I am continuing my annual MLB season preview with a look at the American League West division, having already covered the National League West, NL Central and NL East. The teams are listed in the order of finish I am predicting for the 2014 season.
MANAGER: Ron Washington (eighth season)
2013 RECORD: 91-72 (first place)
2012/2013 COMBINED RECORD: 184-141 (+43)
2014 OVER/UNDER WIN TOTAL: 86.5
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: C J.P. Arencibia, 1B Prince Fielder, RHP Tommy Hanson, OF Michael Choice, OF Shin-Soo Choo
KEY OFFSEASON LOSSES: C A.J. Pierzynski, RHP Joe Nathan, 2B Ian Kinsler
NOTES: The Rangers squeeze in front of the A's because the boys from Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas, have better options on hand to prosper in the starting pitching category. It's now looking insightful to have moved big-time setup guy Tanner Scheppers into a position where he could plug into a rotation that needed the stability. Offensively, Texas has added first baseman Prince Fielder and outfielder Shin Soo-Choo, and that isn't exactly chopped liver. Closing games may not be quite as smooth, but former Royals closer Joakim Soria looks to have nailed the job down. A key player could be outfielder Leonys Martin, if he can be a consistent on-base threat.
Manager: Bob Melvin (third full season)
2013 RECORD: 96-66 (first place)
2012/2013 COMBINED RECORD: 190-134 (+56)
2014 OVER/UNDER WIN TOTAL: 89
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: RHP Luke Gregerson, RHP Jim Johnson, LHP Scott Kazmir, LHP Eric O'Flaherty, RHP Josh Lindblom, INF Jake Elmore, INF Nick Punto, OF Craig Gentry
KEY OFFSEASON LOSSES: RHP Bartolo Colon, LHP Brett Anderson, RHP Jerry Blevins, INF Jemile Weeks, OF Michael Choice, RHP Chris Young
NOTES: General manager Billy Beane worked his magic again during the offseason, but the one he let get away was starting pitcher Bartolo Colon. With Jarrod Parker out for the season -- looking at a second Tommy John surgery -- and A.J. Griffith out for what looks like a minimum of a month with elbow issues, skipper Bob Melvin has to count big time on Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray and Dan Straily in the rotation. Behind them to start are probably Tommy Milone and Jesse Chavez. The expensive one-season experiment with closer Jim Johnson had better work. Offensively, the A's should be OK. They really need right fielder Josh Reddick to bounce back. A key player could be catcher Derek Norris, who could hit 20 or more home runs.
Los Angles Angels
MANAGER: Mike Scioscia (15th season)
2013 RECORD: 78-84 (third place)
2012/2013 COMBINED RECORD: 167-157 (+10)
2014 OVER/UNDER WIN TOTAL: 87.5
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: 3B David Freese, RHP Joe Smith, RHP Fernando Salas, LHP Hector Santiago, RHP Tyler Skaggs, DH/OF Raul Ibanez
KEY OFFSEASON LOSSES: OF Peter Bourjos, RHP Tommy Hanson, RHP Ryan Madson
NOTES: This is a big make-or-break year for manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Jerry Dipoto. These two headstrong guys better show they can coexist, or the equally headstrong owner, Arte Moreno, may sweep both out the door. I am not sure we'll ever see the younger version of first baseman Albert Pujols, but at least he seems to care. Outfielder Josh Hamilton looks like a shell of his former self. But with Mike Trout, Howie Kendrick, David Freese, Kole Calhoun and Erick Aybar around, the Angels should score a fair number of runs. Dipoto made the steal of a deal in early 2012, picking up Ernesto Frieri to anchor the backside of the bullpen, but he has seemed to have to retool the setup guys each year. Scioscia has to handle the pen more efficiently. For the team to have any shot at the postseason, Jered Weaver has to reclaim the mantle as the true No. 1 in the rotation. Clearly, the trio that makes up three, four and five is Garrett Richard, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. Some key factors will be third baseman Freese getting around 75 RBIs, and C.J. Wilson getting back to being as good as it gets for a No. 2 starter.
MANAGER: Lloyd McClendon (first season)
2013 RECORD: 71-91 (fourth place)
2012/2013 COMBINED RECORD: 146-178 (-32)
2014 OVER/UNDER WIN TOTAL: 80.5
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: 2B Robinson Cano, 1B/DH Corey Hart, OF Logan Morrison, INF Willie Bloomquist, C John Buck, RHP Fernando Rodney
KEY OFFSEASON LOSSES: LHP Joe Saunders, OF Raul Ibanez
NOTES: With the rotation having a prospective top three of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and rookie Taijuan Walker, new Seattle skipper Lloyd McClendon was probably resting comfortably at night. But with Iwakuma (finger) and Walker (shoulder) out a minimum of the first two weeks and maybe longer, the rotation after King Felix looks like this: James Paxton, Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez and young upstart Roenis Elias. Raise your hands if you are still excited. Both Iwakuma (early) and Walker (later) figure to be back sometime in April. Although the Mariners won't put fans to sleep on offense, as they have the past couple of seasons, they must get production from Robinson Cano, otherwise opposing managers will pitch around him. Let's be real -- Logan Morrison and Corey Hart may be modest improvements, but the team needed to keep Kendrys Morales, who is still a free agent. Two key players are Justin Smoak at first base and starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez. Does Fernando Rodney still have the goods? If absolutely everything broke right, Seattle could jump into contention. But how many times does that happen?
MANAGER: Bo Porter (second season)
2013 RECORD: 51-111 (fifth place)
2012/2013 COMBINED RECORD: 106-218 (-112)
2014 OVER/UNDER WIN TOTAL: 63.5
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: RHP Jerome Williams, LHP Darrin Downs, RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Matt Albers, RHP Jesse Crain, OF Dexter Fowler
KEY OFFSEASON LOSSES: OF Brandon Barnes, 1B Brett Wallace, RHP Jordan Lyles, UTL Jimmy Paredes
NOTES: The good news for manager Bo Porter entering year two of a salvage job deep in the heart of Texas is he can't have as bad a team as he did last season, when Houston went 51-111. The bad news is the Astros could have a 10-game improvement and still lose 100 games. Clearly, a team doesn't lose 111 games unless the problems are all-encompassing. The starting pitching was just awful; the bullpen wasn't much better -- probably because of overuse. The staff ERA was 4.79. Offensively, 610 runs aren't enough when you pitch the way Houston did. The team's improvement has to start with major jumps in performance from the starting staff. I am not sure starting pitcher Scott Feldman is worth $10 million per year, but if he can steady things down, he may be worth the risk. In 2013, there were occasional bright spots from Jarred Cosart (1.95 ERA during 10 starts), Brett Oberholtzer (2.76 ERA, 13 appearances) and Dallas Keuchel (5.15 ERA, 31 games). The bullpen seems a real stretch again, with Chad Qualls listed as a closer and Jesse Crain coming back from a nagging shoulder problem. First baseman Jonathan Singleton, outfielder George Springer and shortstop Carlos Correa are still a ways off from providing help with run scoring.