Thursday, April 23, 2009

An educated guess about the AL West for 2009

AL West

1. Seattle Mariners
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3. Oakland Athletics
4. Texas Rangers

The AL West is a battle of who wants to lose the least, with two weak .500-ish teams, one bad team, and one not so bad team.

Yes, I predicted the Seattle Mariners would win this division despite projecting them for the worst offense in the AL. No, I’m not making that pick as a Mariners fan and a homer. Their defense should be (despite Yuniesky Betancourt) the best in the AL. Add in an average pitching staff led by Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard, and they can easily steal this division with about 85-90 wins. They will play a lot of low scoring games, they have incorporated that annoying brand of smallball sacrifice and singles baseball that the Angels used to win the last few division titles, and the power arms at the front of their bullpen should lock down most games once they get a lead.

But the real reason they’ll win is because the Angels lost a good deal of talent and did too little to replace it. They don’t play that aforementioned smallball as well as they used to. Even if John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar weren’t injured, the Angels had lost closer Francisco Rodriguez and LF Garret Anderson, replacing them with… Bobby Abreu. Sure, Abreu is a great bat, but his defense is pretty bad in LF and he’s a definite defensive downgrade over the defensively average Anderson. This subtraction by addition helps turn a solid defense into a bad one.

The youngsters stepping up, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Kendry Morales, aren’t all particularly good defenders themselves, downgrading what was once a solid defensive infield. Vlad Guerrero is also getting older and he’s a slug in RF, albeit a slug with a cannon arm. The Angels struggled to reload their once great bullpen, and the injuries to Lackey and Santana (plus Nick Adenhart’s tragic death) have only exacerbated a shaky rotation situation (it was already doubtful we’d ever see Escobar again). After years of assured contention, a .500 season is a distinct possibility, even if Lackey and Santana come back on schedule and pitch well out of the gate all the way to season’s end. They could well hand the Mariners a division title by mid September.

Oakland should hang around 75 wins with a semi-productive lineup (with a lot of holes) and a cavernous home park with a flyball-killing sea breeze to help offset the crappiness of the A’s no name pitching staff. If Justin Duchscherer doesn’t return, Dana Eveland is their ace. Thankfully, while it seems they drew their bullpen’s names out of a hat, it’s a solid unit, and the defense, as always (thanks, Billy Beane) is an overall solid unit. They won’t get embarrassed, but they’re not going to compete.

If and when the Rangers’ up and coming young talent (Chris Davis, Taylor Teagarden, Elvis Andrus and a few others in the minors) develops and supplants the power-hitting mediocrity in front of them, they may have themselves a competitive team. Until then, they’ll have to settle for average defense, horrid pitching (they gave the withered remains of Kris Benson a job!) and a bandbox home park that makes both of those things worse, along with an offense of fading quality that can’t keep up. 90 losses, ahoy!

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