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The American League West over the last few years has seen a shift in its hierarchy. While the Houston Astros have remained atop the pyramid, the teams behind them have not only changed a bit, but they’ve gotten closer to Houston’s lead. It may only be a matter of time until someone catches the Astros.
This division should see some heavy competition from the field behind Houston, maybe even seeing one or two wild card teams follow them to the playoffs. It will all depend on if their star players can come through, which in at least one team’s case, may be easier said than done.
1. Houston Astros
Last Year’s Record: 106-56
Player To Watch: Shortstop Jeremy Peña
X-Factor: Catcher Martin Maldonado
It’s hard to bet against the defending World Series champions, and with veteran manager Dusty Baker still at the helm, it’s going to be even harder. That said, for the Houston Astros, this season may be tricky with second baseman and team leader Jose Altuve starting the year on the injured list, following an injury during the World Baseball Classic.
The addition of first baseman Jose Abreu should add a nice pop to the order, and combined with third baseman Alex Bregman, this line up should see quite a bit of production. If Baker can get the team to rally around Altuve’s injury and build up a steady record before he gets back, a repeat may be in the cards.
2. Seattle Mariners
Last Year’s Record: 90-72
Player To Watch: Outfielder Julio Rodriguez
X-Factor: Catcher Cal Raleigh
Last year, Seattle not only found themselves in a playoff race, but actually made the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. While they lost to the eventual World Series champion Astros in the division round, they were able to win a series against the Toronto Blue Jays and advance farther than they had in two decades. It was a really good year for them and their fans.
Now that they’ve gotten that monkey off of their back, the next step is to win the division. While they may not do it this year, they should be able to win enough games to get within range of overtaking Houston within the next two years. They have developed their young talent extremely well, even to the point that outfielder Julio Rodriguez may be an MVP candidate this year. If all goes according to plan, Houston’s days as the top dog may be numbered.
3. Texas Rangers
Last Year’s Record: 68-94
Player To Watch: First Baseman Nathaniel Lowe
X-Factor: Manager Bruce Bochy
The Texas Rangers have been making some serious money moves over the last few years, to the point that many have predicted them to finally break the glass ceiling. Unfortunately, for some reason, they haven’t broken through yet. That may change with a change in manager and the fact they went with Bruce Bochy is a really good sign.
Boasting a starting rotation with Jacob deGrom, Martin Perez and Nathan Eovaldi, pitching should be a lot better than seasons past. Add to it first baseman Nathaniel Lowe breaking out last year, and outfielders like Leody Taveras and Bubba Thompson showing signs of breaking out, and Texas may be ready to make it big very soon.
4. Los Angeles Angels
Last Year’s Record: 73-89
Player To Watch: Pitcher and Designated Hitter Shohei Ohtani
X-Factor: Outfielder Hunter Renfroe
Let’s be clear, the Los Angeles Angels are a mess. Despite boasting two of baseball’s top players, they’ve severely underachieved, even to the point that it’s been teased both could depart in the coming years. Especially now that their ownership has pulled back their desire to sell the team, things need to change or they’ll be in danger of losing this team.
One of the biggest things to watch will be outfielder Hunter Renfroe. While putting up impressive numbers over the last couple of years, he’s been traded twice in that time, with the heaviest rumor being that he’s bad for morale. If this team is prioritizing talent over morale, then that may be the heart of the issue, and we shouldn’t expect it to get any better.
5. Oakland A’s
Last Year’s Record: 60-102
Player To Watch: First Baseman Jesus Aguilar
X-Factor: Catcher Shea Langeliers
Another year removed from the release of the book “Moneyball”, another year the Oakland A’s find themselves closer to competing for a top draft pick rather than a World Series. Ever since general manager Billy Beane and now Cleveland Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta implemented the “Moneyball” system into Oakland’s talent acquisition strategy, they have yet to break from it. This includes letting it evolve the way teams like the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals have on their way to winning multiple World Series, and it’s cost them dearly.
Until Beane figures out a way for Oakland to make their strategy fit with the current rates in free agency, they won’t be able to come close to competing consistently. So A’s fans, get ready for another rough season or two before getting false hope with a short playoff run.