X-Los Angeles Angels 90-72 (2)
In 2015, the Los Angeles Angels were expected to contend for their second consecutive American League West Title. But the Angels like most people didn’t expect the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros to each creep up on them in the fashion that they did. Due to the surge by both the Rangers and Astros, the Angels found themselves watching the postseason from home last October. And heading into 2016, the Halos know that they had better pack a lunch if they want to be postseason bound.
Last season was a problem for the Angels as manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Jerry Dipoto were never on the same page. The Angels parted with Dipoto last season and he was replaced by Billy Eppler whom Scioscia appears to be on the same wavelength with which will be crucial for the Angels in 2016.
Make no mistake about it that Angels outfielder Mike Trout is one of the best players right now in Major League Baseball. Trout is set to enter his fifth full season with the Angels, and just at the age of 24, Trout is already a four-time American League All-Star along with being a one-time winner of the AL MVP Award. And in 2016, you can expect Trout to once again to be in the running for all of the personal accolades that the game of baseball can bestow upon him. But for the Angels to make the postseason, Trout will need some help.
In both 2013 and 2014, Angels first baseman/designated hitter Albert Pujols was slowed by injuries, but he returned to form last year to hit 40 home runs for the first time in a season since 2010 when he was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. However, Pujols is now 36-years of age and you just have to wonder how much gas that he’ll have in the tank to provide protection in the Angels lineup behind Trout.
Pujols is at the point of his career where he is no longer an everyday player in the field which has paved the way for C.J. Cron at first base. Cron in his second year with the Angels and he could be ready to become a breakout player in 2016. Year-by-year, outfielder Kole Calhoun continues to improve. Calhoun was an eighth round pick by the Angels in 2010 and he has worked hard to get to point that he is currently at. Calhoun’s offensive numbers have improved in each season as he was third on the club last year in home runs with 26, and if he is able to eclipse the 30-homer mark in 2016, it should mean good things for the Halos.
The Angels were not a good defensive team last season as they committed 93 errors last season which was the seventh most in the American League. This offseason Los Angeles acquired shortstop Andrelton Simmons from the Atlanta Braves and third baseman Yunel Escobar from the Washington Nationals as these two moves should sure up the left side of their infield.
Injuries slowed the Angels starting pitching staff in 2015 as elbow woes limited C.J. Wilson while Jered Weaver was never able to overcome a slow start due to beginning the year on the disabled list. Without an effective Wilson or Weaver, starting pitcher Garrett Richards was able to emerge as the Angels ace and if all three are healthy in 2016, the Angels could have one of the better pitching staffs in the American League.
The Angels bullpen should be solid for them in 2016 with Joe Smith, Cam Bedrosian, and Al Alburquerque setting things up for relief pitcher Huston Street who is one of the best in the business as far as finishing games.
In the first week of the regular season, the Angels will host the Rangers in a four-game series where both teams will be stating their case to be the kings of the American League West in 2016.
Y-Texas Rangers 89-73 (4)
Last year marked a reversal of fortunes for the Texas Rangers. In 2014, the Rangers endured their worst season since 1985 as they lost 95 games while finishing in last place in the American League West. But things turned around for the Rangers in 2015 as under first-year manager Jeff Banister, they came alive to win the AL West. Banister preached fundamentals to the Rangers while not beating themselves as his foundation and he is hopeful that this will be something that will carry over to 2016 for them.
Historically the Rangers have been an organization that has been known for it’s hitting, but their pitching could be benchmark for them in 2016. Starting pitcher Yu Darvish sat out the entire 2015 Major League Baseball season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. Darvish is set to return and although the Rangers might use the kid gloves on him, he is still power strikeout pitcher that will put fear into batters. Last year the Rangers acquired starting pitcher Cole Hamels from the Philadelphia Phillies. And in 12 starts with the Rangers, Hamels went 7-1 with a 3.66 earned run average while providing Texas with the presence of an ace. This year the Rangers are backing on the combination of Darvish and Hamels leading their rotation while setting the tempo for the rest of the starting rotation.
in 2015, Banister enlisted relief pitcher Shawn Tolleson as the Rangers closer. It was Tolleson’s first opportunity to be a closer and he didn’t disappoint as he finished fifth in the American League in saves with 35, including 53 games finished. Tolleson will once again be called upon this season to finish games for the Rangers and he should be up for the challenge.
