3-27-09: 2009 MLB Preview: AL West

Hello again everybody...

This is the first Friday in a long time that I'm not feeling terribly congratulatory. Yes, I know that for most of you, it's the end of another slog through the work week. And for that, we should be grateful. But for me, it means that in approximately 30 hours, I'll be leaving the cozy confines of the Phoenix offices and headed back to Minnesota.

And judging by the forecasts I've been looking at, I'll be brought back down to meteorological reality rather abruptly. Such is life I guess.

But I've still got one more Spring Training contest to attend. Tonight it's the Texas Rangers hosting the Milwaukee Brewers. So hopefully come Monday I'll have some words of encouragement for my fine readers to the East.

As for the past couple of days, I attended the Rangers hosting the Diamondbacks on Wednesday evening, and the White Sox hosting those same Diamondbacks Thursday afternoon. First of all, let me say that of the 4 Cactus League ballparks I've attended in my travels down here, the Surprise Stadium complex (the one nearest to my parents) is still the coziest, best atmosphere I've seen. So in that regard, Wednesday night's game was more enjoyable than Thursday's. Not that Camelback Ranch at Glendale is a bad ballpark, it's just a little too big for the kind of intimate atmosphere you'd like out of your Spring Training experience. Alas, it was also the home of the Diamondbacks' sole win out of those two contests. And, of course, beating the White Sox is never a bad thing.

All in all, the experience has been brilliant, and I can't thank my parents enough for bringing me down here and shepherding me around to see all this baseball. Thanks Mom and Dad!

Okay, enough preambling. Let's get on with today's column. As we continue with the 2009 MLB Preview, today we look at the only 4-team division in the Major Leagues. It's time to go West young men and women. Go West! Let's get to it...

"I don't necessarily agree with everything I say."
- Marshall McLuhan (1911 - 1980), Canadian educator, philosopher and scholar

This is either an example of tremendous wisdom, or a successful politician. I'll let you make up your own minds.

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The fourth edition of the 2009 MLB Preview takes a look at the division I got most comically wrong last year. Without further ado I give you...

2009 MLB Preview: AL West

Last year I picked the Seattle Mariners to win the division. They finished 61-101, 39 games behind the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Greater Orange County in the Republic of California in these United States on this planet we call Earth (heretofore known as LAAAGOCRCUSPE) . Allow me to explain. When I was pondering who to select, the LAAAGOCRCUSPE seemed like a good club to pick. But then I watched a Spring Training edition of Baseball Tonight on ESPN where Buster Olney picked the Mariners to win. And he made such a convincing case, that I changed my mind and went with the M's.

Now, understand that I'm not blaming Buster for my busted pick (pun intended - you're welcome Lon). I just learned a valuable lesson. The guys who opine and prognosticate for a living aren't any more successful at picking these things than I am. So this year I vowed not to be influenced by any of the talking heads and make my picks 100% my own. Will it help? Well they can't get much worse, can they?!

1. LAAAGOCRCUSPE - Last year the Angels finished 100-62. They won the AL West pennant and lost to the Boston Red Sox (whom I hate) in the ALDS.

I got scared off last year because the Angels started the season dinged up in their starting rotation. This year? They're going to start dinged up in their starting rotation. But if they could win 100 games last year starting in that condition, then I see no reason that they won't do the same thing this year. Especially given the quality of the other starting rotations in this division.

John Lackey still anchors the Halos' starting 5, with Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver behind him. Ervin Santana should be a big part of that rotation, but he'll start the season on the shelf with elbow trouble. Reports are he should be back by May, but any time you're dealing with a pitcher's elbow, it's a tricky situation. With Santana out, Dustin Moseley will have to be a more important part of the rotation than manager Mike Scioscia would prefer.

LAAAGOCRCUSPE's saving grace however is their ability to score runs. Their line-up is still their strong suit, and it actually got stronger with the addition of OF Bobby Abreu. While his addition has created something of a log-jam in the Angels' outfield (Abreu, Torii Hunter, Vlad Guerrero and Gary Matthews, Jr. all will vie for playing time), it's also given the middle of the Angels' order a tremendous amount of punch.

