This is the third installment of a six-part in-depth view of each of Major League Baseball’s six divisions for the upcoming season.
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Overall W-L Record in 2012: 89-73, 3rd in AL West
Pitching: 4.02 ERA ranked 18th in MLB
Hitting: .764 OPS ranked 4th in MLB
Lineup: For the second year in a row, the Los Angeles Angels made the biggest splash of free agency and landed outfielder Josh Hamilton (2010 American League Most Valuable Player) with a five-year deal worth $125 million. Hamilton will hit alongside three-time NL MVP winner Albert Pujols, who will hope to go deep before May 6th this season. Leading off, the Angels will throw out a young center fielder that some may have heard before. Mike Trout, anyone? The 2012 MVP runner-up will have the task of building upon one of the best rookie seasons of all time.
Rounding out the power bats in the lineup, designated hitter Mark Trumbo (32 home runs in 2012) will hit fifth. American League pitchers will have a tough time escaping the game without coughing up a home run, as four of the Angels first five batters project to blast 30+ home runs each. However, their infield doesn’t present much terror outside of Pujols.
Pitching: Pitching was the ultimate reason the Angels finished five games below the Oakland Athletics last season. Jered Weaver, who won 20 games with a 2.81 earned-run average, returns as the ace. C.J. Wilson walked 91 batters over 202.1 innings in his Angels debut and will have to hone his control if he wants to see his earned run total drop from 3.83 in 2013. Newly-acquired Tommy Hanson from the Braves will replace Dan Haren in the rotation. Hanson faces legitimate concerns about his shoulder after seeing his earned-run average balloon to 4.48 last season with a fastball that averaged below 90 miles per hour. Jason Vargas, acquired from the Mariners, figures to be a solid bet to post an earned-run average around 4.00 and fit in nicely in the fourth spot. Former Phillie Joe Blanton will take over the last spot in the rotation, with Garrett Richards as insurance in the bullpen.
Ryan Madson joins the bullpen and will close out games for the Halos, moving Ernesto Frieri to the set-up spot. Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen, and Sean Burnett make up a bulk of what should be an improved bullpen.
Outlook: Though the Angels made several moves to shore up their rotation from last year, one can’t help but be concerned over the health of Hanson and Blanton’s ability to be effective in the AL West. Blessed with a true ace and one of the best pitchers in baseball in Weaver, the right-hander will look to lead the newly-formed rotation to the division crown. The boisterous offense figures to make up for any deficiencies that may spring up in the rotation.
2. Oakland Athletics
Overall W-L Record in 2012: 94-68, 1st in AL West
Pitching: 3.48 ERA ranked 6th in MLB
Hitting: .714 OPS ranked 19th in MLB
Lineup: The key to Oakland’s offense last season was left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, who made his MLB debut with the thunderous crash of 23 home runs in 487 at bats. The Cuban native showed a remarkable ability to adjust to breaking pitches over the early part of the season and was a more well-rounded hitter in 2012 than most people initially expected. Another power bat is right fielder Josh Reddick, returning to give the A’s some clout in the middle of the order, though he struggled to get on base consistently with a .305 on-base percentage in 2012. Center fielders Chris Young and Coco Crisp will fill out the outfield.
John Jaso was acquired from the Mariners to offer the A’s a solid bat behind the plate. Though ironically for Moneyball and Billy Beane, Oakland’s offense isn’t full of guys with solid on-base percentages. Scott Sizemore will take over for Jemile Weeks at second base, whose production fell significantly in his sophomore season. Hiroyuki Nakajima, who was signed this offseason to play shortstop, may also begin the year in Triple-A with Weeks after a disappointing spring.
Pitching: Oakland rose to nab the division crown last year on the strength of solid pitching. One of four teams with a bullpen whose earned-run average was sub-3.00, Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins, Evan Scribner, Jim Miller, and Jordan Norberto all had earned-run averages below that mark. Sean Doolittle missed by just .05 points. In great news for Oakland fans and to the detriment of AL batters, all but Miller return.
25-year old Brett Anderson is set for a healthy season since missing half of 2011 and 2012 following Tommy John surgery. The talented lefty is capable of putting together a Cy Young-caliber season - if he stays healthy. Jarrod Parker (3.47 earned-run average in 2012), Tommy Milone (3.74), and A.J. Griffin (3.06) will follow. Bartolo Colon will fit in the fifth spot after serving his final days on the suspension list through the first week of the season. Dan Straily will most certainly get starts this year and could fill in for Colon sooner rather than later. Though Straily led the minors in strikeouts with 175 over Double-A and Triple-A last year, his stuff resembles someone more along the lines of a mid-rotation starter.
Outlook: It’s hard to not get excited about Oakland’s starting pitching this season. If healthy, the A’s could legitimately have the best pitching staff in the major leagues. The key to their pitching is the health of Anderson, who could be the turning point in the A’s rise through the playoffs. I fully expect Oakland to take a Wild Card spot, though they may face consistency issues with their lineup.
