It’s still a good rotation, but to be the team they want to be, they need either Lackey or Escobar back.

BULLPEN: After Rodriguez, the middle relievers are Chris Bootcheck, Darren Oliver, Scot Shields, and Justin Speier. Manager Mike Scioscia utilizes his bullpen differently than most managers, using relievers in longer stints and doing less righty-lefty mixing and matching in late-inning situations—the upshot is that Scioscia makes fewer pitching changes. Consequently, this team has fewer bullpen problems at the end of a season.

OUTFIELD: Los Angeles has perhaps the best outfielders in the Majors. Scioscia says he plans to rotate Vlad Guerrero, Garrett Anderson, free-agent signee Torii Hunter, and Gary Matthews, Jr. around the three outfield positions and DH. That still leaves the speedy Reggie Willits, Juan Rivera, and Robb Quinlan available to step in when needed, and at least four more youngsters in the farm system are knocking on the door.

INFIELD: Their catching tandem of Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis is the defensive rival of any team in baseball, and they’re developing offensively. Speed burner Chone Figgins can play six defensive positions, but will be the regular at 3B. Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar are fighting for the shortstop position left vacant by the trade of Orlando Cabrera to obtain Garland. Brandon Wood is also challenging to be a regular on the left side. Howie Kendrick, Kendry Morales, and Casey Kotchman should log the lion’s share of playing time on the right side.

The only mistake this team made was not pursuing Miguel Cabrera harder in the off-season. They had the prospects to make the deal, and third base has been a black hole since Troy Glaus left. Cabrera would have solidified the batting order and improved the defense.


SEATTLE MARINERS

The Angels will be joined in the race by the Seattle Mariners, who made a good run at the Angels last year before fading over the final weeks. They’re improved, especially from a bold trade with the Orioles that brought pitcher Erik Bedard aboard. They may be offensively challenged, and this spring, manager John McLaren emphasized aggressive baserunning in order to supplement the attack.

ROTATION: The addition of Bedard to ace Felix Hernandez gives the M’s perhaps the best one-two punch of any rotation in baseball; with Lackey and Escobar out of action, it’s the best rotation in the division. The M’s went to spring training expecting to fill out the rotation with Jarrod Washburn, Carlos Silva, and Miguel Batista. Cha-Seung Baek, however, put up good spring training numbers and could step in if anyone in the top five fails.

BULLPEN: J. J. Putz is an All-Star caliber closer, but obtaining Bedard cost the M’s bullpen depth. They’ll particularly miss George Sherrill, but this team always seems to find relievers. Baek and Brandon Morrow will set up, but neither is experienced. Overall, the Mariners’ staff is the division’s best, or nearly so.

INFIELD: Adrian Beltre, Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Lopez, and Richie Sexson form the West’s best infield. The left side is as good defensively as any in baseball. In the weakest area of the division, Kenji Johjima is the best catcher, both behind the plate and at it. The Mariners need their offensive production to match their defensive prowess; in particular, Richie Sexson must improve his production after a miserable 2008 to make up for the lack of outfield power.

OUTFIELD: Seattle has added Brad Wilkerson to go with Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez. This is a decent defensive outfield, but short on power. The reserve corps is not strong.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Two rebuilding clubs, the A’s and Rangers, will duke it out for third place. Oakland, decimated by injuries last year, decided their 2007 cast would not take them where they wanted to go. During the winter they traded four players for 15 prospects.

ROTATION: Those trades included dumping Dan Haren, one of the league’s best starters. That leaves Joe Blanton at the top of their rotation. Rich Harden served notice in Japan with a nine-strikeout victory that he is, at least for the moment, recovered from the injuries that have plagued his young career. Chad Gaudin established himself as a serviceable starter last season, and Justin Duchscherer moves into the rotation from the bullpen. Lenny DiNardo and Dana Eveland lead a host of candidates vying for the fifth spot in the rotation.

BULLPEN: Huston Street, like Harden, suffered from injuries last year. Alan Embree and Keith Foulke are the key components of a veteran bullpen. This team, like every other in this division, seems to find new middle relievers every season.

INFIELD: The A’s have a potentially solid infield with former Gold Glove winner Eric Chavez at third, former Rookie of the Year Bobby Crosby at short, the steady Mark Ellis at second, and either Dan Johnson or rookie Daric Barton at first. Barton is a top prospect that could challenge for A. L. Rookie of the Year. The problem? Chavez began the season on the disabled list, after playing just 90 games in 2007 with back problems, and Crosby hasn’t been healthy for a full year since 2004. Jack Hannahan started at third base against the Red Sox in Japan.

