Before I go into my predictions for the American League West division, the Houston Astros have one of the best all-around teams that I have seen in a long time. I have already chosen that the Astros as the favorites to win the American West, but with a twist. This division, in my opinion, is the toughest because, after the Astros, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Oakland A’s, the Seattle Mariners, and the Texas Rangers all can make it close with the Astros for first place. Here are my predictions on why I think this division is the toughest.
- Houston Astros
Coming off their first-ever World Series championship trophy for the city of Houston, it is widely expected that Astros will make another trip to World Series to defend their stance as champions. The team that we saw in the World Series last year, is a dynasty in the making. The tremendous core that they have in AL MVP Jose Altuve, World Series MVP George Springer, rising stars in third baseman Alex Bregman and shortstop Carlos Correa lead the offense. There is such a strong strength in the starting rotation with all-star pitcher Dallas Keuchel leading it. All-star and former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander returns to Houston to start his first full season as an Astro is rejuvenated back to elite status among the big time pitchers and will prove that he still has his best stuff at age 35. As if those two weren’t enough, the Astros went out and acquired Gerrit Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates, to show that they were serious about defending their title. The only weak point that I see on the Astros is their bullpen. Ken Giles is not the answer as their closer. Brad Peacock, in my opinion, should be the closer, despite having the ability to pitch multiple innings in middle relief. Peacock has shown dominance when he has all of his pitches in one inning working. I see Giles breaking down again because he has done that many times over the years. If Giles wants to stay closer, he needs to add more pitches to his arsenal. His fastball, which is supposed to be his best pitch is no longer scary for hitters because he always leaves it up in the zone for hitters to take advantage of. If the Astros can improve their bullpen, they will be a dynasty for years to come, provided that they keep Keuchel from leaving in free agency after this year.
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
For the longest time, the Angels should be favorites to win the division because they have superstar Mike Trout, but they never could. Trout could do everything on the field, but the Angels just find a way to mess up Trout’s great seasons. Could this year be the year, with the new additions acquired this offseason, that the Angels finally make playoffs? Possibly I can see the Angels make the postseason by getting a hold of a wild card spot. The new additions of second baseman Ian Kinsler in a trade with the Detroit Tigers, third baseman Zack Cozart and starting pitcher and hitter phenom, Shohei Ohtani, from Japan via free agency have given the Angels the confidence that they can make playoffs this year. Despite the makings of a young dynasty in the Astros have currently going on in Houston. The only thing that I think is holding back the Angels from actually winning the division is their overall pitching staff. I don’t think it is strong enough to take over first place in the division.
3. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners shook the MLB world by acquiring all-star second baseman Dee Gordon from the Miami Marlins. The only problem is Gordon will be playing a completely new position, center field, in 2018. Gordon has never once played in the outfield since he became a professional ballplayer. There will be some growing pains as Gordon learns his new position, but it is expected that he will adapt quickly. His bat and especially his speed in the lineup will help make up for his shortcomings in the outfield. Gordon and shortstop Jean Segura in the one and two spots will get on base, no doubt. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz, second baseman Robinson Cano, and third baseman Kyle Seager will really appreciate having runners on base ahead of them, they will get their runs batted in opportunities easily. Outfielder Mitch Haniger and first baseman Ryon Healy are two players in the Mariners lineup that are due to break out. If catcher Mike Zunino can cut down on his strikeouts and aim for more base hits while handling the pitching staff, this Mariners offense can put the team in position to challenge the Astros and Angels for first place in the division. Longtime ace “King” Felix Hernandez leads a pitching staff that includes 2017 breakout James Paxton and Mike Leake. It also helps that veteran and future Hall of Famer Ichiro returns for a reunion and possibly his last season. His leadership and ability to put the ball in play will help lead by example for the younger guys on how to be a professional in the majors. If this team is healthy and starts the season on a hot streak, they will make the competition for the AL West Division title very interesting. Expect them to heavily contend for a wildcard spot.
4. Texas Rangers
The Rangers have a team of veterans that will simply give opponents a tough challenge to win a game every series they play in. Veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre, who will turn 39 in April, is still one of the best third basemen in the game. He is expected to continue to rack most of the team’s RBI’s this season. First baseman Joey Gallo had a big year in home runs, hitting 41, but he collected a lot of strikeouts, 196, to be exact. If he can cut down those strikeouts, the Rangers will be strong enough to at least contend for second place in the division and put themselves in the wildcard race. The starting rotation has a good mix of veterans in ace Cole Hamels, durable Doug Fister, longtime Ranger, Martin Perez, and newly acquired pieces in Matt Moore, whom they acquired via trade with the San Francisco Giants and Mike Minor via free agency. Minor will be converting from reliever to starter after spending the last few years as a valuable reliever with the Kansas City Royals. So he will be interesting to watch. Overall, this team will not give up, so the Astros, Angels, and Mariners need to be careful when they play each other.
5. Oakland Athletics
Lastly, The A’s. While I have them in the bottom of the division, I see this team grinding every single game. They have a lot of young players that will improve and could become future stars in this league. First baseman Matt Olson, centerfielder Dustin Fowler, and third baseman Matt Chapman headline the young group. Olson was really fun to watch at the plate towards the end of last season when he went on a tear, hitting 18 home runs since August. Olson is due to break out this year so keep an eye out for him. Chapman is really interesting because he has shown flashes of being consistent at the plate, I can see him becoming a 40 doubles type of guy in the lineup. He just needs to grind and work hard and let the ball come to him. Designated hitter/slugger Khris Davis is going to contribute with the long ball, but still draws a lot of strikeouts. He is on the cusp of becoming a superstar if he can limit his strikeouts. The starting rotation is still very young in terms of experience as their opening day starter, Kendall Graveman is their most experienced starter with 4 years under his belt. While the A’s have top prospect A.J. Puk knocking on the door, the most promising starter they have is the spectacular mustache Daniel Mengden. When Mengden was called up during last season, he pitched in seven games and performed to an earned run average (ERA) of 3.14. The consistency that he had in those games was impressive and kept his team close in games. Give him a full season of starts, I think the A’s will be cool to watch. A key factor that I think will help the A’s this season is the guidance of new acquisition, catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The pitching staff will appreciate the veteran leadership that Lucroy will provide to pitch better. Lucroy could be the key factor in where the A’s find themselves contending or not in the division.
I think this division is the strongest in the American League. It could really either way for any of these teams. I picked the Astros to win the division, but if they have a hangover from celebrating their first ever world series title, the AL West division could go either way with the rest of the teams as they all have the strengths that will help keep them in the race for the division title. I suspect by late June, teams will start to separate in the race. In July, we could see at least three teams still the race if everything goes right. Moving over to the National League East division next so keep an eye out for the article at The Utility Man!
What do you think of the AL West division? Be sure to tweet your thoughts @TheUtilityMan17 on Twitter!