Baseball Essential 2018 Preview Series: American League West

The American League West division was once the most competitive five-team subclass in Major League Baseball. In 2012, the Oakland Athletics stole the divisional crown from the Texas Rangers in a head-to-head battle on the final day of the regular season, as both the A’s and the Rangers finished with over 93 wins.

Not far behind were the Los Angeles Angels [of Anaheim], just five games back and in the thick of things. In addition, the Seattle Mariners were turning things around at the time and look prepped to join the fight at the right time. Oh, about those Houston Astros. At the time, the 2017 AL West champs weren’t even in the AL. Rather, they were trapped in a ditch of mediocrity, finishing a healthy 42 games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central.

It borders on insane to see the division’s landscape when you fast forward to the 2018 season. The Astros could very well finish 20 games ahead of the second place team in the division running, while the Rangers and A’s are mired in two contrasting levels of notoriety. With that, let’s get to the projected standings and some team previews.

1. Houston Astros

The Astros return to action as the team to beat in the AL West after winning the 2017 crown by 21 games. In fact, the World Series champs were the only club in the division with a winning record. With all of their stars returning and the team looking healthy for now (aside from first baseman Yuli Gurriel, out with a fractured hand) the race for first place in the division will not stay close for long.

(Oct. 27, 2017 – Source: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)

Players to Watch For: Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel

Reigning league Most Valuable Player Jose Altuve is looking to lead the American League in hits for the fourth season in a row, and end up an MVP finalist for the third straight campaign; Carlos Correa, voted the game’s best shortstop by our writers, will be fully healthy and worth a look; Dallas Keuchel has a 2019 free agent paycheck on his mind and could have a 20-win 2018.

Projected Lineup (when health is no concern):

CF George Springer (R)
3B Alex Bregman (R)
2B Jose Altuve (R)
SS Carlos Correa (R)
LF Marwin Gonzalez (S)
1B Yuli Gurriel (R)
RF Josh Reddick (L)
DH Evan Gattis (R)
C Brian McCann (L)

Projected Rotation:

RHP Justin Verlander
LHP Dallas Keuchel
RHP Lance McCullers Jr.
RHP Gerrit Cole
RHP Charlie Morton

Notable Relievers:

RHP Ken Giles
RHP Brad Peacock
RHP Collin McHugh
RHP Chris Devenski

2. Seattle Mariners

Seattle Mariners fans have been saying “this might be the year” for maybe the last decade, but this season, the M’s aren’t messing around. A wave of offseason acquisitions and a revamped bullpen are two of many things Seattle fans have to look forward to this season, with 85-90 wins and a potential Wild Card spot as the goal.

(Sept. 1, 2017 – Source: Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images North America

Players to Watch For: James Paxton, Mike Zunino, Dee Gordon

James Paxton has blossomed into the ace of the staff thanks in part to a struggling Felix Hernandez; Mike Zunino is prone to a ton of strikeouts, but has some untapped offensive potential to round out a stellar game and might take the next step in 2018; Dee Gordon will be playing as the center fielder for the 2018 season after a successful career as a second baseman, and his transition will be fun to watch.

The division with the defending World Series champs and the game's best player, the American League West, has a lot of reasons to watch for this season.Click To Tweet

Projected Lineup:

CF Dee Gordon (L)
SS Jean Segura (R)
2B Robinson Cano (L)
DH Nelson Cruz (R)
3B Kyle Seager (L)
1B Ryon Healy (R)
C Mike Zunino (R)
RF Mitch Haniger (R)
LF Ben Gamel (L)

Projected Rotation:

RHP Felix Hernandez
LHP James Paxton
RHP Mike Leake
LHP Marco Gonzales
RHP Erasmo Ramirez

Notable Relievers:

RHP Edwin Diaz
RHP Juan Nicasio
LHP Marc Rzepczynski
RHP Nick Vincent

3. Los Angeles Angels

For maybe the first time, the Angels aren’t just That Team With Mike Trout. After signing proven All-Stars Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, and Zack Cozart, in addition to returning Gold Glove winners Andrelton Simmons and Martin Maldonado, they’re That Team That Gives The Best Player In The World Adequate Support For Once. Also, they scored pitcher/batter hybrid Shohei Ohtani in the offseason; don’t forget that.