OUTFIELD: Aside from young stud Travis Buck, the outfield is full of also-rans. Nick Swisher and Mark Kotsay were purged in the off-season purge, leaving Buck to team with Emil Brown, Chris Denorfia, Ryan Sweeney, and Jeff Fiorentino. To have any shot at contending, they need some pleasant surprises out of the group. Top prospect Carlos Gonzalez could be up before midseason.

The A’s always seem to come up with surprising performances from young players, and more often than not, they reestablish themselves as contenders sooner than most teams that undertake massive rebuilding programs.


TEXAS RANGERS

In fourth place, where they’ve resided for most of the 21st century, will be the Rangers. They have the worst rotation in the division, the least experienced closer, and the worst manager. The fondest hope for Rangers fans is that Tom Hicks decides to sell the team.

ROTATION: Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, and Jason Jennings are the top three starters. Brandon McCarthy, slated to be number four, is injured. Luis Mendoza gets one of the last two rotation spots, but will actually start the season on the disabled list as the Rangers won’t need a fifth starter until April 12. Former Boston southpaw Kason Gabbard will be the number four starter when the season begins. It’s a pitiful rotation, clearly the worst in the division.

BULLPEN: This was, surprisingly, an area of strength for Texas last year. Closer Eric Gagne was strong prior to a trade to Boston, and C. J. Wilson showed poise and confidence, not to mention closer’s “stuff,” when he took over in August and September. The Rangers, however, were unconvinced, trying to entice Gagne back during the winter, and didn’t officially name Wilson their closer until this week. Joaquin Benoit was strong last year as the setup man and is back in the same role. Jamey Wright and Josh Rupe are also part of the middle corps. This team does well with hard-throwing youngsters, but manager Ron Washington has trouble committing to less experienced players.

OUTFIELD: The Ranger outfield was awful last year, and the team has upgraded some with the additions of two former “trouble children,” Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley. Marlon Byrd established himself as at least a decent fourth outfielder in 2007, and David Murphy, acquired from Boston last summer, is a nice addition. Even with Frank Catalanotto, who is expected to get more time at DH, included, it’s still an outfield lacking the necessary power to help team contend.

INFIELD: This team made an obscene 123 errors last year, even with Gold Glover Mark Teixeira at first base for four months. There’s no reason to expect any material improvement this year. Michael Young at short and Ian Kinsler at second are nice offensive middle infielders, but at least adequate defensively. Hank Blalock is back from injury at third base. He’s hoping to resurrect a career that has spiraled downward literally since hitting the All-Star game-winning home run in Chicago a few years ago. The first-base situation is almost a disaster. Chris Shelton, signed during the winter, lost his job to Ben Broussard. A year ago, the Rangers were afraid of Jason Botts defensively at first, and he’s now in the mix. Even Kevin Mench tried on a glove in spring training.

Texas has finally settled on Gerald Laird at catcher; he has become a good pitch caller and is one of the better throwing catchers in the game. For whatever reason, Ron Washington doesn’t seem to like him. One in-game dugout incident almost came to fisticuffs last year, and the Rangers tried to trade Laird during the winter to no avail. He’s the Rangers catcher for now, and will be until a reasonable trade offer comes along. The club really wants young Jarrod Saltalamacchia to be the starter.

The best the Rangers can hope for is .500—and that if a lot of things go right. Without any pleasant surprises, they could be looking at 100 losses.

If this division plays as expected, the A. L. West could send two teams to the playoffs. With an unbalanced schedule providing a preponderance of games against Texas and Oakland, the two “Big Boys” of this division could easily rack up enough wins for each to claim a spot in post-season play.


Thanks, Dic. That was excellent--I know a lot more about those teams then I did before, and I'm supposed to do this stuff for a living. If anyone else would like to guest-blog something of this (or another related) nature, please let me know! This blog is meant as a conversation. Thanks for reading and writing.


2 Comments:

Blogger swapnil said...

nice post..texas will struggle to maintain .500 though..

10:50 PM, March 27, 2008

 
Blogger Bob Purse said...

Who are these teams? What is this American League? And where are the Cubs? It ain't about baseball if it ain't about the Cubs.

4:49 PM, March 31, 2008

 

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