Sports

American League West 2009 Preview

Texas Rangers:

The Rangers have a lot to be excited about. They have one of the brighter futures in baseball. The only thing bad about 09′? It’s the future that is promising, especially in their pitching department.

Don’t get me wrong, they have some amazing things going for them right now. Offensively they have one of the most potent lineups in the American League.

At the top of the order they have, in my opinion, the best young lead off hitter in baseball in Ian Kinsler. In only his third year Kinsler hit .319 with 18 home runs, 26 stolen bases, and over a hundred runs. Did I mention that his season was stopped in August because of injury? If he can avoid injury he has a real shot at being a 30/30 lead off guy, which is insane.

Did you happen to hear anything about Josh Hamilton last year? I thought you might of. I think 2009 is a very important year in his career and financial future. This is the year when we figure out if Hamilton was a fluke or can put up these numbers for another 7 or 8 years. The reason I think he could continue this success is because of what he was supposed to be before all his “problems“. I hate to sound cheezey, but I really am cheering for him to do well this year. I want to believe in something pure again in this game, and he may be my last hope.

There are also some pieces to this offensive puzzle that could be a lot bigger this year than you would expect. Chris Davis is one of them. As I am writing this right now, he is 22 years old and he’s going to get a chance to play at first base everyday this year. He’s getting this opportunity because of what he did during periods of last year. Some of those things included hitting 10 home runs in his first 89 at bats in the major leagues.  Not bad.

Also they have Nelson Cruz. With all this power and potential on this Ranger team, Cruz will be hitting clean-up for them.  He has the opportunity to be the Josh Hamilton of 2009.

Now the part that you don’t want to talk about if you are a Rangers fan, your 2009 pitching staff. Guess who your opening day pitcher is….give up?  It’s Kevin Milwood, not good. The Rangers are sitting on the biggest heap of pitching talent in their farm system, but don’t want to rush it. Unbelievably the Rangers are playing it the right way by being patient. It’s hard though with what they have this year. Not one of their projected starters is coming off a season with an E.R.A. lower than 4.00.

They do have two young pitchers that could make some strides this year in Matt Harrison and Brandon McCarthy. Neither of them are winning over 13 games this year though.

The Rangers are just going to have to try and rely on big offensive numbers in a hitter friendly ball park this year. The pitching will come along soon enough and in a few years we could be talking about the Rangers being a dominate force for a years to come.

Diamond in the rough:

Chris Davis (1B): Granted, a lot of people know about this kid already, so I’m definitely not the first to expect something from him this year. I just think his numbers may be obscene in 2009. I know they can’t be what they were in a short time last year, but if they’re close he’s going to be an all-star this year. If he can just be more patient and learn a better approach at the plate he’ll be unstoppable. That’s the same story with every young big-hitter, but I think he’s got a real chance of doing it.

Might not live up to expectations:

Hank Blalock (3B/DH): I want him to do well, I just don’t think his body is going to let him….again. I can’t imagine how frustrating it has to have been these last two years playing in about 120 games total. There are just some people who can’t seem to stay 100%. I hope this doesn’t follow him this year but my hope doesn’t match up with what I think is going to happen. They are moving him to DH to try and avoid these injuries. He’s not even thirty yet.

Oakland A’s:

During the trade deadline last year the Oakland A’s seemed to give up, dealing both Rich Harden and Joe Blanton to the National League. You expected another off-season of inactivity and a lack of excitement. One where they seem to just “deal” with what they have and hope that Billy Beane can come up with something yet again to make them playoff worthy. This off-season was very different though.

The A’s got Matt Holiday in trade and signed Jason Giambi from free agency. They did the most un-A’s like things. Now they have some well known sluggers and a questionable pitching staff. They are the A’s in from another opposite universe.

Holliday seemed to be someone that just faded away without losing anything in the numbers department. Colorado almost gave him away after a year in which he hit .321. He’s under thirty and has shown no real indication that he’s going to slow down for at least another few years. Translation: the A’s really got something here. They got at least some clout that they normally never ever have.  I’m curious to see how hit stats stack up this year from last now that he is away from Coors. Even if they don’t completely, he will still be the biggest stat producer on the A’s, by far.

They also went out and brought back an aging Jason Giambi. He will provide some protection for Holliday, but not much. He is 38 and coming off a season with the Yankees in which he looked like Superman at times, then just plain old at others. I think he’ll do an o.k. job this year. He’ll hit probably around 20-25 home runs (if he stays healthy all year). The real down turn in his game is his god awful speed and his defense, which has never really been anything but a liability. Thank god he is mostly DHing this year.

