The American League West had its fair share of excitement last season. Although the preseason favorites, the Houston Astros ran away with the division crown, and the Oakland Athletics made things interesting with a surprising and wonderful 97-win season to clinch a postseason spot near the end of a wild season. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels introduced one of the most intriguing players of our time, Shohei Ohtani, into the fold, while the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers remained entertaining despite playoff-deprived seasons.
The AL West is shaping up to be essentially the same in 2019: the Astros and A’s taking things to another level, while the decent Angels fall behind and the Mariners and Rangers continue their organizational rebuilding periods. Let’s take a look at each team in their projected standings here.
1. Houston Astros
1. Houston Astros
The Astros are well into their competitive window for success, and with a lineup full of young and exuberant position players, as well as a dominant rotation, look for them to lay down the law in the AL West this season the same way they did last year, when they won a franchise-best 103 games: with youth, elite hitting, commanding pitching, and bullpen stability.
Players to Watch for: Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Justin Verlander
Bregman is coming off a season that saw him garner AL Most Valuable Player Award votes when he hit 31 home runs and an MLB-high 51 doubles. The smooth-hitting, powerful righty is also a dangerous defensive presence at third base. How Altuve comes back from an offseason knee injury that affected his late-season and postseason play will be interesting, but if he is healthy, the 5-foot-6 second-baseman is a batting title lock. Verlander recently signed a contract extension and feels as lethal as ever on the mound; the future Hall of Famer and 2018 Cy Young Award runner-up will be hard to beat in 2019.
2. Oakland Athletics
The A’s surprised just about everybody when they stormed through the AL West’s regular season schedule, won 97 games despite a suspect pitching core and young position-playing group, and even, at one point, tying Houston for first place in the division at the midway point of the season. The biggest question coming into the 2019 season is whether Bob Melvin‘s club will be able to build upon that success and keep pushing for the pennant, or if their incredible 2018 run was just a fluke.
Players to Watch for: Matt Chapman, Khris Davis, Blake Treinen
Chapman spent his 2018 campaign enthralling fans with solid defensive baseball, part of the package of an emerging superstar who amassed an 8.2 Baseball-Reference WAR and an MLB-best 29 FanGraphs DRS over his MVP-caliber season; Davis jumped into a full-time designated hitter role and blossomed into perhaps the game’s most unstoppable power threat, hitting an MLB-high 48 home runs and receiving MVP votes along the way, exhibiting a ceiling of dominance; Treinen dazzled hitters with his insane breaking pitches to the tune of a 0.78 ERA and has no plans of slowing down in 2019.With @MLB Opening Day upcoming, @bytomdorsa and the @BB_Essential staff previews the American League West division.Click To Tweet
*Matt Olson, the team’s starting first baseman, went down with a hand fracture which required surgery and will miss the start of the season.
3. Los Angeles Angels
The all-around best player in the world and the guy with the most raw, historically incredible skill set play for the same team. Even if the lack of success in Orange County is a detriment to the morale of hardcore Angels fans, who haven’t seen their team win a postseason game since 2009, there is hope that with the dynamic duo of Trout and Ohtani, a playoff run is not far from reality. If they get some support from an improving pitching staff, postseason baseball could come to Anaheim as soon as 2019.
Players to Watch for: Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Matt Harvey
Trout is the best baseball player on the face of the earth, and every time he suits up, something special happens. You don’t need any specific reasons to tune in and watch Trout, who just recently signed the biggest contract in the history of North American pro sports (12 years, $430 million); Ohtani will get a load of reps at the DH spot, presumably splitting time at the position with Albert Pujols and has a production ceiling that rivals the best pure hitters in the game. Near a full season (he should be ready by the start of May) at the plate for someone with a .925 OPS as a rookie should be entertaining; the Matt Harvey reclamation project continues with his Angels debut after mixed results with the Reds last season.
*Justin Upton will begin the 2019 season on the injured list.
4. Texas Rangers
The organizational rebuilding period has kicked off in Arlington, and no better indication of that is the retirement of third baseman Adrian Beltre, a future Hall of Fame inductee whose last eight years were spent in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex at the hot corner for the two-time AL pennant winners. Their pitching staff reeks of a transitioning franchise as well, but their speedy, powerful position players are capable of putting butts in seats and eyeballs near television sets.
Players to Watch for: Joey Gallo, Shelby Miller, Delino DeShields Jr.
The left-hander slugger Gallo has evidently diversified his hitting repertoire in spring training and has gotten considerably better at hitting to all fields, rendering the defensive shift a little less effective. Not that Gallo is famous for contact hitting, more so just corking fastballs to deep right field 40 times a year, which is incredibly fun; a native of the Lone Star State, Miller remains a very intriguing project with high upside and no risk for the franchise; DeShields brings fans back to the past with his baserunning speed, energetic defensive efforts, and slap-hitting skills.
5. Seattle Mariners
Though they last made the AL postseason in 2001 and hold the longest streak of consecutive years missing the playoffs in all of North American sports, it isn’t getting better for the Mariners any time soon. In fact, it might be getting worse. After general manager Jerry Dipoto went on an offseason selling spree, this M’s team is now without James Paxton, Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Mike Zunino, and because of free agency and retirement respectively, Nelson Cruz and Ichiro Suzuki. What has been a miserable run for Mariners fans will continue to be just as bad.
Players to Watch for: Edwin Encarnacion, Felix Hernandez, Mitch Haniger
In case you forgot, the three-time All-Star, Encarnacion, and his 380 career home runs are on the Mariners somehow. His presence is one to take joy upon if you reside in Seattle, as his ability to send balls flying — while also working the count and remaining disciplined — is fun and infectious; though the Mariners will not be going to their long-time ace and fan-favorite in their first game on North American soil in 2019, King Felix looks to rebound from a lousy 2018 and return to being — at the very least — reliable again; Haniger emerged as an All-Star and a six-WAR outfielder last year and remains on the roster as a building block for the future.
*Starting third baseman Kyle Seager will be out until at least June after needing surgery on his left hand due to an injury suffered in spring training.