It’s supposed to be a two-team race in the AL West this season. A battle between the defending champion Houston Astros and the suddenly revamped Los Angeles Angels. Can anyone emerge from the other three? Can someone put a scare into what could turn out to be a very boring divisional battle?
AL West (Last year’s record in parenthesis)
Houston Astros (101-61)
• Luke Gregerson
• Michael Fiers
• Francisco Liriano
• Cameron Maybin
• Joe Smith (two years; $15 million)
• Hector Rondon (two years; $8.5 million)
• Gerrit Cole (acquired via trade with Pittsburgh Pirates)
The defending champs are back and loaded. The 2017 World Series title was just the start of a possible dynasty, much like the 2016 title was the start for a possible dynasty on the north side of Chicago. Can Houston avoid the fatigue factor that plagued last seasons Cubs? Both teams are young, dynamic and here to stay for the foreseeable future. Houston has as good a shot to repeat as any team in recent memory. On paper, they are great and possibly better than last year… but we all know best on paper does not equal best on field.
This teams 1-4 is the best in baseball. George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman at the top of a lineup is worthy of any hyperbole you can think of. The scary part? They’re just getting started. Each player is peaking (Springer and Altuve are 28 and 27) or still ascending (Correa and Bregman are 23 and 24). The rest of the lineup isn’t to be taken lightly either. Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez and Yuli Gurriel are perfect complimentary pieces to the star-studded top. The 2017 Houston Astros led MLB in AVG (.282), OBP (.346), SLG (.478), OPS (.823), R (896), H (1581), 2B (346) and RBI (854). Putting it simply, this team is an offensive juggernaut. Oh and Kyle Tucker (fifth overall pick in 2015) is waiting in AAA and not far from his ML debut. His teammates in spring training playfully gave him the nickname “Ted” as in Ted Williams as in arguably the greatest hitter in MLB history. Yeah, that’s who he reminds them of. Enjoy this, people of Houston… you don’t have a problem.
As if the opposing teams don’t have enough to worry about when facing that daunting Houston lineup, someone needs worry about how to hit the Astro pitching as well. The 2018 version gets a full season of a seemingly rejuvenated Justin Verlander and newly acquired Gerrit Cole. This is otherwise known as “the rich get richer”. 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel slides into the number two spot in the rotation (Verlander takes over as the “ace”) with Gerrit Cole slotting into the four. When you have Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton rounding out your rotation, your staff is in great shape. Barring an injury, I don’t see this rotation finishing any lower than top 5 in baseball at seasons end.
With the additions of Verlander and Cole, the Astros are able to slide Brad Peacock and Colin McHugh into full-time long relief roles. Newly acquired Hector Rondon and Joe Smith will just add more options for manager Aj Hinch come later innings. Chris Devenski is back as well as closer Ken Giles. This team has no holes in any area.
Enjoy this run, Houston.
Los Angeles Angels (80-82)
• Brandon Phillips
• Yunel Escobar
• Yusmeiro Petit
• Bud Norris
• Zack Cozart (three years; $38 million)
• Rene Rivera (one year; $2.8 million)
• Chris Young (one year; $2 million)
• Shohei Ohtani (signed as an international free agent)
The Angels may play in Anaheim, home to Disneyland, but after this offseason, it may as well be changed to Ohtani-Land. Shohei Ohtani dominated the early offseason after telling would be suitors of his intentions, he decided to head west… from the Far East.
With the trade for Ian Kinsler and the Zack Cozart, Shohei Ohtani signings, not many teams did more to improve their roster during the offseason. Those three will improve the offense immediately. Mike Trout still has to be the “guy”, but he has some protection around him (I’m sorry, but an aging Albert Pujols can no longer provide this). Justin Upton came over from the Tigers late last season and will provide additional support in his first full season in Anaheim, turning this offense from anemic to potentially potent. The Angels finished 2017 22nd out of 30 teams in runs scored (710). This new look on offense can see them in the top 10 this year (The Boston Red Sox finished 10th last season with 785). 75 extra runs over 162 games comes out to 0.46 per game. With the addition of those four aforementioned players, this should be easy.
The starting rotation is where the “Disney magic” might stop. Ohtani will give them a quality piece, but with a rotation led by Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs, the upside is only so high. Michael Shoemaker and JC Ramirez round out the five-man rotation. Health will be vital to this team. Over the past couple years, they have been ravaged by injuries, so a full season of health could keep this rotation going in the positive direction it established last season. This rotation has promise. Just how much fulfilled it is, is another question.