3. Texas Rangers
Overall W-L Record in 2012: 93-69, 2nd in AL West, Wild Card
Pitching: 3.99 ERA ranked 16th in MLB
Hitting: .780 OPS ranked 2nd in MLB
Lineup: Any discussion about the Rangers lineup in 2013 cannot begin without mentioning the loss of Josh Hamilton. The outfielder drew criticism over his lackadaisical attitude towards the end of the season, though he led their offense in power and overall production in 2013. One also cannot discuss the Texas lineup without mentioning the beast that is Adrian Beltre. After dealing with suppressed numbers by the cavernous Safeco Field, Beltre has blistered the ball in his three seasons out of Seattle, becoming the best all-around third baseman in baseball. Shortstop Elvis Andrus will again be the catalyst for the Rangers at the top of the order.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler and outfielder Nelson Cruz bring 20+ home run power to the lineup, while A.J. Pierzynski represents an upgrade at catcher. Texas also went out and signed Lance Berkman, who is still a plus bat if healthy… big “if” there. The best all-around prospect in the minors, shortstop Jurickson Profar, will get plenty of opportunities to make an impact this season. The Rangers will find ways to fit him in their lineup, whether it is giving guys days off or convincing Kinsler to move to the outfield.
Pitching: While the Rangers wait for the mid-season return of Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish will guard the front of the rotation. Darvish is due to take a major step forward with a full season of MLB experience under his belt. Derek Holland will also look to put it all together after an inconsistent season 2012 with a 4.67 earned-run average.
Alexi Ogando will rejoin the rotation after a solid year in the pen. While he is capable of putting up mid-rotation numbers, there is concern over his ability to handle the jump in innings. It is possible that Ogando eventually returns to the bullpen when the rotation is fully healthy. Nick Tepesch will take the final spot what once was Martin Perez’s to lose before breaking his arm. Perez will be able to join the rotation sometime in May.
Texas had an effective bullpen last year in large part due to the resurgence of Joe Nathan as closer. They lose Ogando to the rotation and Mike Adams to free agency, so the bullpen is a question mark going into the season. Joakim Soria presents a formidable late-inning option if healthy.
Outlook: Texas certainly has the talent to make the playoffs. They also have the minor league talent to make a significant mid-season move. However, they failed to go out this offseason and make up for the loss of Hamilton and also face questions in relief. Berkman certainly represents a key piece to their lineup as designated hitter, but he’s 37-years old with gimpy knees. Berkman could barely hobble down the first base line last August, but still the Rangers saw enough to sign him to a one-year deal. The first three spots of the division may once again come down to five games, so the Rangers could definitely secure a spot in the playoffs.
4. Seattle Mariners
Overall W-L Record in 2012: 75-87, 5th in AL West
Pitching: 3.76 ERA ranked 10th in MLB
Hitting: .665 OPS ranked 30th in MLB
Lineup: The Mariners had exactly three starters with an on-base percentage above .300 in 2012. Those players were third baseman Kyle Seager (.316), left fielder Casper Wells (.302), and center fielder Michael Saunders (.306). John Jaso, who didn’t qualify by splitting time at designated hitter and catcher, actually had an on-base percentage of .394, but the Mariners shipped him to Oakland.
Seattle did themselves a favor and moved in the fences at Safeco Field. They then did themselves another favor and added power. They welcomed back outfielder Raul Ibanez and acquired outfielder Michael Morse and first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales. The three combined for 59 homers last year. The Mariners will still struggle to get on base consistently in 2013 and will need both second baseman Dustin Ackley and catcher Jesus Montero to live up to their potential.
Pitching: Durable ace Felix Hernandez will lead the rotation after signing a mega-extension in the offseason. Hishashi Iwakuma will pitch in the rotation for the entire year after initially coming out of the bullpen last year. Iwakuma will build upon a solid season from 2012. Seattle signed lefty Joe Saunders to fit in the third spot in the rotation, followed by Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beaven.
Tom Wilhelmsen is a strong closer who isn’t known to the passing baseball fan, and he will be followed in the bullpen by Carter Capps and Charlie Furbush.
Outlook: Hernandez is a solid bet to put up another stellar season, while the rest of the pitching staff represents a slight upgrade over last year. The Mariners had a strange affinity for acquiring designated hitters/corner outfielders this offseason. While Ibanez offers upgraded power, he’s 40 years old and benefited greatly from playing half his games in Yankee Stadium last year. Morales and Morse need to stay healthy but will not provide any upgrades with the glove.
5. Houston Astros
Overall W-L Record in 2012: 55-107, 5th in NL Central
Pitching: 4.56 ERA ranked 25th in MLB
Lineup: .673 OPS ranked 29th in MLB
Lineup: If the Astros had a fast-forward button, they’d surely use it over the next few seasons. Second baseman Jose Altuve is the only regular projected to be above-average in 2013. Though newly-acquired Chris Carter will fit in left field and provides 25+ home run power, he will struggle along with the rest of the lineup to hit for average. It is hard to imagine first baseman Carlos Pena or shortstop Ronny Cedeno making a difference in what was arguably the worst offense in baseball last season.
Pitching: Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell are competent starters but would fit at the end of the rotation for most contenders. The Astros brought along lefty Erik Bedard, who had a rough 2012 for Pittsburgh and was subsequently released in late-August. Philip Humber, who tossed the 21st perfect game in MLB history in 2012, will ironically try to erase a trying season after posting a 6.44 earned-run average in 26 starts. Though Houston’s pitching staff won’t exactly light up baseball, Alex White has a chance at establishing himself as a solid mid-rotation option after failing in Colorado.
Jose Veras and Wesley Wright will pitch at the back of what should be a mediocre bullpen in 2013.
Outlook: The Astros will keep stockpiling young talent over the next few seasons and look to the future for contention. Houston will struggle mightily in their initial venture into the American League, though they have improved their farm system immensely in the past couple of seasons. Give them a few more years before they start to noticeably improve.
Links to previous articles in this series:
2013 Major League previews: AL East
2013 Major League previews: AL Central
Pierce Jefferson can be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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