Even one of the strongest players in the history of baseball, can not count on an easy victory in the Wild West. (Getty Images)
In this part of the preview we will go to the Wild West, and we’ll talk about the most intricate and level division in baseball – AL West.
If for some reason you missed our previous previews, you can read the links: Against The World, To Find a Way, Trust The Process. Part I, Trust The Process. Part II.
Los Angeles Angels
Last season: 74-88
The forecast of analytical systems for the season: 83-79
Manager: Michael Souza
Key performers: Mike Trout, Cole Calhoun, Matt Shoemaker, Garrett Richards
The best prospectuses: Jamay Jones, Brandon Marsh, Matt Theiss, Nate Smith.
In 2015, the leadership of the team in the confrontation between manager Michael Sousha and general manager Jerry Dipoto expectedly opted for Souchi. It was a logical choice, considering not the best work of the management team, which could not provide Mike Trout with worthy support.
This was felt last year when Trout and Cole Calhoun were trying to pull a team that, in addition, because of injuries, lost two key members of the rotation – Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney. This finally completed the fate of last year’s Angels, who managed to win only 74 wins, despite the MVP season from Mike Traut, who was so steep that he received this award even with similar team results.
Injuries to young and talented pitchers led to the failure of Angels last season. (Getty Images)
Instead of Dipoto, Billy Apple came to the team, who in the offseason began to slowly rebuild the team. Before Eppleur, the money released after the end of the major contracts of CJ Wilson and Jared Weaver would certainly have been invested in one large free agent, and the rest of the lineup would have made the players poor.
Apple did not sign the stars, but instead limited himself to budget signings of sensible players and trades Danny Espinoz, Cameron Maybin and Ricky Nolasco. This allowed the Angels to have not only a solid and more even team for this season, but also to maintain financial flexibility for the next offseason, where there will be stronger free agents.
Naturally, the main expectations from the upcoming season for Los Angeles are related to Mike Trout. This guy is so unrealistic that last year his utility on the field (9.4 WAR) was almost equal to the total benefit of the next two best players in his position – Jackie Bradley and Dexter Fowler. If he continues at the same pace, then in 2017 will bypass the career usefulness of players such as David Ortiz, Robinson Cano, Vladimir Garrero and Todd Helton. In this case, Trout is only 25 years old!
We are fortunate to watch the game of one of the best baseball players in history. (Getty Images)
Although Billy Eppleer worked on leveling the starting lineup, but Angels still have big problems with depth, and therefore any injury automatically inflicts irreparable damage to the team. The first serious injury was damage to the posterior adductor muscle of Luis Valbuena, who will miss at least the first month of the season.
The situation in the starting rotation is even worse, where any injury will force Los Angeles to seek help from Nata Smith and Alexey Meyer, which is not the most optimal scenario. Even though Matt Shoemaker’s unexpected progress, the wonderful restoration of Garrett Richards and the arrival of Ricky Nolasco in the team, Angels still can expect problems with the starting rotation, given that a rare season is spent for the Major League Baseball team without using 7-8 starting pitchers.
In a healthy state and subject to problems with competitors, Los Angeles Angels are quite capable of fighting for getting into the playoffs. But I really do not want to put on the team without depth, when even in their division there are several teams that are at least as good as Engels in quality, but with players ready to replace their injured comrades more qualitatively.
Forecast: 79-83. The fourth place in the AL West.
Last season: 95-67
The forecast of analytical systems for the season: 83-79
Manager: Jeff Bannister
Key performers: Adrian Beltre, Yu Darvish, Jonathan Lukrooy, Cole Hamels.
The best prospectuses: Leodi Taveras, Joander Mendez, Ariel Jurado, Ronald Guzman, Anderson Tejeda.
Texas definitely surprised last season, winning 95 games and simultaneously winning the crown of his division. But in the playoffs the team seemed to be replaced and the Rangers cleanly lost the series to the hot Toronto Blue Jays.
In order to fix the situation, in the off-season the team tried to close several holes in the composition of quality players. The first base was signed by Mike Napoli, who is well acquainted with Texas thanks to performances for this franchise in the seasons of 2011 and 2012, when he knocked out 54 home runs and brought the Rangers 7.4 extra wins.
Carlos Gomez, who flourished in Texas after leaving Houston, returns to the outfielder. The one-season deal with Gomez is ideal for the Rangers, as it does not carry any particular risk, and at the same time, if the team receives an entire season of this player’s services at least a sample of his last seasons in Milwaukee, then this will be a real victory for management.