In the bullpen, Blake Parker looks to be the closer with Keynan Middleton, Cam Bedrosian and former Oriole closer Jim Johnson providing some experience amongst a group of young relievers. Just like the starting rotation, there is promise with these young arms, just how much and how soon they grow is to be seen.
Seattle Mariners (78-84)
• Drew Smyly
• Steve Cishek
• Yonder Alonso
• Jarrod Dyson
• Juan Nicasio (two years; $17 million)
• Ichiro Suzuki (one year; $750,000)
The 2018 Seattle Mariners could either challenge for an AL Wild Card or they could challenge for a Top 10 pick in next years amateur draft. I don’t see much middle ground for this team. Of course with this prediction, the Mariners will finish smack dab in the middle of the AL, missing the playoffs by around 5 games and picking 15th in next years draft. This is the unpredictable beauty of baseball.
This is a solid team offensively. Aging veterans Robinson Cano (.280/23/97) and Nelson Cruz (.288/39/119) anchor the offense with Kyle Seager (.249/27/88) and Dee Gordon (.308 with 60 SB’s) joining the over 30 club. This team is not young for sure. Oh and “new” acquisition Ichiro is moonlighting at the tender age of 44. Can these aging vets continue to put together solid seasons? While time is not on their side, they all possess the ability to transcend age and put up decent numbers. Look for the underrated Mitch Haniger (.282/16/47) to get the majority of playing time in RF and put up some good numbers in support. With top prospects Kyle Lewis (OF) and Evan White (1B) a few seasons away, this is the offense that takes the field outside of deadline or offseason acquisition.
After missing out on the major free agents this last offseason (most notably Shohei Otani), the Mariners will look to more veteran help with Felix Hernandez, James Paxton and Mike Leake rounding out the top three of the rotation. Marco Gonzales, Erasmo Ramirez and a myriad of others will lock up the other two spots. This is not a strong rotation. Hernandez is 32 years old and coming off an injury shortened season in which he finished (6-5 with a 4.36 ERA). Entering his 14th season, Hernandez has logged 2,529 innings. To give a comparison, Jake Arrieta is the same age and in his 9th season has logged 1,178 innings. What’s left in Hernandez arm is a mystery and should be a concern for the Mariners moving forward.
The Mariners bullpen last year finished around the middle of the pack last season (13th in ERA). There wasn’t much movement going into this season outside of free agent RP Juan Nicasio. Edwin Diaz is a bright spot (34/39-SV/SVO) with only 44 hits allowed in 66 IP. If he can keep his walks down (32), he could cement himself as a top tier closer.
This team can slug itself to contending for an AL Wild Card, but with the revamped Angels and defending champion Astros ahead of them in their own division and the lack of pitching and number of aging veterans, look for this team to be picking in the top ten come next years amateur draft.
Texas Rangers (78-84)
• Carlos Gomez
• Andrew Cashner
• Miguel Gonzalez
• Jesse Chavez (one year; $1.5 million)
• Mike Minor (three years; $28 million)
• Doug Fister (one year; $4 million)
• Bartolo Colon (Big Sexy) (one year; $1.75 million)
The Texas Rangers made playoffs from 2010-2012 and 2016. The Texas Rangers in those seasons not mentioned were not so good. What sort of year will this team have?
The Rangers offense seems to be set heading into 2018 for the most part, albeit a few minor tweaks here and there. Future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre (3,048 career hits) and Elvis Andrus (.297/20/88) anchor the left side of the infield with Rougned Odor, whom I have never been a fan of (.287 career OBP is pretty awful) and most likely a combo of Joey Gallo and Ronald Guzman getting the share at 1B until a better solution is found OR young top prospect Willie Calhoun is ready to play in the OF, which would then allow Gallo to take over 1B. The outfield looks pretty decent with Delino Deshields Jr. (.269 with 29 SB’s and a .347 OBP), Nomar Mazara (.253/20/101) and the aforementioned Gallo (.209/41/80 with a respectable .333 OBP) taking over those 3 spots… initially (Hello Mr. Willie Calhoun – .300/31/93 in AAA last season in mind you 486 AB’s). Shin-Soo Choo (.261/22/78) returns as primary DH. In an ideal world… this would be the Rangers everyday offense and lineup…
CF – Delino Deshields Jr.
1B – Joey Gallo
SS – Elvis Andrus
3B – Adrian Beltre
RF – Nomar Mazara
DH – Shin-Soo Choo
C – Robinson Chirinos
2B – Rougned Odor
LF – Willie Calhoun
That is not a bad offense/lineup at all.
