1st) Houston Astros – 94-68
The future of baseball is located in Houston, Texas. The Astros are easily the most exciting team in the game and it’s due to their young stars Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and reigning Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. They have a young, powerful lineup that is only getting better, an incredible rotation which just got even deeper with the addition of Doug Fister (hi, dad!) and a bullpen headlined by veteran Luke Gregerson, Tony Sipp and Will Harris who both had a sub-2 ERA last season, and the newly acquired closer Ken Giles. This is the best team in baseball and they are only getting better. They had a real chance of winning the World Series last year (they should have won the ALDS vs Kansas City but Correa missed an easy ball that led to KC tying the series). Dethroning the Royals is tough, but Houston has the star-power to do it.
Key pitcher to watch: Doug Fister. He was a Cy Young candidate two seasons ago but really struggled to find himself last year. Being in a new city and having the ability to test free agency after this season, we expect Fister to bounce back to his old form.
Key hitter to watch: Carlos Gomez. Acquired in a money dump at the trade deadline, Gomez failed to produce the MVP type numbers we’d grown used to. Chalk it up to injuries or is it a sign of a rapid decline? We think (and the Astros hope) it’s the former.
2nd) Texas Rangers – 89-73
Texas barely edged out the Angels and Astros in the final days of the regular season last year. While they have gotten better (they will have Cole Hamels for a full season and Yu Darvish potentially returning in June), the Rangers will have to settle for a Wild Card berth. The rotation after Hamels isn’t great but we expect Texas to score a lot of runs early and have their solid bullpen closedown tight games. Prince Fielder bounced back strong from his 2014 injury and we think he’ll pair nicely with future All-Star Rougned Odor, Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland. Expect Texas to out-slug the rest of the division on their way to a Wild Card appearance.
Key hitter to watch: Ian Desmond. Coming off a very disappointing season with the Nationals (perhaps turning down a $107 million contract offer lingered in the back of his mind) Desmond is starting completely over. New contract. New team. New position. Both Desmond and the Rangers hope all of these changes help him stop his skid and revert back to the 25 home run threat he once was. Ian will also be playing for a 2017 contract and money is a pretty good motivator.
3rd) Seattle Mariners – 84-78
It seems like baseball writers always try to be edgy when they make their preseason picks and pick the Mariners to win the West. Usually that’s a really stupid prediction. This year, well, it’s still pretty stupid but that’s just because Houston and Texas are very, very good. Don’t get me wrong, Seattle has the potential to be an 89 win team. They added some nice pieces in the offseason (Adam Lind, Nori Aoki, Joaquin Benoit) to an already impressive roster and have one of the best lineup combinations in the game (Seager/Cruz/Cano). If Robinson Cano can continue his second half surge from last season, and if Felix Hernandez can return to form, there’s no reason Seattle can’t be a playoff-bound team.
Key pitcher to watch: Taijuan Walker. Is it weird that one of the best pitching prospects has a minor league career ERA of 4.04? Yeah, it probably is, but Walker seems to be the real deal. He’s only 23 years old and is going to need to step up in order for the Mariners to make their first postseason since 2001.
Key hitter to watch: Ketel Marte. At only 22, Marte has found himself as Seattle’s starting shortstop. He hit .321 in the minors this past season and .283 in 57 Major League games. He’s quick and exciting and should hold down the shortstop position in Seattle for years to come.
4th) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 80-82
Despite having some of the biggest names (and payrolls) in baseball, the Angels are an average team at best. Anaheim finished just one game away from the playoffs last year, losing on the last day to Texas, and yet they have done nothing to significantly improve their roster. The Angels’ left fielders produced one of the worst combined seasons in Major League history and their response was to bring in Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry, lifelong backups. They then traded their entire farm system and fan-favorite shortstop Erick Aybar to the Braves for Andrelton Simmons, a defensive wizard who usually looks lost at the plate. Then, instead of resigning David Freese for only $3 million, they traded young stud reliever Trevor Gott to the Nationals in exchange for Yunel Escobar who, in reality, might not be better than Freese. Sure young studs like Mike Trout (who is already the best player in the world), Kole Cahloun and Garrett Richards are still getting better, a scary thought, but players like Albert Pujols and Jered Weaver are now shells of their former selves. The Angels are one of those rare teams that has the potential to both win and lose 90 games. We think it’s somewhere in between.
Key pitcher to watch: Matt Shoemaker. In 2014, he went an impressive 16-4 (yes we know that wins and losses are team dependent stats, but sometimes they do accurately show how good a pitcher was) and posted an equally impressive 3.04 ERA. Last year was a completely different story. 7-10 with a 4.46 ERA and 135 hits in 135.1 innings. If he can revert back to his 2014 self the Angels have a better chance of being that 90 win team.
Key hitter to watch: C.J. Cron. A first round pick in 2011, Cron has the potential to be a serious threat behind Trout. The Angels would like it if he drew more walks (17 in 404 plate appearances last year) but I’m sure they’ll settle for 25 home runs.
5)Oakland Athletics – 71-91
They finished in last at 68-94 in 2015 and 88-74 the year before. You just never know what they’re going to do. They’ll either lose 90+ games or win the division by 6. Honestly, your guess is as good as mine.
Key pitcher to watch: Jesse Hahn. The 26 year old has flashed some talent in his 2 Major League seasons but is yet to rack up 100 innings in a season due to injuries. Hahn believes throwing sliders is what caused his arm to act up last season and has vowed to quit throwing them in hopes to pitch a full season.
Key hitter to watch: Danny Valencia. We here at The Batter’s Eye have long been fans of Valencia. After jumping around for a few years, Valencia has hopefully found a home in Oakland after signing a one-year extension. If he is able to play 150 games, we believe Valencia could hit 25+ home runs and potentially become an All-Star.
What do you think the AL West will look like? Sound off in the comments section!