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2017 AL West Preview: Eyes On Texas

The Texas Rangers took the American League West in both 2015 and 2016, but will the 2017 AL West race see Texas scale the heights again?

One thing is for sure: in each of the last two seasons, the Rangers were the best team in the AL West. In 2015, the Houston Astros gave Texas a run, but nobody was in sight in 2016. Texas was a 9-game champion over the Seattle Mariners, a team that’s been trying for years to get back to the playoffs to no avail.

Are Texas still the top dog in the AL West, or are other contenders lurking?

2017 AL West Preview: Houston Astros

This is a team not just hoping to get back to the playoffs in 2017, but expecting it. Houston trailed off last year after getting to the ALDS in 2015, but this time, they’re back and aiming to win the AL West. They will help make this one of the most competitive division races of the year.

Some out there think the Astros may be the best team in the American League this season. We’re not going that far just yet, but all the pieces are in place for them to get back to the postseason.

Make no mistake: on paper, their lineup looks very good. From top to bottom, it’s as good as any in the American League. At the heart of it are Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran. McCann had the lowest average in what figures to be their starting nine, but even at that, he hit 20 homers for the Yankees last season.

Should Dallas Kuechel bounce back to be the ace this rotation needs, look out. We know the Astros are going to score a lot of runs this season, but if they pitch well also, they’ll push Cleveland for the top record in the AL.

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2017 AL West Preview: Los Angeles Angels

The Angels are years removed from their last playoff berth. Mike Scioscia is entering his 18th season as manager of the Halos, but he hasn’t been able to guide his club to October since 2014. In fact, the Angels have only made the playoffs one of the last seven seasons. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2009, and they’ve had five, going on six, full seasons of Mike Trout. To have a 25-year old two-time MVP on the roster and hardly know the taste of playoff baseball is almost a crime.

The Angels’ problem these last few years is how little has surrounded Trout. Granted, injuries bit Angels pitching hard last season, but what they’ve got for a rotation looks okay at best. There’s not an ace in the lot, though Matt Shoemaker is the closest to being an acceptable first or second starter. If Garrett RIchards pans out, he could be as well.

As for the starting lineup, protecting Trout should be key. If Albert Pujols is healthy, he can fill that role, and even though he’s getting up there in age, he still hits for power.

Objectively, one must ask themselves if team is better than, say, Houston or Texas. Even with Trout, the answer is probably no, as they have questionable depth issues regarding the team surrounding their superstar.

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2017 AL West Preview: Oakland Athletics

Oakland was far behind the pack in 2016, and sadly, the view doesn’t look much better in 2017.

The A’s didn’t crack 70 wins either of the past two seasons, and when other teams in the West have gotten much better, Oakland didn’t do much of anything. Oh sure, now they have Trevor Plouffe and they resigned Rajai Davis, almost a Game 7 hero for Cleveland, but those two guys are not the difference between fifth place and first.

Oakland needs Sonny Gray to get healthy and help this rotation. Outside of him, there is a whole lot of nothing. This includes guys like Kendall Graveman, a guy who may prove to be okay, not great. That’s about as good as Oakland’s five-man gets.

There is no reason to assume that Oakland will get appreciably better this season, let alone make the playoffs. If they somehow stitch it together in 2017, then Billy Beane truly is a genius and we are mere ignorant monkeys banging on our keyboards.

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2017 AL West Preview: Seattle Mariners

Seattle is an interesting case, and one of the most hard-to-determine teams of the American League. This really could go either way for the M’s, who are no doubt frustrated by spending a lot of cash and getting precisely zero playoff games so far.

The talent is here for Seattle to make the playoff push for which they fans have waited for 16 years. Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano are all still top-shelf players, though it remains to be seen how much longer they have until they pass their primes. That’s Seattle’s problem, too: while they watch the years go by with no playoffs, their stars are getting older. Hernandez, Cano, and Cruz are all on the wrong side of 30, with Cano and Cruz in their mid-30s.

They now have Jean Segura in this lineup, who with Kyle Seager, Cano, and Cruz will provide a pretty decent 2 through 5. You start getting away from the household names beyond that.

As for the rotation around King Felix, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly both look like reasonable second and third starters. Assuming each plays to their potential, Seattle will be okay. The question is if they have enough to contend with their foes in the AL West. Last year, breaking through was a problem, and the year before that as well. The “new-look” Mariners with Cano might become a baseball iteration of “Waiting for Godot.” If they don’t have this supposed breakthrough soon, it’s never coming with this group.

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2017 AL West Preview: Texas Rangers

While Houston is going to be a stiff challenger in 2017, and we project them as the West winners, Texas is still in the running. The Rangers won 95 games last season, and their roster looks competitive entering this campaign. Texas is not to be written off.

The Rangers have power in the middle of their lineup, featuring Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, and Rougned Odor. Jonathan Lucroy also seems to be fitting in well in Arlington so far. Scoring runs shouldn’t be a big problem for Texas. If it is, this is going to be a disappointing year that may see them slide back further than second.

What they will need is for their top-line starters to stay healthy all season. Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels are capable of pitching Texas to the playoffs, but their bullpen is coming off of a bad 2016. If this continues, and if either one of Darvish or Hamels are hurt, Texas doesn’t have much pitching depth to fill in the gap.

For now, we see them coming in second, but they need their health situation to stay in their favor.

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