Like I said prior the A’s are a bit backwards this year. Especially when it comes to their pitching staff. Usually this aspect of their team is the driving force for most of their success. This year it could border on a hinderance. Their rotation is a far cry from the Zito and Hudson days. It does have the potential of being respectable this year. It’s really all about durability.

A lot of the injury concerns fall on the shoulders of Dana Eveland. He has great stuff but needs to show that he can pitch over 200 innings for once. The opening day starter figures to be converted reliever, Justin Duchscherer. He was converted into a starter after putting up ridiculous ERA numbers since 2003, and continued the trend into last year (2.54).

The end of their rotation doesn’t really have anything to get excited about. Gio Gonzalez does strike out a lot of batters, but other than that there’s not too much to his game. He could be a good pitcher down the line, but his strikeouts can’t be accompanied with just as many walks.

Diamond in the rough:

Ryan Sweeney (OF): Sweeney just turned 24 and he is going to be the full time center-fielder for the A’s this year. Sources say that he has taken this off-season to try and increase his power, which he desperately needed to. He is a speedy and smart young player that could do more than people think this year batting in the two hole. That is the spot right in front of Holliday, so he’s going to see pitches. It is up to him how he handles those pitches.  I see his run going from 53 last year to about 75-80 this year, which would be a welcome surprise to the A’s organization.

Might not live up to expectations:

Jack Cust (OF): Dear lord Jack Cust is playing the outfield this year, but then again do you really want Jason Giambi playing first base? Jack Cust hits home runs and walks, that’s it. He hit 33 home runs last year, which is impressive. I think his average will stay at it’s usually horrible position, and his strike-outs will stay ridiculously high. The reason I say he won’t live up to expectations is that I think Cust’s only redeemable quality (home runs), will drop this year with the wear and tear of playing the outfield. Without the high home run numbers he isn’t fit to play in the league, and may not be before the year is over.

Seattle Mariners:

This is not going to be a good year for the Emerald City. They still have the most interesting and talented athlete in baseball leading off for them, but after that, it’s a train wreck.

Besides Ichiro, there is no one in the line-up you have to avoid whatsoever. You want to hear the name of the worst clean up hitter in baseball? I’ll tell you who he is, Russell Branyan, and he is the number four batter for the Mariners. He’s a ten year veteran who has never drove in more than 56 runs. He did hit 12 home runs last year in only 150 or so at bats, but when it comes down to it, he is the same person who didn’t have enough of a bat to play in San Diego! San Diego, where no one can hit.

It seems like the entire team forgot how to hit last year. None fell farther than once promising catcher, Kenji Johjima. Is his first two seasons in Seattle he was averaging around 16 home runs a year and a .290 batting average. Sounds like a great start to a bountiful career in baseball. Then 2008 came around. Johjima put up God-Awful numbers last year. It was really unexplainable.

Now he will probably be splitting time with youngster, Jeff Clement. Clement killed in the minors, only to get called up in Johjima’s absence and proceed to get killed. Between both of the catchers they put up 12 home runs and 62 rbi’s. Gross.

There are some somewhat bright spots in the offense. If Adrian Beltre can put up the same kind of numbers he did last year, he will again be there biggest offensive threat. That’s a 75 rbi and 25 home run threat, you would hope he wouldn’t be your offensive leader with those numbers. Too bad Seattle, he is. The Mariners also just signed all-time Mariner, Ken Griffey Jr. to come in and add some offense. I really hope for his success this year, but his last six years have shown us that he probably won’t play more than 100 games. I don’t want it to be true but it is. If he hits 20-25 home runs this year it will be a good signing, and with the Mariners offensive power, he will be a team leader.

You just can’t seem to find a good thing to talk about in this offense. On the other hand their pitching rotation could be very good this year. The Mariners acquired Erik Bedard last year from Baltimore to be the ace they needed. He didn’t perform to his potential last year but figures to be a real commodity in this 2009 season.

Felix Hernandez came into this league with great fanfare at an extremely young age. It’s been three years since then and he has continually gotten better every year. 2009 could be the year it all comes together for this 22 year old. He has more experience and talent than any other 22 year old in baseball.  He showed durability last year pitching over 200 innnings and had a decent amount of strikeouts (175). It just sucks to pitch for a team that doesn’t score runs for you.

