Broken Bat Blog: AL West Preview

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by contributing blogger Greg Bessette

LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Coming off a strong 2014 regular season the Angels go into the 2015 season largely unchanged. The rotation will likely need a boost from rookies Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano early on while they await the return of Garret Richards. It will also be interesting to see if Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson provide bounce-back seasons, and if Matt Shoemaker’s season in 2014 was the real deal. The bullpen looks solid with Huston Street being set up by Joe Smith. Other key bullpen pieces include lefty Cesar Ramos, Fernando Salas and Mike Morin. Hector Santiago will serve as a spot starter/swing man. 

The Angels lineup is one that has its strong points but a fair amount of question marks as well. While Albert Pujols did have a good season in 2014 he could surely improve upon his sub .800 OPS. C.J. Cron waits in the wings but will need to show more plate discipline to go along with his hitting ability. A lot more is also to be expected of third baseman David Freese as he hopes to come back from a very mediocre season. Second base goes to Johnny Giavotella who looks to finally translate his minor league success to the big leagues. Erick Aybar has a firm grip on shortstop and is a solid player there. At catcher, Chris Iannetta has some pop and draws walks but don’t expect much else. With superstar Mike Trout leading the way the outfield looks pretty good. Kole Calhoun is poised to become a star and Matt Joyce was a nice pickup. It will be interesting to see what happens with Josh Hamilton in regards to his return from injury.
   
Look for the Angels to surpass 90 wins this season based primarily off Mike Trout’s star power and a strong pitching rotation and bullpen. 
 
BOLD PREDICTIONS: Jered Weaver assumes the role of ace again and wins 17 games with an E.R.A. of 3.10 and Kole Calhoun hits .285/23/81 with 15 SB.


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HOUSTON ASTROS
The Astros enter 2015 with nowhere to go but up and have vastly improved their bullpen. The rotation however, is a bit questionable. Following outstanding campaigns from Dallas Keuchel and Colin McHugh there is cause for optimism but not much else behind them. If there are solid contributions from the likes of Roberto Hernandez, Scott Feldman, Brett Oberholtzer and Dan Straily the rotation could be decent. The bullpen looks much better than in previous seasons with newcomers Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson and Joe Thatcher. They join holdovers Josh Fields, Tony Sipp and Chad Qualls along with other role players like Samuel Deduno to form what is likely the best bullpen Houston has seen since joining the AL.
                 
Offensively there will probably be a whole lot of strikeouts in Houston but potentially a bunch of homers as well. Evan Gattis gives the lineup a boost and along with Chris Carter and George Springer it would not be surprising to see the trio combine for 100 homeruns with the latter two each also pushing the 200 strikeout mark. Jonathan Singleton could also pack some punch but horrible results last year suggest he may not be ready to contribute. New infielders Jed Lowrie and Luis Valbuena are decent players but neither is going to put the lineup into the elite category. At second base Jose Altuve provides a unique spark and should once again challenge for the batting title and stolen base title as well. Outfielder Colby Rasmus seems a good bet to add some power but also some strikeout numbers eerily similar to catcher Jason Castro.
               
Though improved in some areas the Astros seem doomed to struggle a bit once more, but will show there is light at the end of the tunnel. Best case scenario: 80 wins. More probable scenario: 72-75 wins.
               
BOLD PREDICTIONS: Dan Straily gets recalled quickly and finally realizes his potential  winning 12 games with a 3.40 ERA. Evan Gattis goes deep 33 times and leads the team with 91 RBI.
   
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OAKLAND ATHLETICS
The Athletics always find a way to compete and this year it looks as if their rotation is their best chance to do so as usual. Sonny Gray could be a Cy Young award contender and paired with Scott Kazmir they could be a dynamic duo. Along with Jesse Chavez and youngsters Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman and Drew Pomeranz the rotation has some good options. Also, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin should return at some point before the All-Star game as well. The bullpen is also in good hands with Tyler Clippard getting the nod at closer and Fernando Abad, Eric O'Flaherty and Dan Otero forming the bridge to the 9th. Keep an eye on Evan Scribner and R.J. Alvarez as potential closers in waiting.
                 
