Los Angeles Angels (who aren’t from Los Angeles):
This team won over a hundred games lat year, but they faltered badly (again!) in the playoffs and lost Mark Teixeira, Francisco Rodriquez, and Jon Garland in offseason. They won’t win a hundred this year, even in a weak division.
Strengths: Even without Garland, John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Joe Saunders, and Ervin Santana give them a deep rotation. The bullpen setup hurlers—Scot Shields, Justin Spier, Jose Arredondo, etc.—are talented and effective. Chone Figgins (3B) can fly; Vladimir Guerrero can’t, but he is one of the most fearsome hitters in the game.
Weaknesses: Until Santana becomes the ace he should be this is a staff full of 3-4 guys. It also includes Jered Weaver, well on his way to being as big a disappointment as brother Jeff. Kendry Morales must replace Teixeira, but he could use more seasoning. The Angels better hope that Tori Hunter can still track down balls because in an outfield with Guerrero and Bobby Abreu he’ll be chasing a lot of balls in the gaps. There isn’t much pop in this lineup either.
If the As young pitchers mature fast, they could steal this division. If they don’t the Athletics will be dead last and Matt Holiday will be trade bait.
Strengths: Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, Jack Cust, and Eric Chavez give the As a scary middle of the lineup. Look for Giambi to have a big year away from the New York boo birds. If Bobby Crosby (SS) can regain his form, Oakland should put up some numbers.
Weaknesses: After Justin Duchscherer, the pitching staff is four question marks. The closer is Brad Ziegler. Who? Other than Holliday, the outfield isn’t very strong.
How can a team with pitchers such as Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Brandon Morrow, Jarrod Washburn, and Carlos Silva have been so wretched in 2008? Oh yeah; look at the lineup.
Strengths: The starting pitching is simply too talented to falter two years in a row. Ichiro will get on base several hundred times during the season. When he’s on first you might as well concede second. Adrian Beltre (3B) is never going to justify his contract, but he’s serviceable.
Weaknesses: How do you feel about Roy Corcoran as a closer? Russell Branyan as a DH? This team needs to rebuild its lineup, so why waste resources on the injury-ravaged and aged Ken Griffey, Jr.? Neither infield nor outfield impresses, and the Mariners will again be scoring-challenged.
What a screwy organization. They’ve got a five-time All Star at short in Michael Young and they want him to move to third to make way for a rookie? And where does that leave young Travis Metcalf, who had a good year at third?
Strengths: Young, DH Hank Blalock, Josh Hamilton (OF), and Ian Kinsler (2B) anchor a lineup that can put up crooked numbers. The Rangers wisely kept both their young catchers (Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden); in the midsummer heat they’ll need both. Look also for pitcher Brandon McCarthy to fulfill his promise.
Weaknesses: As always, pitchers meltdown under the hot Texas sun. They’re looking at Kris Benson and that says a lot, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea to insert someone like him or Kason Gabbard and try a six-man rotation. The problem is that after Kevin Millwood there’s a big drop in talent. Frank Francisco is the designated closer. I doubt it.
1. Angels—Proven pitching should get them to the playoffs.
2. Athletics—The dark horse if the Angels slip.
3. Mariners—The pitching is talented; the lineup is pitiful.
4. Rangers— They’ll win the 10-8 games, but lose when they don’t put up big numbers.