Tuesday, March 22, 2011

AL West Preview: Extended A's Edition

As we've done over the last few days here at the Bay Area Sports Journal, we'll continue our preparation for MLB's opening day by going division by division and taking a look at who's in position to make playoff runs. Since we're now to the division with the A's, we'll do a bit of an extended look at them.

1st Place - Oakland Athletics

RF David DeJesus
CF Cocoa Crisp
1B Daric Barton
DH Hideki Matsui
LF Josh Willingham
C Kurt Suzuki
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
2B Mark Ellis
SS Cliff Pennington

LHP Brett Anderson
RHP Trevor Cahill
LHP Gio Gonzalez
LHP Dallas Braden
RHP Brandon McCarthy
SU: Brian Fuentes
CL: Andrew Bailey

DL: Rich Harden (Out until April/May)

No, I'm not picking the A's because they're a Bay Area team. If you've followed us closely here, you know I have no allgiance to Oakland and am strictly a Giants guy. However, I also consider myself an intelligent baseball mind, and I'm picking Oakland strictly because of their pitching and defense (what's that old saying again?). They aren't going to out-slug many teams, but I think they have just enough offense to get by with that great pitching. The additions of Matsui, DeJesus and Willingham will help and I expect improvements out of Barton, Suzuki and Kouzmanoff. They essentially have 2 aces in Cahill and Anderson, and two solid #2's in Gonzalez and Braden. Even though Cahill won 21 last year, Anderson is the guy who has the most upside on the staff and should be a 20-game winner/200 K candidate if he starts 32 games. That's not even mentioning Rich Harden, who if can regain his health and contribute, they'll have enough arms to make a deal for another hitter.

Their bullpen is the best in the AL too. There were some questions surrounding closer Andrew Bailey's health heading into the year, but that apparently is clearing up quite well. If he misses time though, they have 2-3 other solid options to fill the void, headed by 4-time all-star closer Brian Fuentes. They just missed out adding Adrian Beltre this winter which would have really helped them out on both sides of the game, but I still think they have enough, and have Billy Beane pulling the strings, so if they need some offensive help, Beane will do all he can to find it.

2nd Place - Los Angeles Angeles

Key Players/Pitchers:
DH Bob Abreu
1B Kendrys Morales
RF Torii Hunter
LF Vernon Wells
2B Howie Kendrick
SP Jered Weaver
SP Dan Haren
SP Ervin Santana
RP Fernando Rodney

The Angels have more thump than the A's and their front 3 in their rotation match up pretty well with Oakland's, but they're bullpen is really in shambles right now. Fernando Rodney is closer at the moment, but is very un-stable, and he's surrounded by question marks. Give them the A's bullpen and they'd be something, but I don't think they're a complete ballclub right now. Still, that said, they have more than enough talent to win the division, and if the A's suffer more injuries to their starting rotation, then the Angels would become the immediate favorites. They really have 2.5 aces on that team in Weaver, Haren and Santana, but all three had sub-par years in 2010 which needs to change if the Angels are going to runaway with this thing. Regardless, the AL West is another division I see decided in the season's final days.

3rd Place - Texas Rangers

Key Players:
2B Ian Kinsler
LF Josh Hamilton
RF Nelson Cruz
3B Adrian Beltre
DH Michael Young
SS Elvis Andrus
SP C.J. Wilson
SP Colby Lewis
RP Neftali Feliz

Then there are the reigning AL Champion Texas Rangers in the mix too. They still have that powerful lineup that carried them to the World Series last fall, but they lost the heart and sole of their pitching staff in Cliff Lee and failed to replace him. They have the offense to keep up with anyone in the league, and have a few young bright arms in Feliz, Holland and Wilson. Their front-6 of their batting order all have All-Star capabilities. Vladimer Guerrero high-tailed it for Baltimore, but they brought in Adrian Beltre to occupy his lineup spot which should improve the team all-around, especially defensively. They also have the rehabilitating Brandon Webb aiming for a May-June return and if he comes back strong, that will definitely help, but that's a big "if". Again, there really isn't a lot separating these top-3 teams, and a lucky break for one team or an injury could really swing the momentum of this division.
4th Place - Seattle Mariners

Key Players/Pitchers:
RF Ichiro Suzuki
3B Chone Figgins
1B Justin Smoak
2B Dustin Ackley
SP Felix Hernandez
SP Erik Bedard
RP David Aardsma

The Mariners are the lone team in the division who truly have no shot at making a playoff run. They had one of the worst offenses in baseball in 2010 and didn't add anything to it this winter. They also sport a pitching staff with a bunch of question marks. Outside of Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas, their other 3 starters combined for 6 total wins in 2010. Their bullpen isn't much better. They're toying with the idea of using Brandon League in the closer spot, but I think David Aardsma is clearly the best option for them and could give them a nice trade chip come July if he's pitching well (the Angels if Rodney struggles and Texas is they move Feliz to the rotation are two teams who could fit that bill). Ackley has looked like a stud this spring, and he and Justin Smoak could develop into a Ryan Howard/Chase Utley-type right-side infield partnership. Not in 2011 of course, but a year or two down the road possibly. One way to help that cause would be to trade Suzuki. It would be tough for Mariners fans, but with their budget, they have to get creative in order to get some talent in here, and Suzuki is one of the rare vets on the roster who could command something on the trade market.

-BOLD indicates Team's MVP
BASJ NOTE: We cover both the A's and Giants here at the BASJ, but since we have a blog specificly devoted to the San Francisco Giants, we tend to do most of our in-depth Giants stuff over there. We certainly will talk Giants at this site, don't get me wrong, but for the NL set of our previews, we're going to transfer on over to The Giants Baseball Blog. We'll still be talking plenty of baseball between now and the March 31st opener here, but we also need to mix in some College Hoops talk, as well as more NFL draft stuff, so next post will be void of any baseball stuff (barring any breaking news). Again though, our NL Division-by-Division previews are already running up at The Giants Baseball Blog so surf on over and check it out, and stay tuned for some March Madness and NFL Draft/Free agency talk next post!

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