After coming to Texas, Carlos Gomez again played at a high level. (Getty Images)
In general, there should be no questions to the Texas bit – the team is very well staffed with a fusion of reliability and potential, youth and experience. Step forward is expected from outfielder Nomar Mazara, who is one of the most naturally gifted young hitters in Major League Baseball. Adrian Beltre will continue not only to please us with his gorgeous game, but also habitually cheer at antics along with Elvis Andrews.
Also the line of hitters of Texas is very balanced and includes the speed of Elvis Andrews and Delino DeShields, the power of Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre and Ruhned Odor, the contact of Jonathan Lukroi and Nomar Mazara, and the patience of Shin-Su Chu. But the main questions should arise about starting rotation.
The team ventured with the signing of two pitchers – Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner. Both of these pitchers were signed for one-year contracts on the type of deal with Carlos Gomez – little risk and a lot of potential. Ross before his injury was one of the best pitchers in NL, but it is not clear how he will be able to recover, and his appearance in the games of Major League Baseball is expected not earlier than May. Cashner already has problems with the biceps and will also miss the start of the season, which makes it not entirely clear who will be the team’s fifth starter.
Tyson Ross can bring the Rangers to a new level. (Getty Images)
This puts Texas in a difficult position, because now the team will have to rely on the not too impressive Martin Perez as a key member of the rotation. Yu Darvish is a fantastic pitcher in a healthy state, but he is also not very healthy.
Indeed, Jeff Banister can only rely on Cole Hamels, who is the personification of stability and reliability, because he punched the bar in 200 innings in eight of the last nine seasons, and in one worked 193 inning. In this situation, a key role can play a prospector Joander Mendez, who spent a strong last season and is already knocking at the door of the main team with might and main. Texas management can have no choice but to give it a chance.
One Texas bit with Hamels, Darvish and Perez can achieve a season with more than 50% of victories, but if the Rangers suddenly get a healthy and typed Tyson Ross form, the ceiling of this team grows abruptly.
Another area where the team needs stability is the bullpen. If Sam Dyson, Matt Bush and Jeremy Jeffreys can permanently close the game, then Texas will be one of the main contenders for the victory in the division. But somehow there is too much “if” for one season, so a realistic expectation is to fight for second place in the division and go to the playoffs through a wildcard.
Forecast: 86-76. Third place in the AL West and exit to the playoffs.
Last season: 86-76
The forecast of analytical systems for the season: 83-79
Manager: Scott Servère
Key performers: Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager, James Paxton.
The best prospectuses: Kyle Lewis, Tyler O’Neill, Nick Nider, Max Povs.
Jerry Dipoto, exiled from the Angels, settled in Seattle, where he is still doing an impressive job. Last season, the Mariners won 86 games, and decided not to stop there, actively and qualitatively spending the off-season.
To say that Dipotos just loves exchanges will be a big underestimation. General Manager of Seattle for two years at the helm of the team committed 37! Exchanges, which generally fits little in the head. Even people who closely follow the Mariners have already lost the connection between these trades, since Dipoto can change the same people twice a month.
But the most important thing is for these exchanges to go well for the team, but for now everything looks exactly this way. As a result of a major deal with Arizona, the Seattle team was joined by Jean Segura and Mitch Huniger, who will immediately close the positions of the shortstop and the corner outfielder, which were problematic last season.
Last season, Jean Segura was leading the NL on hits. (Getty Images)
The best way to bring the team closer to the playoffs was to improve the outfield defense, because Safeco Field is one of the biggest ballpark squads in Major League Baseball, and it needs quick legs that it does not have for the aging Set Smith and Nori Aoki. They were replaced by Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Huniger, who are a huge improvement in terms of protection over the two veterans, and not too inferior to them in the game on the bat. On the bench, they will be replaced by Guillermo Heredia and Ben Gamel, who are also good defenders, so now you can not be afraid of Seattle’s outfielder – he’s wearing gloves!
Leadership qualities of catcher Mike Zunino will help the pitchers, who is also considered the master of the game in defense, working with pitchers and game-colliding. Substitute Zunino will be another leader and just an extremely experienced player – Carlos Ruiz. All this should create for the rotation of the Mariners led by Felix Hernandez ideal conditions for the game.
It is worth paying special attention to James Paxton, who last season improved his throwing technique, which allowed him to reduce the burden on the throwing arm, increase the speed of fastball and improve control over his arsenal. Hasisi Iwakuma, who does not have strong health, has not disappeared anywhere, but shows decent results when he is on the field.
But the main advantage of Seattle in comparison with its main competitors will be the depth of rotation. Ariel Miranda and Chris Heston are quality 6-7 starters, and the team has at their disposal Robert Weilen and Dillon Overton, who are able to more or less close the position in case of need. And this we have not yet mentioned about the prospects of Andrew Moure and Max Pose, who may also be ready to enter the starting rotation by the middle of the season.
