In 2015, the American League West was a three-team race. The Texas Rangers finished strong and passed the Houston Astros in the final week to win the division. The Astros finished second and won a Wild-Card berth, withstanding a .500 record in their last 20 games and a late surge from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Angels finished just one game behind the Astros. This year looks to be more of the same, but lots of changes to all three teams, as well as improvements to the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics, could make this one of the most competitive divisions again this year.
The Astros finished with 86 wins in 2015, two games behind the Rangers. The Astros are a young team, and weren’t expected to compete for a playoff spot last year. They surprised everyone by going 18-7 out of the gate, though, and maintained their momentum all year to secure their Wild-Card spot.
The core of the team returns for 2016, led by AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel anchors a rotation that doesn’t feature any other big names, now that Scott Kazmir has departed, although the Astros did sign Doug Fister to fill Kazmir’s rotation spot. Mike Fiers, a trade-deadline addition from 2015, threw his first no-hitter last year.
The bullpen is also solid, if unspectacular. Where the Astros really shine, however, is on offense and defense. They hit 230 home runs in 2015, 2nd in the AL. The Astros only committed 85 errors, 3rd-fewest in the league. Led by 2B Jose Altuve, who won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, the Astros have no shortage of young talent.
Young phenom SS Carlos Correa hit 22 homers and stole 14 bases in just 99 games after being called up from the minors. OF George Springer can also be a difference maker when healthy. The Astros will try to take the next step after a strong showing last season.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels finished last season with disappointment, finishing one game behind the Astros for the second wild card spot and missing the playoffs. Despite the early tee times, the Angels had some good things happen for them; All Star OF Mike Trout finished second in MVP voting, and young SP Andrew Heaney showed he can compete with anybody.
In the offseason, the Angels got better on defense, trading for SS Andrelton Simmons. The former Atlanta Brave, Simmons is widely regarded as the best defender in the league at his position. Future Hall of Fame 1B Albert Pujols is aging, but is still extremely dangerous when healthy. OF Kole Calhoun also showed flashes of ability and will look to build on a solid 2015.
The pitching rotation is largely unchanged, with Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker headlining a staff trying to recover from a down year. The rotation will also feature Heaney in his first full season in the big leagues, as he made just 18 starts in 2015.
The Angels added RP Al Albuquerque from the Detroit Tigers in the offseason to fill the setup role, and closer Huston Street is still one of the best in the game. Ultimately, how far the Angels go in 2016 will depend on their health in key spots and the ability of the starting pitching to rebound.
The Athletics finished at the bottom of the AL West in 2015, and while they have made some moves, they don’t appear to be the right moves to make the team competitive this year. Among Oakland’s bigger moves were the signings of RPs John Axford and Ryan Madson and SP Henderson Alvarez, and trades for 1B Yonder Alonso, RP Marc Rzepczynski and OF Khris Davis.
Lots of turnover will lead to an all-new look, but not necessarily more wins. The pitching rotation features ace Sonny Gray, who finished third in Cy Young voting. Alvarez isn’t bad himself when healthy, but he likely won’t be ready until June, and there’s not much depth here.
On offense, the A’s replaced 3B Brett Lawrie with 3B Jed Lowrie. All-Star C/1B Stephen Vogt will be counted to repeat his breakout 2015, and the A’s will hope for solid production from new additions Davis and Alonso. The bullpen should be excellent, anchored by closer Sean Doolittle.
The Athletics should be marginally better than last year, but all in all it looks like it might be a long season in Oakland.
The Mariners finished in fourth place in the division in 2015, after being hyped as a possible sleeper to make the playoffs. Things started bad and just kept getting worse for the Mariners, and they made some major changes in the offseason to shore things up.
After re-signing fan favorite SP Hisashi Iwakuma to a team-friendly one-year deal, the Mariners signed RP Steve Cishek and OF Nori Aoki, and traded for RP Joaquin Benoit and OF Leonys Martin. The Mariners already have a core of great players, led on offense by DH Nelson Cruz, 3B Kyle Seager, and 2B Robinson Cano, who the Mariners hope can have a resurgence after a couple down years.
In Seattle, they also have one of the best starting pitchers in baseball in “King” Felix Hernandez, who will also try to bounce back from a down year in 2015. The Mariners also added SPs Nathan Karns and Wade Miley and will round out the rotation with either James Paxton or Taijuan Walker.
There are a lot of very good pieces here, and the Mariners look poised to compete in a tough division.
The Rangers won the division in 2015 with a strong finish, after adding former World Series MVP SP Cole Hamels at the trade deadline. The Rangers hope to get SP Yu Darvish, the team ace, back to his old form after Tommy John surgery, which would give them the best 1-2 punch in the division.
There are a lot of great offensive pieces here too, including DH Prince Fielder, OFs Shin-Soo Choo and Josh Hamilton, young 2B Rougned Odor, and table-setting OF Delino DeShields Jr.
The rotation isn’t terribly strong behind Hamels and Darvish, especially after failing to re-sign SP Yovani Gallardo in the offseason. Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, and Martin Perez look to fill out the back of the rotation, and if Darvish isn’t ready it gets even uglier after that.
The Rangers should compete, as they return a lot of the team that won the division last year, but a lot of things will have to go right for them to return to the postseason.
A deep division means records will be close together, as evidenced by last year’s final standings: The Angels were just three games behind the Rangers but finished in third place. Expect the Mariners to make some noise this year and improve on their 76-win finish from 2015. Really, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any team besides the A’s win the division.
In the end, it should come down to who has the best all-around squad, and only one team in the division can say they have strong offense, defense, rotation, and bullpen. The Astros may not have the best in any of those categories, but they definitely aren’t lacking in any of them either.
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