(Sept. 29, 2017 – Source: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America)

Players to Watch For: Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Garrett Richards

Obviously, watching the sport’s most talented player is a blast, and Trout puts on a show every night; Ohtani is about as intriguing as any prospect since Ichiro Suzuki, and as a pitcher and a batter, we’ll get to watch him in more ways than the average player; Garrett Richards is always an interesting player to watch as the ace of this staff when he’s healthy (which has become somewhat of a rarity).

Projected Lineup:

2B Ian Kinsler (R)
SS Andrelton Simmons (R)
CF Mike Trout (R)
LF Justin Upton (R)
DH Albert Pujols (R)*
3B Zack Cozart (R)
RF Kole Calhoun (L)
1B Luis Valbuena (L)
C Martin Maldonado (R)

*Ohtani is expected to get some reps at DH as well.

Projected Rotation:

RHP Garrett Richards
LHP Andrew Heaney
LHP Tyler Skaggs
RHP Shohei Ohtani
RHP Matt Shoemaker

Notable Relievers:

RHP Blake Parker
RHP Jim Johnson
RHP Cam Bedrosian
LHP Jose Alvarez

4. Texas Rangers

It’s been a great run for the Texas Rangers in the past decade, but unlike before their 2010 and 2011 pennant-winning campaigns, they are not built for the long haul. It looks like management knows it, ignoring big free agents and opting to sign guys like Bartolo Colon and Doug Fister instead. Maybe that’s an advantage, as the Rangers will play with nothing to lose; either that or it’ll be a long, disappointing season in Arlington.

(Sept. 23, 2017 – Source: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North America)

Players to Watch For: Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Joey Gallo

The future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre is in the twilight of his illustrious MLB career and can still produce; Longtime shortstop Elvis Andrus suddenly emerged as a power-hitting threat in 2017, and could continue that stretch this season; Young slugger Joey Gallo erupted as a dangerous lefty to pitch to last season, and he’s just getting started.

Projected Lineup:

CF Delino DeShields (R)
1B Joey Gallo (L)
SS Elvis Andrus (R)
3B Adrian Beltre (R)
RF Nomar Mazara (L)
DH Shin-Soo Choo (L)
C Robinson Chirinos (R)
2B Rougned Odor (L)
LF Ryan Rua (R)

Projected Rotation:

LHP Cole Hamels
RHP Doug Fister
LHP Matt Moore
LHP Mike Minor
LHP Martin Perez
RHP Bartolo Colon

Notable Relievers:

RHP Matt Bush
LHP Alex Claudio
RHP Tim Lincecum
LHP Jake Diekman

5. Oakland Athletics

It’s not quite time for the Oakland Athletics to contend, but their youthful core shines with promise and future MLB All-Star Game appearances. Until then, the A’s will be cellar dwellers in the AL West, as we project them to finish last in the division for the fourth year in a row.

(Sept. 17, 2017 – Source: Duane Burleson/Getty Images North America)

Players to Watch For: Matt Chapman, Khris Davis, Matt Olson

Matt Chapman is a 24-year-old with insane glove work at third base, and he can only get better from here at the plate and in the dirt; Khris Davis has 83 home runs in the past two seasons, and is expected to move exclusively to designated hitter; Matt Olson set the world on fire with 24 home runs in only 59 games last season, and the lefty returns looking to set the same pace over a full season.

Projected Lineup:

SS Marcus Semien
LF Matt Joyce
2B Jed Lowrie
DH Khris Davis
1B Matt Olson
C Jonathan Lucroy
3B Matt Chapman
CF Boog Powell
RF Stephen Piscotty

Projected Rotation:

RHP Kendall Graveman
LHP Sean Manaea
RHP Daniel Mengden
RHP Andrew Triggs
RHP Daniel Gossett

Notable Relievers:

RHP Blake Treinen
RHP Yusmeiro Petit
RHP Santiago Casilla
RHP Emilio Pagan

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