Diamond in the rough:

Brandon Morrow (SP): This kid is the best prospect that no-one has really heard of. If he pitched in New York or Philadelphia his face would be everywhere. He has amazing stuff, comparable to Joba Chamberlain. The great thing about pitching in Seattle is that he won’t face the kind of pressure that would come with being in a big market. He will be the third pitcher in the rotation and really will have no real potential of being removed from the staff. It really is the best situation for a up and coming ace like Morrow. I see him winning about 12 games this year, compared to his 3 last year.

Might not live up to expectations:

Ken Griffey Jr. (OF): I hate to choose him for this. I just think that the Mariner fans are going to remember what he used to be for them and expect that. You have to be realistic, he’s almost 40.  He’s coming to Seattle to finish his career. In real life terms, the nurses are sending him home from the hospital so he can pass away in his own bed. If the expectations aren’t too high things will go well for him. If Seattle fans think it’s going to be like old times they’re in for a long year.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:

The Angels are again the probable front runner in the American League West this year. This is true even with them losing their record setting closer (Francisco Rodriguez), one of the best hitters in the game (Mark Teixiera), and a solid front rotation pitcher (Jon Garland). Their expected first place finish in the A.L. West might be coming to an end after 2009, but for this year they still are the favorites.

They are favorites mainly because of their pitching rotation. This year they again have one of the best in the game pitching for them on opening day. John Lackey is that starting pitcher. If he can avoid the same kind of injury problems he had in the beginning of 2008 he could win 20 games this year. The great things about the Angles rotation is that there isn’t that much of a drop-off between Lackey and the next three pitchers.

After Lackey they have Ervin Santana, who out of all the pitchers on the Angles has maybe the most overall talent. In 2008, his third full year, Santana’s talent finally came full turn. He won 16 games and struck out over 200 batters. This year he could become just as acclaimed as Lackey. Actually if I was a betting man I would put money on Santana having the better year of the two.

Again after Santana, there are two pitchers almost as good as him. Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver are the third and fourth pitchers on the staff. You won’t find two pitchers in that position in a rotation that are even close to as good as these two are. That is what makes the Angels so dangerous, you can get the same dominate pitching performance from any of these four pitchers. Weaver and Saunders would be the second starting pitcher on just about any team in baseball.

Offensively they are about the same team they were last year, only everyone is a year older and they are without Teixiera. The top of their line-up is where there could be a bit of a drop-off. Chone Figgins is becoming a player that is only good for doing one thing, stealing bases. He doesn’t drive in runs and has a low batting average. He’s only getting older and losing a little bit of speed every year with his continuous leg injuries, not a good place to have injuries when you are known for your speed.

Howie Kendrick could have a good year, but that is if he actually plays over 130 games this year. He always hits for a good average but again never has all that many at bats. Everything is there for him to be a great offensive second baseman, the Angles just hope he can finally put his talent on the field constantly.

The Angels do have one new offensive attribute in Bobby Abreu. I’ve always liked him more than most people. I like his patience and his rbi totals each year. The only thing is that he is getting older and his defense in left is starting to become a big question mark.

Vladimir Guerrero and Tori Hunter are the four and five hitters and should do what they always do, produce. They will likely be their only bright spots again this year offensively. Which is a lot of pressure. If they don’t produce they team really won’t either.

Diamond in the rough:

Ervin Santana (SP): If he stays healthy he will end up being the opening day starter in 2010. He has the velocity and control to be a force again this year. I think this year his wins go from 16 last year to 20 this year. I can really see his ERA going down to around 3.00 year as well. It’s a lot to predict out of him, but he really has what is takes to put up those kind of numbers.

Might not live up to expecations:

Vladimir Guerrero (OF):

He just can’t keep doing what he has been for 13 years. His body seems to be breaking down slowly and his numbers were terrible at the beginning of last year. I always believe that when a player has to account for too much of team’s offense, it wares on him. I think this is the year it finally gets the best of him. He’s now 33 and I think every year from now on his numbers will slowly decrease. I see him hitting about 25 home runs this year and driving in about 85 runs. It’s very productive, but not for someone who anchors a team’s offensive output. The years of the freaky golf club chip shot home runs seems to be over.

Prediction:

1st: Rangers

2nd: Angels

3rd: A’s

4th: Mariners

Leave a Comment

  1. I am a Mariners fan from Tokyo, Japan.
    I really liked your blog with the Mariners mentioned item. I am a big fan of Ichiro Suzuki.
    I try to follow as much MLB news as I can with the internet.