But make no mistake about it that the Rangers team will need their solid lineup to be at it once more. Only the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees scored more runs in the American League last season than the Rangers. And Texas should once again make it a regular occurrence as far as crossing home plate.
After missing the majority of the 2014 Major League Baseball Season with a herniated disc in his neck, first baseman/designated hitter Prince Fielder returned to the Rangers in 2015. Fielder would lead the Rangers in home runs with 23 while being named to his sixth All-Star team and his first with the Rangers. Fielder would also be selected as the AL Comeback Player of the Year, but his most recognizable accomplishment was that he became a leader on the field and in the clubhouse for the Rangers which is something that Texas will need from him again in 2016. However you can expect Fielder to be used mainly as a designated hitter due to the emergence of Mitch Moreland at first base who gives the Rangers another quality bat in their lineup along with being a solid fielder. Moreland is coming off the best season of his six-year Major League Baseball career as he batted .278 with 23 home runs and 85 runs batted in and the Rangers are hopeful that he will be able to put up similar numbers in 2016.
The last five years have seen third baseman Adrian Beltre become the heart and soul of the Rangers which was evident by his grit that was on display last October in the postseason. But Beltre will be 37-years of age next month and the Rangers must monitor his health in order to increase his effectiveness.
After a questionable divorce from the Rangers in 2012, outfielder Josh Hamilton returned to Texas last year. Hamilton was a fish out of water in his two-plus seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, and even though he is more comfortable in Arlington, he is still enigmatic.
The Rangers are high on the potential of second baseman Rougned Odor and outfielder Joey Gallo to become future cornerstones of their franchise, and it will be interesting to see if it will begin to come full circle for them in 2016.
The Rangers first 10 games of the 2016 Major League Baseball season will see them face the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels, and a strong start within the American League West could be just what they need to win the division for a second consecutive year.
Houston Astros 88-76*
The Houston Astros played the 2015 Major League Baseball season as if they had house money. The Astros won 86 games to secure their first winning season since 2008 which led to their first trip to the postseason since 2005. The Astros would push the eventual World Series Champion Kansas City Royals to the brink in a grueling series in the American League Division Series before being eliminated. The Astros had one of the youngest teams in Major League Baseball in 2015 that crept up on some people, but in 2016 they’ll be out to show that they were not a fluke.
The Astros young core includes the reigning American League Rookie of the Year in shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder George Springer. The Astros envision the bats of Correa and Springers being able to carry their lineup in the same fashion that Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell did for numerous years. The emergence of Correa and Springer has taken some of the pressure off of second baseman Jose Altuve to put the Astros on his back. The last two years have seen Altuve lead the AL in hits and he will look to make it three consecutive seasons in which he tallies at least 200 hits.
The Astros lived and died by the home run ball in 2015 as their 230 long balls were second to the Toronto Blue Jays. Designated hitter Evan Gattis will look to once again be a power threat in the middle of the Astros lineup while this will be the first full season for outfielder Carlos Gomez in Houston as he looks to have his fiery personality propel this team to the postseason for a second consecutive year.
Aside from having the American League Rookie of the Year in 2015, the Astros also had the AL Cy Young Award winner as well. Starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel went 20-8 last season to become the first Astros pitcher since Roy Oswalt in 2005 to win 20 games. And for the Astros to have a legitimate shot to win the AL West in 2016, he needs to put up similar numbers. There’s a veteran presence in the Astros rotation behind Keuchel with veteran starting pitchers in Collin McHugh and Doug Fister, while relief pitcher Luke Gregerson showed what he can do when he was finally given the chance to be a closer as he saved 31 games for Houston in 2015. But what will Gregerson be able to do for an encore in 2016?
For Astros manager A.J. Hinch, his young Houston team faces one of the toughest schedules in Major League Baseball to begin the year as they have series against the New York Yankees, Royals, Boston Red Sox, and Detroit Tigers in the first month of the regular season. And whereas the Astros were able to sneak up on opponents in 2015, it will be a bit harder for them to make the playoffs in 2016.
Seattle Mariners 77-85
After missing the postseason in 2014 by just one game, the expectations for the Seattle Mariners increased immensely in 2015; especially after designated hitter Nelson Cruz was signed. But instead of a trip to the playoffs, the Mariners finished with their fifth losing campaign in their last six seasons. The struggles of the M’s ended up costing general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon their respective jobs with the team as this organization has still failed to qualify for the playoffs in Major League Baseball since 2001 which is now the longest active streak in the game.