The rotation is below average 1-5 with a projected rotation of Cole Hamels, Martin Perez, Matt Moore, Mike Minor and ageless wonder, the great Bartolo Colon. Hamels is aging (34) but may have a couple decent seasons left in him as the defacto ace of the rotation, but pretty suspect after him. Mike Minor signed a 3 yr deal this last offseason and could turn out to be a relative bargain in a buy low situation for Texas. The fact that Bartolo Colon is pitching in MLB at the age of 44 is pretty incredible. The guy has logged 3315.1 IP in his career which places him currently 89th in the history books. This is particularly remarkable considering the era he pitches in, which has drastically turned into a specialist game and away from the days pitchers threw complete games. Not being able to woo Shohei Otani or Yu Darvish will hurt this team in the rotation this season.
The Rangers opted not signing a top-tier closer in the offseason and will instead rely on a cluster of arms to fulfill the duties until someone emerges. The bullpen, while not in the greatest shape, is at least slightly better than the rotation. Alex Claudio, Jake Diekman, Matt Bush (coming off shoulder surgery), Keone Kela and newly acquired Jesse Chavez will be amongst the names filling in particular spots in the bullpen. How they are used beyond the usual “lefty” specialist and closer role will be one to watch as manager Jeff Banister tries to piece together a better relief core than last seasons which finished 28th out of 30 MLB teams with a 4.76 ERA.
Oakland Athletics (75-87)
• Jonathan Lucroy (one year; $6.5 million)
• Yusmeiro Petit (two years; $10 million)
• Trevor Cahill (one year; $1.5 million)
The Oakland A’s are always an intriguing team, and this season will be no exception. Year in and year out, the A’s always seem to make some noise with some exciting prospects, younger players and very little payroll to work with. This season is all about the “Matt” show.
Matt Chapman and Matt Olson made names for themselves last season with the rest of MLB. Olson blasted 24 HR’s in just 189 AB’s and while Chapman didn’t quite make the same impact with his bat (.234/14/40 in 290 AB’s), he more than made his presence felt with his elite level glove. Last season, Chapman had 19 DRS (defensive runs saved), which measures individual players as above or below average on defense, with 0 being average. He was one of seven players in all of baseball with a DRS mark of at least 19. He also did this while playing basically half a season. That’s elite ladies and gentleman. Who was one of his teammates at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, California? Nolan Arenado, who is regarded as the best third baseman in baseball. Wow. What a defensive infield that was. The rest of the offense is led by the underrated Jed Lowrie (.277/14/69), Stephen Piscotty (who struggled a bit last season but is a great bet to rebound towards his 2016 self – .273/22/85) and DH Khris Davis (.247/43/110). This is a very underrated and mostly young offense that will only continue to get better at some positions with top prospects Franklin Barreto (SS/2B), Jorge Mateo (SS/OF) and Dustin Fowler (OF) all on the way soon as well.
The rotation took a hit early with the sideline of top prospect and potential ace A.J. Puk. This will be felt early, but look for Sean Manaea to emerge as an option atop the rotation with everyone else sliding down a spot. Kendall Graveman, newly acquired Trevor Cahill, Jharel Cotton and Andrew Triggs will fill out the rotation in some way hoping to make up for the loss of Puk. The starting rotation ranked 20th last season with an ERA of 4.74, so improvement must be made for this team to finish within shouting distance of a potential wild card spot.
The bullpen needs major improvement. There is no way around that. While the rotation last season had their issues, the bullpen didn’t fare any better, finishing with the major’s sixth-highest ERA (4.57) while also ranking near the bottom of the league in strikeout percentage (22.0). Those are not ideal numbers for a bullpen. Gone also are Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. Blake Treinen (3.93; 16/21-SV/SVO) looks to be the closer to begin the season. Setting him up looks to be a myriad of names; Santiago Casilla, Ryan Dull, Liam Hendriks, Chris Hatcher and Daniel Coulombe. To be honest, I’ve never heard of most of these pitchers.
It’s going to be a tale of two sides for the 2018 Oakland Athletics… a very promising offense with a not so very promising pitching staff. How far can the one carry the other is the question?
2018 Major League Baseball Predictions
*Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
Tampa Bay Rays
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
St. Louis Cardinals
San Francisco Giants
San Diego Padres
AL Wild Card
NL Wild Card
Your 2018 World Series Champions… ?? …. All I have to say is what a series this will be. Springer/Altuve/Correa VS Bryant/Rizzo/Contreras
Verlander/Keuchel/Cole VS Lester/Hendricks/Darvish
AL Cy Young
NL Cy Young