2012 Predictions: American League West
With the new season just a few hours old, the analysts here at Knucklebawl.com have been working at a feverish pace employing their unique brand of statistical knowledge, and unconventional evaluation techniques, to each of the thirty clubs that make up Major League Baseball. The time for Grapefruit and Cactus talk has passed, as every hit from here on in registers on the back of somebody’s bubblegum card. It is said that Opening Day has all teams showing the same (0-0) record, and thus every side has an equal chance of making the playoffs, but ultimately this statement is only true from a purely mathematical or philosophical standpoint, and by the time the first pitch of Game 2 is thrown, it is a fact that half the teams in the league will be aiming to establish a streak, while the other half will be hoping to avoid a slump. Baseball has the habit of defining winners and losers at a very rapid pace.
American League West
The illusion of Opening Day parity does not extend as far as the Athletics and Mariners this year, as both sides already show a (1-1) record thanks to the sharing of honors in last week’s Japan Series. Sporting an early .500 record on the season, the flight back from Tokyo may just be representative of a high water mark for Oakland and Seattle in 2012. The act of co-habiting with the current Rangers and Angels sides must surely have both outfits rubbing their hands together with a combination of glee and relief at the impending arrival of the Astros.
The Mariners are one of two franchises in history never to have made it to a World Series, and the reported failure of their offseason project ‘Codename – Clone Felix’ has all but ruined any chance of Seattle playing meaningful Baseball after the All-Star break. The possibility of a return to form by Ichiro, combined with the continued maturation of Dustin Ackley, does offer the Mariners some respite, and the Montero trade has seen more Seattleites believing in Jesus than they did when Billy Graham blazed through town in ’76, however it does appear that Justin Smoak will need to replicate a level of production synonymous with that of a Taiwanese sweatshop if the Mariners are to attain anything other than last place in the AL West.
A winter shakeup has seen the Athletics place the kind of emphasis on youth not seen on the West Coast since the premier of Logan’s Run, whilst simultaneously recruiting and retaining some of the oldest swingers this side of Orange County. The addition of Yoenis Cespedes could well turn out to be an inspired roll of the dice, and may just offer a bit of pop to what appears to be the usual decent yet uninspiring Oakland lineup.
GM Billy Beane has taken his much documented reclamation project to a new level with the signing of tarnished slugger Manny Ramirez, who appears ready to serve a reduced 50 game suspension for his second instance of junking up on the job. Manny becomes eligible for reinstatement at the end of May, but it is quite a stretch to imagine him posing a legitimate threat to anyone other than himself, or perhaps the odd clubhouse ticket guy, when and if he does return to the Show.
The A’s rotation has taken a turn for the worse with the loss of Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals, and the continuation of Dallas Braden’s 2011 shoulder problems, however help is at hand in the form of Baseball journeyman Bartolo Colon, a pitcher who is guaranteed to show up flashing his vintage 2005 Cy Young winning stuff during the month of April, but is ultimately destined to head straight down the crapper for the rest of his contract. The Athletics unfortunately find themselves in the same borderline seaworthy boat as the Mariners.
The hard-hitting Texans have experienced an unparalleled run of success in the two years since Nolan Ryan and the boys saddled up to rid the town of despised snake oil salesman Tom Hicks, and they once again field a lineup that is guaranteed to dish out more than its fair share of beatings, although avoiding injuries and the liquor store is a distinct requirement should a third straight championship be on the cards.
Given the nature of Ryan’s own success, it seems strange that the one area of perceived weakness appears to be with the Texas starters. The departure of free agent CJ Wilson to divisional rivals the Angels has denied the Rangers a legitimate top of the rotation arm, and the role of staff ‘Ace’ now defaults to Wilson’s former wingman Colby Lewis. The reliable Lewis will be backed up by the talented yet relatively inexperienced duo of Holland and Harrison, and assisted by two untried starters in Darvish and Feliz. While the rotation does appear to have a certain volatility, it remains one that is conveniently backed by arguably the toughest hitting lineup in the Majors, and this alone offers the Rangers the possibility of another crack at October Baseball in 2012.
A few eyebrows were raised this winter when Angels Owner Arte Moreno scythed open his wallet to take a gamble on a young ballplayer named Albert, but Moreno is a smooth operator, and he did not make his vast personal fortune by playing it safe. He is recognized as having a keen eye for talent, and it is said that he can smell potential at a thousand yards. The throwing of caution to the wind in order to pursue the promising young Albert was exactly the kind of maverick move that Moreno was always liable to make.
In contemplating the rotation, Moreno turned his attention towards free agent and former Texan CJ Wilson. Arte had spent a good deal of the offseason thinking about Wilson, and the idea of him slipping in snugly behind Dan Haren was something that the owner was desperate to see. With Albert already firmly in position, Moreno pulled the trigger for a second time in a matter of days.
The addition of Pujols and Wilson has sent the Halos rocketing into contention, and the long awaited return of brittle slugger Kendrys Morales will certainly not hurt their chances. Torii Hunter still has the ability to put in a decent shift despite his advancing years, and the increasingly solid Howard Kendrick is getting the job done with a certain amount of authority. The excessively remunerated Vernon Wells continues to highlight the incredible disparity between what he is paid, and what he is worth, for his brutal numbers must surely have even the most sedated of Angels fans sobbing themselves to sleep over the departed Mike Napoli.
The smart money is on the Angels charging relentlessly towards the postseason, and given the fact that Pujols and Fielder are working the American League side of the street these days, there is a distinct possibility that Jered Weaver could be the man that registers the first K of the Fall Classic.
Next Up: A look at the American League Central