The offense could be in better shape but with Josh Reddick and Coco Crisp out the outfield appears especially weak but with a lot of energy featuring Craig Gentry, Billy Burns and Sam Fuld. Ben Zobrist, Brett Lawrie and Billy Butler pack most of the punch but will it be enough? Ike Davis may also be a key to offensive success for the A's. The middle infield spots also are largely in question but Marcus Semien and Mark Canha are looking to provide some offense coming off big spring trainings. Catchers Josh Phegley and Stephen Vogt both have some offensive upside behind the plate.

Surely the lineup isn't real attractive, but the pitching looks very solid and should help lead the team to a good season. Best case: 86 wins, but this club seems destined to finish around the .500 mark.

BOLD PREDICTIONS: Tyler Clippard picks up 40 saves and Brett Lawrie stays relatively healthy providing a .265/25/87 line in 141 games.


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SEATTLE MARINERS
The Seattle Mariners added a crucial piece to their lineup this off-season in Nelson Cruz and grouped with Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager seem primed to increase run production. Especially crucial to the offensive success will be leadoff man Austin Jackson, who has the potential but is the owner of a career .336 OBP. Catcher Mike Zunino has tons of power and hopefully his huge spring will translate into an improved batting average which was truly awful in 2014. Some key pieces of the lineup include shortstop Brad Miller and first baseman Logan Morrison. Outfielders Dustin Ackley, Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano provide some intriguing lineup options.
                 
The rotation could be one of the best in the league provided its collective health is good. James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma looks good on paper behind King Felix but all three have had trouble staying on the field recently. Roenis Elias waits in the wings at Tacoma after a nice rookie season in 2014.  The bullpen led by Fernando Rodney should once again be a strong point with Yoervis Medina, Tom Wilhelmsen, Danny Farquhar and Charlie Furbush in charge of holding the lead.
                 
With just one major change in the lineup things are looking up. The rotation and pen remain strong and the team looks like a real contender.  Best case: 92 wins and absolute worst case is the health of the rotation fails and the team struggles to 80 wins.
                  
BOLD PREDICTIONS: Robinson Cano takes home MVP honors hitting .319/25/110 and Taijuan Walker and James Paxton chip in a total of 30 wins.




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TEXAS RANGERS
The Texas Rangers appear to have their work cut out for them in 2015. As if things were not already bleak enough the loss of Yu Darvish is simply crippling. The entire pitching staff features only a few household names with Yovani Gallardo and Derek Holland heading up the group. It's rounded out with Colby Lewis, Nick Martinez and Ross Detwiler but will likely be eagerly awaiting returns from Matt Harrison and Martin Perez later in the season. Prospects Alex Gonzalez and Luke Jackson would be next in line from AAA. The all righty bullpen has several players making their debuts and remains in question. Neftali Feliz is excellent but how many chances will he get? Keone Kela and Phil Klein have big impact potential and could have a chance to form a decent pen. Shawn Tolleson and Roman Mendez return after good seasons in 2014.


                 
The infield looks pretty good overall, but most of that hinges on Prince Fielder. Rougned Odor made a good impression in his rookie season as second base and should continue to improve. Elvis Andrus had a down year, but then again he is largely overrated in most aspects. Adrian Beltre remains a force in the lineup and paired with Fielder form a potent duo. At catcher Robinson Chirinos quietly packed some offensive punch as well. The outfield features some young players coming off good rookie seasons in Jake Smolinski and Ryan Rua. They'll form a nice outfield along with Leonys Martin and Shin-Soo Choo and rule 5 selection Delino DeShields, Jr. looks to make an impact as well.
                 
This has the earmarks of a rebuilding season and an audition for some future bullpen pieces and important season for some veterans. Look for the team to win 67-70 games and if all goes extremely well possibly 72-74 wins.
                 
BOLD PREDICTIONS: Leonys Martin hits .285/16/66 with 35 SB and rookie Alex Gonzalez joins the rotation in May and contends for the AL Rookie of the Year with 10 wins and a 3.26 ERA.

PREDICTIONS
#1 - Seattle Mariners
#2 - Los Angeles Angel
#3 - Oakland Athletics
#4 - Houston Astros
#5 - Texas Rangers
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