With Baseball officially kicking off on Sunday, it’s time to take a stab at predicting the success and downfalls of each division in the majors. We look at the AL West, where Texas rose to prominence in the second half and the Astros arrived in general, both teams looking to return to the playoffs to finish what they started.
1. Texas Rangers – Cole Hamels arrived and the Rangers woke up, apparently. Last year’s Rangers’ team was nothing too special in the first half, but like the Mets and Blue Jays, won the trade deadline by acquiring an ace and the rest is history. The Rangers passed the limping Astros, won 88 games and the division. Now Hamels should be joined by Yu Darvish, who should join the team sometime in May after missing last season with Tommy John surgery. With the additions of: Ian Desmond, and a full season of Hamels and most of a full season of Darvish, along with the breakout potential of Roughned Odor and Delino Deshields, Texas has potential to be the best team in the American League. The bullpen seems sorted out, another change from Opening Day a year ago and a healthy Derek Holland can provide a boost to the back of the rotation. Texas will be tough to dethrone and should improve upon last year’s 88 wins.
2. Houston Astros – The Astros exploded onto the scene last year after years of embarrassment, winning 86 games, a wildcard spot and then the wildcard play-in before getting eliminated in the first series of the playoffs. Houston is young and now experienced, with Jose Altuve still in his prime and a full year of Carlos Correa and George Springer, both of whom can be game changers. The Astros acquired Ken Giles to provide depth and potentially closer experience to the bullpen and made an under-the-radar signing in Doug Fister for the back of the rotation. It’s another solid edition of Houston, with a slightly lower ceiling than its state rivals.
3. Seattle Mariners – The Mariners finished 76-86 last season with poor pitching and hitting. However, Seattle has a lot of upside in both areas going into 2016. A bounce back year from Robinson Cano, who exploded in the second half, along with the upside of rookie Ketel Marte can help the offense and the rotation should be greatly improved with a healthy Hisashi Iwakuma, Wade Miley in pitcher’s park and another season of Taijuan Walker, who has breakout potential. The bullpen is still thin but improved from last year with Steve Cishek taking over closer duties and Joaquin Benoit there to form a legitimate 1-2 punch.
4. Los Angeles Angels – Let’s address the elephant in the room. The Angels had no business being good last year. Another example of a team who scored less than it surrendered but finished with a winning record, the Angels are a more extreme version of the Twins, finishing eight games over .500 despite being outscored by 14 runs. A healthy Garrett Richards should be a positive, but nobody knows if Jered Weaver or CJ Wilson have anything left, and nobody, including Andrew Heaney, seems destined to be anything but a mid to back starter for a team with one of the worst farm systems. The Angels still have Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Kole Calhoun along with some other nice hitters, but other than that, doesn’t have depth really anywhere specific. In a tougher division, this could be a hard fall.
5. Oakland Athletics – When you’re the A’s in a down year, “better than you think” is the ceiling for a season. The A’s finished with 94 losses in a year where everything went wrong ,and will now have to work towards some redemption. Khris Davis, Billy Burns and Josh Reddick makes a pretty solid outfield, Sean Doolittle should be healthy in the bullpen to close games (with a revitalized Ryan Madson adding depth) and the rotation still has Sonny Gray. At the end of the day Oakland is still thin, still lacks enough talent to be competitive and will still finish in last place, though slightly improved from the disaster of last season.
*Denotes Wildcard Selection