To be fair, the Angels did lose out in the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes in the off season. And the power he provided at a corner infield spot will be missed. His replacement is Kendry Morales, who actually came up through the Angels' system as an outfielder, but has been converted to a first baseman. He put up solid numbers in the minors, but hasn't brought the same production to the big leagues so far. I say "so far" because this spring he's hitting .391, so maybe he's finally putting it together.

That leaves the LAAAGOCRCUSPE's bullpen to discuss. K-Rod has fled for the greener (as in more dollar-filled) pastures of Queens, NY. That left a big hole at the back end of the Angels' bullpen. They seem to have filled it rather nicely by signing Brian Fuentes from the Colorado Rockies. Fuentes was last year's "bullpen trade bait du jour", even though he never was actually traded. They also have an intriguing option in Jose Arrendondo who could be the club's closer of the future. Surrounding those two are solid vets like Scot Shields (yes, he only uses one "t") and Justin Speier. All in all, the pen is not the Angels' foremost concern.

Bottom Line: LAAAGOCRCUSPE is a really good club. Not only will they win the West again, but they should be trouble for the Beasts out East come playoff time. Last year, the Angels finished 21 games ahead of their nearest competition. I don't see that gap having shrunk much, if at all.

2. Texas Rangers - Last year the Rangers finished 79-83. They were second in the AL West and missed the playoffs.

Oh the poor, poor Texas Rangers. It seems like each year they show flashes of promise, only to wilt under the harsh Arlington Summer sun.

Once again, the Rangers shouldn't have trouble producing runs. Along with last year's "feel good" story in OF Josh Hamilton, 3B Michael Young is back to form the core of a potent line-up. Yes, you read that right 3B Michael Young. Even though Young made the All-Star team as a shortstop last year, the club asked him to move to third to make room for super-rookie Elvis Andrus. After initially balking at the idea, Young eventually agreed. With Young, Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Hank Blalock in the middle of the order, Texas is going to give pitchers fits.

Unfortunately, their pitchers should be equally fit-filled. (Yes, I just invented that term.) Kevin Millwood returns to anchor the Ranger staff. And that ought to fill anyone with alarm in and of itself. If you're starting with Millwood, the rest of the staff isn't going anywhere good. Millwood has moments of dominance, but clearly he's on the backside of an otherwise solid career. Next is Vicente Padilla who looked pretty good when I saw him Wednesday night. He was pretty consistently lighting up the gun at 94 with his fastball, and seemed to be able to get his off-speed stuff over for strikes. But he's notorious for his inconsistency. Maybe new Ranger pitching coach Mike Maddux will be able to even him out. Maybe. Even if he does, Maddux has a huge challenge in front of him with the rest of the rotation: Scott Feldman, Matt Harrison and Brandon McCarthy. Have you heard of them? No? There's a reason for that.

And the bullpen? The best I can say is that it contains two former Twins (Eddie Guardado and Willie Eyre). Though in fairness there are good reasons why those two are former Twins.

Bottom Line: Much like previous seasons, I expect there to be stretches where the Rangers look like contenders. And then there will be other stretches where they stink the joint up on a nightly basis. Until club president Nolan Ryan starts addressing their pitching needs, this club isn't going much of anywhere.

3. Seattle Mariners - Last year the Mariners finished 61-101. They were 4th in the 4-team AL West and missed the playoffs.

They can't be as bad as they were last year. Can they?! I don't think so. The M's played baseball last year kind of like how I used to play Risk with one of my best friends as kids. Things would go badly for me, then they'd go a little worse, and finally I'd just say the hell with it and launch a series of suicidal attacks until he won the game.

Things started badly last year for the Mariners when their big trade acquisition P Erik Bedard began the year hurt, and then progressively got worse and worse til they just said the hell with it and fired everybody in their front office and field managerial staff.

