Well with the National League complete it's time for the junior circuit preview! I will begin in the West. Last year the A.L. West finished like this.....
Rangers: 90-72 (American League Champions)
Let's begin with the Texas Rangers. On a personal note, I am not happy with the organization right now. The Michael Young situation is terrible. Young has been the face of their franchise for years now and has switched positions twice in an effort to do what's best for his team. He dealt with many losing seasons and put up 5 straight 200 hit seasons and is a 6 time all star. After the conclusion of the 2010 season the Rangers went out and signed Adrian Beltre to play third base, Young's most recent position. Again, with the best interest of the team in mind, Young agreed to a third position switch that would make him the full time DH. Shortly after this, the Rangers signed Mike Napoli, a catcher/first baseman. However Napoli was brought in primarily to be a designated hitter leaving Young nowhere to play. Following the Napoli signing Young requested and trade and said he felt manipulated and misled. I think it is very wrong to treat your star player this way. He put up with many losing seasons and once the team became successful, they replace him. Not cool. That said lets get to an unbiased preview! The 2010 Rangers added pitching to a Texas line up that had been able to score runs for many years. Cliff Lee joined the team in the second half and although he didn't pitch his best he helped the team secure a play-off birth and make it to the World Series. C.J. Wilson made a new name for himself as a starter and the rest of the rotation pitched well enough to win 90 games. The Rangers were helped in the regular season by the poorness of the other teams in their division, but they proved in the Play-Offs they had what it takes to beat good teams. The line up is nasty. Vladamir Guerrero was a surprise hitting 29 bombs and driving in over 115 runs. Josh Hamilton leads a long list of great hitters including Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, and Michael Young. Youngsters like Elvis Andrus (SS) and the new closer Neftali Feliz (CLP), who was the A.L. Rookie of the Year, also made their presence known. The biggest issue that will stand in the way of this team repeating is injuries. Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, possibly their two best players, can't stay on the field. Furthermore Cliff Lee and Vladamir Guerrero are no longer on the team, both signing with other teams through Free Agency. The additions of Adrian Beltre and Nike Napoli should take care of the gap left by Vlad but the young pitchers in the rotation will need to step it up. The biggest difference this year will be the improvement of other teams in the division, mostly the Oakland Athletics. I think the Rangers will fall just short of the division title and finish a close second, but miss the play-offs.
The Oakland Athletics are going to be good. I think they will win over 90 games in 2011 and capture the division title. The youthful arms in Oakland may even rival the ones across the bay. The difference? Oakland will score runs. The offense wasn't scary last year but with a couple of new bats including Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus, and Josh Willingham, this team should be vastly improved at the plate. The rotation is one most other teams should be envious of. Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, and Gio Gonzalez all have huge potential and with Rich Harden on the team, healthy or not, the young guns should grow under his tutelage. The 5th starter will probably be Dallas Braden....I am a Yankee fan, I don't like Braden. I am really hoping that when Oakland comes to New York Braden is pitching and I can go to the game with a big sign that says "Get off OUR mound!". That said, as a 5th starter, he should be very good and with Grant Balfour setting up and Andrew Bailey closing this team should be very good. I think they will win the division.
The Angels are a hard team to preview. They have a lot of ups and downs. Last year they just didn't have the pitching to compete and their best hitter missed most of the season with a broken leg. This year they will have two Gold Glove winning center fielders in the corner outfield positions in Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells. Brandon Wood will be there third baseman and they will hope he has a break out year. Howie Kendrick at second base has always had a lot of potential but never quite reached it. If he can play close to his full upside he will be excellent. Kendry Morales will be coming off the Broken Leg but should be back to his old self driving in runs and hitting ballz over the wallz. I would like to see another left handed bad in this line up but they should score a decent amount of runs. Scott Downs will be their new closer. He has been primarily a set up man in Toronto for the last few seasons but I think he will adapt to the closer role just fine. The rotation is full of ???????. Dan Haren is an ace and I believe he will pitch like an ace along side Jared Weaver, who led the A.L. in strike outs and was the best Angels starter last year. Scott Kazmir was not good last year but he has had success in the past. If he can stay healthy and find his stuff the rotation will have a chance. Joel Piniero and Ervin Santana are both pretty decent so the team will have a chance to compete if everyone is healthy.
Seattle is a beautiful city. The same could not be said about their baseball team's 2010 season. I don't think that Mariners fans have much to look forward to in the 2011 season either. If it was up to me I would package Felix Hernandez and Ichiro for 5 or 6 good young prospects to go along with their new young pride Dustin Ackley and make a deal with a team competing for a spot down the stretch. King Felix is owed 68 million bucks over the next 4 seasons and after the 2011 season his salary goes from 10 mil a year to 18.5 mil. I think one way or another the Ms should trade him and split that money up amongst 3 or 4 good young players. On a happy note Ichiro should set the record for most consecutive 200 hit season when he reaches the mark this year. It is really incredible what Ichiro has been able to do and I know idea or trading must be terrifying so please forgive me for suggesting it, but I believe it would be the right move. The Mariners will finish bottom of the American League losing 100 games once again.
This should be a nice tight division and I think it will end like this....