Of all the divisions in the American League, the one east coast fans are probably the least familiar with is the West. The AL West is made up of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Seattle Mariners, the Texas Rangers, the Oakland Athletics, and the recently added Houston Astros. East coasters are least familiar with this division for the pure and simple reason that most of their games are played in PST and don’t start until 10pm so we may only see these teams once a season when they come to play the Rays. Excluding the Rangers, playing the AL West use to be a cakewalk, but more recently they have become increasingly competitive both in and outside their division.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Angels are at the top of my list of teams in his division looking to make 2016 a big year. The Angels have the highest payroll in the AL West and despite having Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in their lineup, they have failed to make it into the playoffs in 2015. Hitting was a major issue in for the Angels 2015, but they were also plagued by injuries. CJ Wilson, Jered Weaver, and David Freese are just a few of the players that spent extended amounts of time on the DL in 2015.
In 2016 the Angels are poised to be healthy and ready to compete for the division but their main weakness is that they are an aging team. A large percentage of their everyday players are 30+ and developing their younger talent is a must. Tyler Skaggs (L) and Nick Tropeano (R) are some of the young blood that should revitalise the rotation. Skaggs will be fresh off the DL after getting Tommy John surgery and ready to prove himself. Young players to watch in the infield and outfield are Kaleb Cowart, Jefry Marte, and Rafael Ortega. These players have limited experience in the majors but will have tons of opportunity to prove themselves this spring.
The Seattle Mariners: Seattle Mariners have been lackluster for the better part of a decade. They have managed to finish at or just above the bottom of the division for the last 10 seasons with the exception on of 2007. Seems as if regardless of the money they have spent on talent, the Mariners have still continued to struggle.
As does any team with a losing record, the Mariners have high hopes for 2016, but what team doesn’t. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are at the helm of the starting rotation, but the remaining three spots have been flat. Adding Nathan Karns will give some depth to the rotation as a solid number three pitcher. Offense has been a long time issue for the Mariners. This offseason Adam Lind and Nori Aoki were added in order to bolster the lineup that already includes Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. For the Mariners, the time is here, the time is now.
The Texas Rangers: I don’t know about you, but when I see the Texas Rangers, I see the bain of the Rays existence. This is the team that historically has been consistently at or near the top of the division for the last 10 years. Right now, The success of the Astros is the only thing stopping the Rangers.
This season the Rangers are not looking to reinvent the wheel because they don’t have too. The rotation headed by Yu Darvish (returning from Tommy John surgery in late May) and Cole Hamels is not overly dominant but has a lot of offensive support from Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Mitch Moreland, and Shin-Soo Choo. Additionally, last season when Beltre was injured the Rangers called up top prospect Joey Gallo and he showed tons of promise. Gallo is definitely a name I’ll be keeping an eye on in 2016.
The Oakland Athletics: The Athletics (or the A’s as they are typically called) have been on a roller coaster of success. Until 2015 they had been shocking their critics for the past few years by making it to the playoffs while having one of the lowest payrolls in the MLB. The trade of Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes in 2014 is seen as a move that led to the awful performance from the A’s in 2015 when they finished last in the division.
The focus for the A’s in 2016 is rebuilding their pitching rotation. Sonny Gray is the only starter left from the dominate rotation of 2014. Jesse Hahn, Chris Bassitt, and Kendall Graveman are a few young starters that were among the 14 starters that the A’s used in 2015 that will be under the microscope during spring training. The one good thing about this season for the A’s is that the only place they have to go is up.
The Houston Astros: Last but not least the Cinderella story of 2015 the Houston Astros. Until last year the Astros were the laughing stock off of the MLB. They had not finished over .500 since 2008, in fact there were a few seasons they managed to lose over 100 games. There was even a rumor that they were losing on purpose in order to get better draft position.
The Astros didn’t make many big moves in the offseason. They are a young team that is led by CY Young winner Dallas Keuchel and their speedy second baseman Jose Altuve. In addition to producing the AL Cy Young winner, the Astros also turned out the Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa. They found a winning formula in 2015 and the it seems they are going to continue with it in 2016. One offseason pickup that is worth noting is the signing of Free Agent Doug Fister. At one time Fister was a solid middle rotation pitcher and no doubt could regain the velocity he lost in 2015 while playing for the Nationals.
This is just a glimpse into the American League West. The Angels, Mariners, Rangers, Athletics, and Astros may be on the other coast (well three of them) but they are worth a watch if you have the chance. Gimme, gimme wild west!
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