As an Oakland A's fan for the past decade, I know something about reading pessimistic (or, more often than not, realistic) previews for the upcoming MLB season. During the past few seasons, it seemed little less than a formality to predict the A's will finish in a distant 3rd place in the formerly 4-team AL West. But, after a shocking 2012 campaign in which the A's led the division for all of one day, albeit the last day of the regular season to clinch the division title, there seems to be some hope back in Oakland.
Unfortunately, much of the hope for repeat success seemed to slowly dwindle away as the Los Angeles Angels added All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton to their already star-studded lineup. How can the "baseball on a budget" A's possibly compete with the New York Yankees of the West? Better yet, the Texas Rangers didn't get all that much worse. They lost their most valuable offensive player, but their lineup is still one of the best in baseball without Hamilton. So, what will the American League West look like in 2013? Here's just one person's opinion:
1) Los Angeles Angels (96-66): The Angels haven't looked this good on paper since...well, last year before the season started. They were a bit of a disappointment in 2012, due mostly to a slow start (8-15 record in April), some late-Summer blues (27-27 in July and August), and a "down" season for their then newest recruit, Albert Pujols (career lows in batting average, OBP, SLG, and home runs). The emergence of AL Rookie of the Year winner Mike Trout proved to be tremendously valuable, as he led the Majors in WAR (wins above replacement) by a significant margin (10.0 vs. 8.0). Now, they add Hamilton into an already stellar lineup, maintain the majority of their starters from last season, and they're poised to find the type of success in 2013 that we all suspected they would have had in 2012.
2) Oakland Athletics (90-72): Yes, they won 94 games last year and won the division, I know. But, they were remarkably lucky in extra inning games, posting a 11-5 record over the course of the season. Additionally, it will be hard to match a 25-18 record in one-run games, as those are usually more or less a coin flip. With all of that said, the A's are still a young team and only getting better. Their pitching staff is excellent and deep, with over 5 legitimate starters, and 4 of them are a mere 25 years or younger. Yoenis Cespedes will be in his second year facing big league pitching, Josh Reddick should be able to at least knock out 25+ home runs, and newly-signed outfielder Chris Young has 20-20 potential. Things are looking fairly good in Oakland, and with an extra Wild Card spot now added, 90 wins should secure a postseason selection for the second straight year.
3) Texas Rangers (87-75): OK, I said that the Rangers wouldn't miss Josh Hamilton THAT much, but his absence will definitely affect their 2013 success. It wouldn't be shocking to see some players, who benefitted by batting before or after Hamilton, struggle in 2013 now that they have lost their safety cushion. The ace on their pitching staff, Yu Darvish, might also feel some negative effects in his second year, but for different reasons. After pitching to great success in 2012, many hitters will be better prepared to face Darvish and will be expecting a performance of an ace, not just a rookie. The Rangers will very likely be in the playoff hunt in September, but at this point in the offseason, the outcome doesn't look ideal for a team that went to the World Series in 2 of the past 3 years.
4) Seattle Mariners (76-86): What?! The Seattle Mariners won't finish above .500 in 2013? How can that be? Well, let's put it like it is: they didn't do much this offseason to increase their immediate chances of winning, save bringing aboard cheap power bats like Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, and Raul Ibanez. They are clearly focused on the future, illustrated by the massive contract that they dished out to "King" Felix Hernandez, and will be trying to hone Jesus Montero's hitting skills so he can reach his full potential. The M's finished the second half of 2012 fairly well, posting a 39-36 record, but it didn't seem to arise from any newfound realization that they are a good team.
5) Houston Astros (60-102): The Houston Astros could not have arrived in the West at a worse time. There are three legitimate playoff contenders in the division, and the Mariners will be playing their hearts out to not finish in last for the 4th straight year. Houston shipped shortstop Jed Lowrie to the A's for power-hitting first baseman Chris Carter, a trade that didn't accomplish much other than adding a source of power to a lineup devoid of talent. Even for the most diehard baseball fans, it's difficult to name players on the Astros 2013 starting roster, and for good reason: they are, for the most part, both young and unproven. Houston might see a slight increase in wins this season, but nothing to brag about.
By: Evan Kendall