EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a six-part preview of each division in the major leagues leading up to the March 30 USA season opener between the Atlanta Braves and Nationals in Washington, D.C.
If you judge the American League West from the Las Vegas Hilton’s projected win totals, it breaks down to a two-team race.
In a four-team division, that’s not good.
The defending division champion Los Angeles Angels are a dominating 1-2 to repeat. Seattle is not far behind at 2-1. Texas (10-1) and Oakland (12-1) are double-digit choices, which show little belief in either club.
The LA Angels don’t necessarily strike you in star power, but they win with hustle, depth and the hope that Vladimir Guerrero stays healthy. Guerrero was out for a time last year, but still led the team in homers and RBI. Torri Hunter, acquired from the Twins, brings a Gold Glove to center field and a dependable bat. The depth is exemplified in utility infielder Maicer Izturis, who led the Angels in batting, and Scot Shields, the team’s ERA leader as a setup man for stellar closer Frankie Rodriguez.
Seattle hung tough last year and is better with the addition of Baltimore’s ace lefty Erik Bedard (13-5, 3.16 ERA, 221 K). Bedard and Felix Hernandez should develop into the top 1-2 pitching punch in the division. Of course any talk of the Mariners begins with Ichiro Suzuki, who moves from RF to CF. New RF Brad Wilkerson hit 20 homers last year at Texas. If the M’s are to top the Angels, 1B Richie Sexson has to provide the power and Raul Ibanez must produce another 100 RBI season. Ichiro is a given.
Texas has plenty of offense, but no pitching. So what else is new? When Kevin Millwood is you’re leading ERA man at 5.16, that’s a problem. Sammie Sosa and his 21 homers are gone, but the Rangers are solid up the middle with SS Michael Young and 2B Ian Kinsler. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a raw talent, coming over last year from the Braves. Jason Jennings (Rockies) can’t hurt this staff, but when closer C.J. Wilson can only come up with 12 saves, the outlook is not promising.
Oakland is rebuilding. That assessment jives with the Hilton’s projection of just 73 wins — lowest in the division. Gone is Shannon Stewart, the team’s top hitter (.290 BA) and Dan Haren (15 wins, 3.07 ERA, 192 K). For the A’s to pull off a miracle, pitchers Rich Harden and Huston Street must stay healthy. A bright spot could be 1B Daric Barton, who batted .347 in 18 games. DH Jack Cust was a nice surprise with 26 HR and 82 RBI. In the pennant winning days, 3B Eric Chavez hit seventh. Now he’s cleanup.
Based on the current rosters, we rank this division: Seattle, LA Angels, Texas, Oakland.
Infield: C Mike Napoli, 1B Casey Kotchman, 2B Howie Kendrick, 3B Chone Figgins (41 SB), SS Eric Aybor. Outfield: LF Garret Anderson, CF Torri Hunter (Twins), RF Vladimir Guerrero (27 HR, 125 RBI), DH: Juan Rivera. Utility: Maicer Izturis (.333 BA). Rotation: John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Jered Weaver, Jon Garland, Joe Saunders. Closer: Frankie Rodriguez. Setup: Scot Shields (2.25 ERA).
Infield: C Kenji Johjima, 1B Richie Sexton, 2B Jose Lopez, 3B Adrian Beltre (26 HR), SS Yuniesky Betancourt. Outfield: LF Raul Ibanez (105 RBI), CF Ichiro Suzuki (.351 BA, 37 SB), RF Brad Wilkerson (Rangers), DH: Jose Vidro. Rotation: Erik Bedard (Orioles), Felix Hernandez (3.92 ERA, 165 K), Carlos Silva (Twins), Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista (16 wins). Closer: JJ Putz (40 SV).
Infield: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 1B Ben Broussard, 2B Ian Kinsler (20 HR, 23 SB), 3B Hank Blalock, SS Michael Young (.315 BA, 94 RBI). Outfield: LF Marlon Byrd, CF Josh Hamilton, RF Milton Bradley (Padres), DH: Frank Catalanotto. Rotation: Kevin Millwood (10 wins, 5.16 ERA, 123 K) Vicente Padilla, Jason Jennings (Rockies), Brandon McCarthy, Kason Gabbard. Closer: C.J. Wilson (12 SV).
Infield: C Kurt Suzuki, 1B Daric Barton, 2B Mark Ellis, 3B Eric Chavez, SS Bobby Crosby (10 SB). Outfield: LF Emil Brown, CF Chris Denorfia, RF Travis Buck (.288 BA), DH: Jack Cust (26 HR, 82 RBI). Rotation: Joe Blanton (14 wins), Rich Harden (2.45 ERA), Chad Gaudin (154 K), Justin Duchscherer, Lenny DiNardo. Closer: Huston Street. Setup: Alan Embree (17 SV).
Hilton’s projected wins: Anaheim 92, Seattle 85Â½, Texas 77, Oakland 73.
Next week: The NL Central.