A’s ready to claim the mediocre AL West

Two years ago, the American League West was considered among the best divisions in baseball. The Anaheim Angels won the World Series that year, while the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland A’s were both legitimate title contenders. Even the bottom dwelling Texas Rangers looked good, with Alex Rodriguez hitting 50 homers annually.

What a difference a couple of years make. The Oakland A’s are still pretty good, but the rest of the division has fallen off badly. The Mariners got old, the Angels realized they weren’t that good after all, and the Rangers got rid of their MVP. The A’s still probably don’t spend enough to win the big one this year, but their pitching will keep in the race all year.

1. Oakland Athletics

Since The Daily Utah Chronicle already predicted the Red Sox to win the AL East, I couldn’t very well justify making an equally outrageous claim in saying that the Rangers will win the AL West, though I was tempted. Instead, I will have to take the unhittable pitching of the A’s starters as the guiding force of this year’s pennant winners.

The A’s pitching staff is awesome. Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson each make less than $5 million a year, yet they are without question one of the best pitching staffs around. The A’s problem is hitting-the best player on this year’s opening day roster only hit .288 last year. Lacking even one .300 or better hitter can be a problem, but in this watered-down division, the A’s lack of hitting shouldn’t prevent them from wrapping up the pennant race fairly early in the season.

Predicted Finish: 90-72

2. Seattle Mariners

Among the oldest groups in all of baseball, the Mariners charge into this season loaded with a bunch of over-the-hill veterans looking to make one last run.

Pitcher Jamie Moyer only throws the ball about 70 miles per hour, and he has been around forever, but his veteran knowledge makes him the bona fide leader of this pitching staff. Freddy Garcia was once quite good, but his 4.34 ERA and his record of just 13 wins last year makes him a questionable number two or three guy.

On the hitting end of things, the Mariners are returning veteran Edgar Martinez back to a solid lineup. Ichiro Suzuki is still hands-down the best leadoff man in the game, and his presence makes it that much easier for the seven guys other than Ichiro who hit .280 or better during last season. If the A’s have a reason to look over their shoulders, it will be because the Mariners are making noise in the pennant race.

Predicted Finish: 85-77

3. Anaheim Angels

These guys won the World Series just two years ago, yet they aren’t even showing up on this season’s radar screen. Even with an $80 million payroll, the Angels have failed to make moves that would put them back on top.

The best offseason move made by the Angels was the acquisition of outfielder Vladimir Guerrero. He brings awesome hitting to a decent offensive lineup that also includes last year’s Home Run Derby champion, Garrett Anderson.

Hitting won’t be enough to get the job done, however, as the Angels pitching staff is no doubt reliant on the mercy of angels from above. Veteran pitcher Bartolo Colon may be a bit too old to keep up his recent pace, and from there the Angels have only mid-grade pitching.

Predicted Finish: 70-92

4. Texas Rangers

The Rangers are probably the most poorly managed team in all of professional sports. This team has a payroll of almost $105 million, yet they don’t have any players or hardware to show for it. The general consensus is that the A-Rod move was one of the worst deals ever made, and without their only star, this team would be lucky to get 50 wins.

It’s sad, really-that anyone could do such a bad job with so much money, but that’s the story of the Rangers. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that George W. once owned the team. I just hope our country doesn’t end up in 10 years in as bad of shape as the Rangers are in now.

The Rangers have a pretty good hitting core with the addition of Alfonso Soriano, but their pitching is truly horrendous. Every pitcher on the Rangers staff had a losing record last season, and two won only three games each-pathetic.

Predicted Finish: 42-120

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