This year the Mariners are trying to start over while fielding a veteran club. That's either a recipe for surprising success, or another complete melt-down. Given new manager Don Wakamatsu's resume as a long-time big league coach, I doubt it'll reach the level of full-on melt-down. But I also don't expect the M's to really challenge for the division.

Their line-up still can cause problems for pitchers. OF Ichiro is still as dangerous a leadoff hitter as you'll find. And 3B Adrian Beltre can still hit the ball a long way. The returning Ken Griffey, Jr. is clearly taking a victory lap, but on any given day, he can still cause trouble.

And their starting pitching isn't beyond salvage either. Felix Hernandez hasn't developed the way many people thought he would. But maybe under a new regime, he'll bounce back. Erik Bedard had a disastrous year last year, but still has the stuff to be an impact pitcher. Jerrod Washburn's biggest value to the club may be as trade bait. And Carlos Silva can't be any worse than he was last year... I don't think?!

The bullpen may be the biggest problem for the Mariners. They're looking at Mark Lowe and Miguel Batista as their closer. Miguel Batista shouldn't be anybody's closer. And it only gets shakier after those two.

Bottom Line: The Mariners will need to score some serious runs in the late innings to hold leads and make a run at .500. I expect they'll finish 10-15 games or so below that mark. And that's probably good enough for third in the division.

4. Oakland Athletics - Last year the A's finished 75-86. They were 3rd in the AL West and missed the playoffs.

I've heard a few people picking the A's to be a contender out West, but frankly I don't see it. And I say that because not only do I believe they aren't all that talented, but there's a brewing discontent between the club and the city of Oakland. It's entirely possible that the A's will be the next big league club to abandon their city for greener monetary pastures. Where they'll end up (Las Vegas? North Carolina?) is hard to say, but the animosity that's building towards their ownership isn't going to help ticket sales in a bad economy. And the resulting atmosphere is going to make it awfully tough to compete.

I'll start with the good. I love the additions of Orlando Cabrerra and Matt Holiday. Cabrerra is the best defensive infielder the A's have had in a long time. And Holiday not only brings a big bat to the A's line-up, but he's an excellent guy to have in the clubhouse.

But after those two, the rest of the line-up is suspect at best. I'll grant that it's possible that being back out West will help Jason Giambi. But I think it's more likely that he's yet another example of a guy who, once he went off the juice, became just another ballplayer. Eric Chavez is a constant injury concern at 3rd, and so is his back-up Nomar Garciaparra. Both can contribute offensively when healthy, but it's just as likely the A's will need a third option at third, because neither of the first two has shown any propensity to stay on the field.

Oakland's rotation is young. And while there is potential there, I think too much youth in any rotation is a bad idea. The Twins got away with it last year, but I think they're the exception to the rule. Justin Duchscherer, Dana Eveland and Sean Gallagher may all turn out to be excellent pitchers. But trying to develop them all at the same time is a tall order for any pitching coach.

The bullpen is a complete mess. The only recognizable name out there is Russ Springer, and that's not a compliment. Oakland will be yet another home for "no lead is safe"-style baseball. And that certainly won't help them contend.

Bottom Line: If Seattle was last year's "bottom's out of the tub" squad, I expect Oakland to wrest that title from them this year. To me? 70 wins is this club's ceiling.

So there you have it. Book another playoff trip for LAAAGOCRCUSPE. I'm not sure I see a World Series in their future, but I certainly don't see anyone giving them a run for the division title.

That's all for today folks. And that ends my columns from the warm, sunny, pleasantly fresh-aired Phoenix offices. I know none of you will shed a tear. But permit me a moment of wistfulness as I contemplate getting back to the grind of work and Minnesota March weather for my next offering. Speaking of said offering, which division will be next? There are only two more to go. And I've saved the DFT's divisions for last. I'll let you flip the coin and guess which one I'm back at you with on Monday.

Until then, thanks for reading!


  1. Waitaminute.

    I don't pretend to be a sports nerd, but even I am pretty sure it's PITCHERS who balk, not third basemen/shortstops.

    This can't be right.

  2. "Balk" here having the meaning of "objecting to" or "rejecting" a certain idea.