Every team in Major League Baseball has an X factor to their success before the regular season begins. Here is every American League West team’s 2019 X factor.
Houston Astros: Collin McHugh
Last season the Astros had the most complete pitching staff in the sport. But they lost Charlie Morton to the Tampa Bay Rays in free agency, Dallas Keuchel remains on the open market, and Lance McCullers may miss all of 2019 with an elbow injury; McHugh is going to be a vital piece to manager AJ Hinch‘s starting rotation.
From 2014-16 and even in parts of 2017, McHugh was a fixture in the Astros starting rotation. He was a steady presence on the rubber every fifth day, could work out of trouble, and was an essential ingredient to their success. But last season he pitched out of the bullpen due to the team’s pitching depth. With that said, he excelled, recording a 1.99 ERA and 0.91 WHIP while totaling 94 strikeouts in 72.1 innings.
Sure, the Astros signed veteran left-hander Wade Miley, but his presence isn’t going to solely makeup for the losses of Morton, Keuchel (probably), and McCullers this season. They have a firing offense that can compete with anyone in the sport, but to keep pace with the rest of the AL, the Astros need McHugh to regain his old form as a starting pitcher.
Oakland Athletics: Marco Estrada
The A’s were one of the most captivating storylines in MLB last season, winning 97 games. Have they filled voids on their roster this offseason in the wake of prominent departures? Yes, but their starting rotation is an enormous area of concern heading into this season, and Estrada will need to have a big season for their staff, as a whole, to be respectable.
Over the last two seasons Estrada has struggled mightily. He has recorded ERAs of 5.64 and 4.98, struggled with injuries last season, been hit hard often, and, overall, has been all over the place with his command. Meanwhile, from 2015-16, he was one of the most steady right-handers in the sport. He recorded ERAs of 3.13 and 3.48, was able to work out of trouble, and came up big for the Toronto Blue Jays in the postseason.The American League West is full of wildcards entering the 2019 season. With Opening Day looming, here is every AL West team's biggest X factor.Click To Tweet
Left-hander Sean Manaea is likely out for the entirety of 2019 with a shoulder injury, Trevor Cahill signed with the Los Angeles Angels this offseason, and Edwin Jackson remains on the open market. Outside of perhaps Mike Fiers, the A’s rotation is a mystery. A burning question is which Estrada will they be getting: the steady one who will keep them in games, or the erratic one?
Seattle Mariners: Domingo Santana
The Mariners traded away Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jean Segura, James Paxton, and Alex Colome and lost Nelson Cruz to the Minnesota Twins in free agency this offseason; they’re in a major transition period. But they do have several productive bats, and one to keep tabs on, in particular, is Santana.
One year ago Santana was considered one of the best young outfielders in MLB. He was coming off a season where he hit .278 while totaling 30 home runs and 85 RBIs and holding his own in right field. Then, the Milwaukee Brewers added Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, making Santana, for the most part, a reserve. As a result, he was granted 211 at-bats and hit .265 while totaling just 20 RBIs. This offseason the Brewers dealt the 26-year-old to the Mariners.
The Mariners likely aren’t a playoff team in 2019, but they have a healthy mix of productive veterans and intriguing young players in their lineup. Santana will get the chance to play every day and prove he’s still the exciting player the Brewers started in right field in 2017.
Los Angeles Angels: Tyler Skaggs
The Angels’ Achilles heel in years past has been their starting rotation, but now they have some promising young starters such as Jaime Barria (22), Andrew Heaney (27, when healthy), and Skaggs (27). If Skaggs can take the next step this season, the Angels will be a Wild Card threat.
Injuries and inconsistency have held him back, but 2018 was an encouraging period of time for Skaggs. Making a career-high 24 starts and recording a 4.02 ERA, he was a steady presence on the rubber every fifth day, pitched to his strengths, and had the most well-rounded season of his career. Now, it’s a matter of the southpaw keeping runners off the basepaths and pitching deeper into games.
The Angels have a high-powered offense that can provide their pitching staff with run support. What they need is consistency from their starting rotation, and a continuation of Skaggs’ 2018 campaign will boost the Angels’ postseason aspirations.
Texas Rangers: Rougned Odor
While significantly strikeout prone, the Rangers have several intriguing young players capable of producing runs in their lineup. With that said, some of their veterans have gone into a cocoon at the plate in recent memory. If they want to make a resurgent playoff push, the Rangers need those individuals to have bounce-back seasons, such as Odor.
Two years ago Odor was classified as one of the best offensive second basemen in MLB. He could hit for power, but still get on base and was an irreplaceable figure in their everyday order. Then he hit just .204 in 2017, missed time due to injury last season, and couldn’t finish with a third consecutive 30-plus home run season. Hitting for contact isn’t Odor’s forte, but he can hit for power and get on base, when his usual self.
The Rangers starting rotation is underwhelming and, in all likelihood, what they’ve shown over the last two seasons is what you’re going to get in 2019. If they want to make the playoffs, they need their offense to wake up, and that starts with Odor.