Want to know how the west will be won? Well, we don’t have all the answers, but we can certainly help.
The AL West produced two playoff teams last year and another that was in the mix all season, but it may not be as competitive in 2019.
Still, a bevy of storylines exist that should keep fans enthralled with the division throughout the season. We’ve tried to provide some clarity on the burning questions in the AL West.
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Strength: Top half of lineup
Weakness: Rest of the rotation
Question: Is there any hope for the rotation?
Asking whether there’s any hope may be a tad harsh, but the Rangers’ made-for-2012 rotation isn’t exactly a sign of optimism for a team coming off a 95-loss season.
Outside of Mike Minor, who had a solid 2018 for Texas, the other four members of its projected Opening Day rotation either had a WAR under 1.0 last year — Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller — or didn’t pitch at all — Drew Smyly, Edinson Volquez. All of those pitchers have proven to be capable arms at some point in their careers, just not recently enough to usher confidence.
There could be some prospect help on the way. Brock Burke and Taylor Hearn are waiting in the minor leagues, but both will need more seasoning before a call-up.
It’s probably safe to assume the Rangers’ Opening Day rotation won’t be the same as it will a few months later, so there is some hope that it can get more intriguing, although even a repaired pitching staff likely won’t lead to more than a middle-of-the-division finish.
Question: How much will the losses of Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton affect the Astros?
Probably less than you think. Keuchel is still a free agent, although the Astros seem content starting the season with their staff as is.
Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are among the best 1-2 of any rotation in baseball, and Wade Miley — who had a career renaissance with the Brewers last year — was added to help fill the additional void left by Lance McCullers, who is out for the season after Tommy John surgery.
Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock — two former starters who were in the bullpen because of overcrowding — are the favorites to round out the rotation, and although it’s tough to match Keuchel’s and Morton’s production, they aren’t bad alternatives.
McHugh accrued a 3.70 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in four seasons as a starter, while Peacock had a 3.22 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 21 starts in 2017 while also being tremendously productive out of the bullpen. Just in case of injuries or struggles, flamethrowing youngster Josh James is also available as an option to start.
We know the Astros’ lineup will produce, and the bullpen should be improved with full seasons from Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly. Their rotation may not have the same name recognition as last year, but they should be just fine. And hey, maybe they sign Keuchel after all. It would only help.
Strength: Potentially the rotation
Question: What will the Mariners look like on Aug. 1?
Since taking over as Mariners general manager, Jerry Dipoto has shown an extreme willingness to wheel and deal, making trade after trade. With Seattle’s 17-year postseason drought — the longest of any major professional sports team — still intact, rebuilding seems to be Dipoto’s plan now.
James Paxton, Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano are all gone, indicating the Mariners should be taking a step back after winning 89 games but missing the playoffs last season.
Although Seattle seems to usually play better when expectations are lower, there’s no telling what the post-trade deadline roster could look like if the M’s are out of contention. Jay Bruce, Edwin Encarnacion and Hunter Strickland could be sought-after veterans, while Mitch Haniger could net a big package.
Dipoto is as unpredictable as an opening coin toss in football, but the Mariners’ offseason flurry may not be the end of their activity.
Los Angeles Angels
Strength: Mike Trout
Question: Can the Angels’ supporting cast help Trout?
The Angels’ inability to surround Trout with enough help has been well-documented, whether it has been the health of the rotation or just general bullpen struggles.
MLB’s best player has made the playoffs just once in his career, a brief stint in 2014 when the Angels were swept by the Royals in the ALDS. The lineup around Trout should be solid and will get another boost when Shohei Ohtani returns from injury, so it will once again come down to the pitching staff.
Offseason signings Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey aren’t exactly a stellar top-of-the-rotation duo, so the Angels will have to hope Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano can come back from the IL and provide depth and maybe even flash the form they have shown in the past.
Free-agent signing Cody Allen will help as the closer, but like the rotation there are plenty of question marks in the ‘pen. Justin Anderson, Ty Buttrey and Cam Bedrosian could all turn into solid relievers, but they haven’t shown enough to be convinced that’s the case.
If the pitching works itself out, the Angels could compete for a wild card spot, but that’s said about them almost every year and it hasn’t panned out yet.
Question: Can the rotation hold up?
Oakland’s surprising wild card run last season was filled with contributions from young players, offering hope that their success could be built upon. With Khris Davis, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson in their lineup, they shouldn’t have much of a problem scoring runs, but the pitching will have to prove 2018 wasn’t a fluke.
Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada make up a serviceable but unexciting top of the rotation, and there are plenty of unknowns below them. Top prospect Jesus Luzardo could make the team, and he’d shore up some of the rotation questions.
Based off last year, we know Bob Melvin can be creative with how he manages the group. Liam Hendricks or another reliever may serve as an opener in some cases, and a deep bullpen could lead to quick hooks even non-planned bullpen games.
So yes, the A’s group doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, but they didn’t at the start of last year either. And look how that turned out.
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