Today, I am rounding out the American League in my division-by-division look at the biggest question for each team.
Last year, we saw a bit of a shakeup in the AL West. The Oakland A’s and Texas Rangers had battled for the top two spots in the division the prior two seasons, while the expensive Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (a mouthful, I know) roster underachieved. In 2014, the Angels roster finally lived up to the hype, and the team captured its first division crown since 2009. Mike Trout finally won his first MVP award, and deservedly so. The first year of his 6 year, $144.5 million contract kicks in this year.
The Rangers sunk to last place a year ago. Has their window of opportunity finally slammed shut? Hard to believe a team that went to consecutive World Series in 2010 and 2011 could already be sinking back to the bottom of the division. The Rangers have seen most of the holdovers from their World Series teams depart, especially in their starting rotation. They ranked dead last in the American League in nearly all important pitching categories. They will also be dealing with the loss of shortstop Jurickson Profar, who is out for the year. In short, it will not be a pretty year in Arlington.
I have no idea what the Oakland Athletics are doing. They seemed to have gone all in last summer, making two very un-Billy Beane-like moves, trading for Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija. The A’s started out the season as arguably the league’s best team, but limped to the finish, going 22-33 in August and September, barely claiming the second Wild Card spot. This offseason, it seemed Beane dealt away all of his best trade chips in an effort to restock the farm system. A full-blown retooling effort may be underway.
The Seattle Mariners appear poised to capitalize on the turmoil in Oakland and Texas. The Mariners quietly put together a sneaky good 2014 and almost poached the final Wild Card spot from Oakland. If you want to talk about a team perfectly constructed for its home stadium, this is it. In spacious Safeco Field, they have assembled what I feel is the best starting rotation in the league, and a lineup talented enough to score just enough to win. Don’t sleep on the Mariners this year.
Finally, the division is rounded out by the Houston Astros. What really to say about the Astros other than that they were tanking before it was the cool NBA thing to do. If not losing 100 games is a step in the right direction, then 2014 was a step in the right direction for the Astros. They do have some nice young pieces in place, and you can never argue with a 19 win improvement. It is a few years away, but I could actually envision a winning record for the Houston Astros before my 30th birthday.