The only place in Seattle that causes concern is bullpen. Problems with the clowner should not arise, because the closing of the games is engaged in a young fire thrower Edwin Diaz, who just made a fantastic debut last season and confirmed his level on the World Classics. But the most suitable candidates for the role of 7-8 revelers are Tony Zich and Steve Sishek are still injured, and their recovery can make the Mariners team practically without weaknesses.
Edwiz Diaz can stand on one level with the best Major League Baseball. (Getty Images)
As you can see, the Seattle Mariners are already the third team in the division, to which analytical systems predict the same result in the upcoming season. But it seems to us that this team has great potential and, most importantly, depth, which gives it more room for maneuver in comparison with their rivals.
Forecast: 88-74. Second place in the AL West and getting into the playoffs.
The Houston Astros
Last season: 84-78
Forecast of analytical systems for the season: 90-72
Manager: Hey Jay Hinch
Key performers: Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, José Altuwe, George Springer, Dallas Kaikel, Lance McCallers.
Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker, David Paulinho, Forrest Wheatley, Ramon Laureano.
The best prospects: Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker, David Paulinho, Forrest Wheatley, Ramon Laureano.
Houston Astros in the past season too long harnessed and late went to not only catch up with the Texas Rangers, but also just go into the playoffs. Many Astros players in the first part of the season showed too weak a game, but some of them are no longer in the team, which allows us to count on a completely different outcome in the season of 2017.
Honestly, I had a great desire to include Houston in one of the first chapters of our previews, where we talked about rebuilding teams, as an example, how the correct restructuring is coming to an end. Judge for yourself, for a few years at the bottom, the Astros were drafted and raised almost all the stars of the current team on their own, and cheap home players allowed management to spend on some other performers who supplemented the strong and diverse Houston roaster.
Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman are probably the trio of the strongest infilders in the league, and Correa and Bregman have not yet realized their potential. The outfield team this season offers tremendous opportunities for the tactical flexibility of Hey Jay Hinch.
Fans of Houston have not in vain endured years of perestroika. (Getty Images)
If he wants more attacking power, he can play outfielder Reddick-Springer-Aoki, and there is a more protective option, in which instead of Nori Aoki, Jake Marisnic will appear in the lineup. In addition, there are always several options with Carlos Beltran and even Evan Gettis, in case the Astros urgently need a home run.
A stronger game is to be expected from Cuban veteran Juleska Guriel, who will move to the position of the first baseman. Additional six months in the team will allow him to better adapt to the team, as well as get used to being in the US, which is very important for Cuban players, for whom the opportunities of the States and unexpected wealth initially create additional obstacles.
The signing of Carlos Beltran and the exchange of Brian McCann further strengthen the line of Astros hitters and close the two remaining positions in the lineup. Top AJ Jay Reed and Derek Fisher finish the dominant Houston beat design, which in theory should sweep any opponent off the field.
Some questions are caused by rotation of starters, where there are no truly elite options. Slugger players found the antidote to Dallas Kaikel, becoming less likely to wave a bat against the main weapon of the former Sai Yang – balls below the strike zone. This led to a strong decrease in the effectiveness of Kaikel in the form of a reduction in the number of strikeouts and an increase in woks.
Lance McCallers returns to the starting rotation, which is one of the candidates for a breakthrough in the healthy state this year. He is able to become a much-needed Houston elite starter, if he continues to improve control over his arsenal, and stay healthy. Colleen McHugh and Mike Fireers should become stable members of the rotation, and the top prospect Joe Musgrove could be another pleasant surprise for the Astros fans this year.
Lance McCalleries has one of the best arsenals in baseball. (Getty Images)
The depth of the starting pitchers from Houston is not as great as that of Seattle, but still Charlie Morton, David Paulinho and Chris Devinsky can cover the rear of the rotation in case of injuries to the base players. The Bullpen Astros also abound with quality options, led by the clowner Ken Giles. Luc Gregerson fantastically closed the World Classics games with the US team, and Will Harris last season was one of the most effective revelers in baseball.
The general strength of the composition, the abundance of options and options for tactical flexibility, as well as the presence of young players and strong prospects makes the Houston Astros one of the main forces not only of their division, but all of Major League Baseball for years to come. Houston will not be hampered by another quality starter, which is why they are linked by rumors about an exchange of the Chicago White Sox exchange pitcher Jose Quintana, which would perfectly fit the Astros.
But even without Quintana, this team must win their division and fight for the first crop in AL with Cleveland and Boston.
Forecast: 95-67. First place in the division AL West.