Former Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim general manager Jerry Dipoto is hopeful that his previous front office experience will come in handy as he has been put in charge of getting things turned around in the Pacific Northwest. Dipoto did help the Angels win the American League West in 2014, but he and manager Mike Scioscia were never on the same page and thus he resigned last summer. Dipoto is a firm believer in baseball sabermetrics and he needs a manager that is on the same page as him which is why he hired Scott Servais to be the new manager of the Mariners. Servais enjoyed a 12-year playing career and now the Mariners will be his first rodeo as far as being a big league skipper.
But for the Dipoto, Servais, and the Mariners to think about being a competitive team in 2016, they will need more production from second baseman Robinson Cano. In 2014, Cano joined the Mariners after he agreed to a ten-year, $240 million contract. But in two seasons with the Mariners, Cano’s production has not come close to equalling what he did during his nine years with the New York Yankees. In Cano’s last season with the Yankees, he hit 27 home runs, but in two years with the M’s, he has only hit 35. Safeco Field in Seattle isn’t a launching pad like Yankee Stadium, but Cano’s bat speed has appeared to slow down and at the age of 33, he doesn’t appear to be the player that he once was.
Overall, the Mariners offense must find a way to improve in 2016 as they were 13th in the American League last season in runs scored with 656. And this was in spite of the fact that designated hitter Nelson Cruz was second in the AL last season in home runs with 44. But aside from the high home run totals as a team, the M’s were not a good offensive team as Dipoto and Servais will now look to improve the overall batting average and on-base percentage of this team; in spite of the fact that they don’t possess a deep lineup.
Just like Cruz carried the Mariners lineup, starting pitcher Felix Hernandez was and is the starting rotation in Seattle. Hernandez is coming off of the second 18-win season of his Major League Baseball career and he should once again be in consideration to win the American League’s Cy Young Award. Hernandez has been durable for the M’s as the last eight MLB seasons have seen him pitch at least 200 innings. And although most people forget about Hernandez being that he is tucked away up in the Pacific Northwest, he is still one of the game’s premier starting pitchers. The Mariners thought that they lost starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma in free agency to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but when he failed his physical with the Dodgers, he decided to return to the Mariners. And if starting pitcher Taijuan Walker can put it altogether for a full season, the Mariners rotation could keep them in games.
The Mariners pitching staff will be asked to carry the load as their bullpen accounted for 24 blown saves last season which was fourth in the American League as this unit in still in search of some consistency.
Road series in the first month of the season against the Texas Rangers, Angels, and Yankees will test the Mariners early as they cannot afford to fall too far behind in the American League West.
Oakland Athletics 74-88
The Oakland Athletics are coming off of their first last place finish in the American League West since 2009 and there will be a steep climb for them to get back into contention as the division has become very competitive rather quickly. Athletics general manager Billy Beane has been given credit for some of his strategic moves during his tenure there, but his moves over the past year have really hurt the organization which has been highlighted by him trading the eventual AL MVP in third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays. The A’s have yet to recover from the trade which could make the 2016 Major League Baseball season a long one for them.
One man cannot do it by himself which is evident by the production of Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray. Gray went 14-7 with a 2.73 earned run average last season, but the A’s pitching staff was still 11th in team earned run average in the American League last season at 4.14. Gray is 26-years of age, and he is the undisputed ace of this pitching staff in Oakland while he should also be in line to be selected to his second consecutive Major League Baseball All-Star team. The Athletics picked up veteran starting pitcher Henderson Alvarez in free agency while they are hopeful that starting pitcher Jarrod Parker will be able to return to the rotation as elbow issues have befallen him over the past two years.
Offensively the Athletics were at the bottom of most statistical categories in the American League last season as the other Major League Baseball teams have caught up Beane’s “Moneyball” philosophy. And as the A’s are set to once again to have one of the lowest payrolls in MLB, they’ll be fighting an uphill battle the American League West.
The Athletics first 10 games of the upcoming Major League Baseball season will be against teams that weren’t playoff teams last season. And for A’s manager Bob Melvin, a quick start could give his team some hope in the American League West for 2016.
Sources: Baseball-reference.com, Spotrac.com