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MLB

2018 AL West Preview

BaseballEssential

With the 2018 MLB season just a few more days away, it’s time to take a look and preview the season ahead. We’re going division by division to try and project every teams’ strengths, weaknesses, and questions heading into the season. Continuing on with the AL West.

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Houston Astros

2017 Record: 101-61, Won World Series

Strength: Continuity

The Astros won 101 games in 2017, including the World Series over the LA Dodgers in seven games. Almost all of their core is returning this season, and they’ll have full seasons from Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Jose Altuve is the reigning AL MVP, but there are probably two or three other guys on this roster, along with Altuve himself, who could take the MVP trophy this season. Barring injuries, the Astros look like one of the most complete teams in baseball, and one of the worst things they could do would be to try and change things up too much.

Weakness: Complacency

Yes, the World Series hangover is real, just ask the Chicago Cubs. Dallas Keuchel and Altuve seem convinced that these Astros will be different due to their “better players”, but it should still be a concern. The only teams since 1977 to repeat as champions were the Blue Jays in 1992-93 and the Yankees three-peat from 1998-2000. Only eight of the previous seventeen World Series winners have made the playoffs the following season, and of those eight, only two have returned to the Fall Classic.

Question: Can the 2018 Astros really be better than the 2017 team that won the division by 21 games, then won the World Series?

2018 Projected Record: 101-61

 

Bleacher Report Images

Los Angeles Angels

2017 Record: 80-82, Did not make playoffs

Strength: Defense

Andrelton Simmons had a career year in 2017, and capped it off by winning his third Gold Glove. Zack Cozart is switching to third base after signing with LA, but he was already a solid defender at shortstop, so the move shouldn’t affect him too much. Another addition, Ian Kinsler, will need to improve on his batting numbers from last season, but he has also won a Gold Glove recently. The Angels might have one of the best defensive infields in the majors, and they also have an outfield of Kole Calhoun, Justin Upton, and this guy named Mike Trout. As a team, the Angels had a UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) of 23.7 in 2017, good enough for second in the AL, and their BABIP was fifth in the AL. It is possible that they’ll be able to exceed both of those numbers in 2018.

Weakness: Pitching health

Shohei Ohtani is still an “unknown quantity” after coming over to the MLB from Japan, and he hasn’t done well in spring training. Garrett Richards has been solid when he’s been on the mound, but injuries have limited him to only twelve starts across the last two seasons. All of their depth options, namely Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney, have shown potential, but injuries have still been a problem. The bullpen isn’t very deep either, so if the starters aren’t able to go deep into games, or suffer any more injuries, it could become a much bigger issue.

Question: Will Mike Trout be able to lead this team to a championship? Or could it possibly happen elsewhere?

2018 Projected Record: 84-78

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Seattle Mariners

2017 Record: 78-84, Did not make playoffs

Strength: Offense

Nelson Cruz continues to produce, as he is coming off a 39 home run season. As does Robinson Cano, despite his cringe-worthy contract. Jean Segura and Kyle Seager both had 550 plate appearances in 2017, and new additions in Dee Gordon and Ryon Healy should help as well. Gordon is a solid leadoff hitter who also gives Seattle a speed threat on the bases. Healy, when he fully recovers, should provide a great boost at first, which was the worst position for the Mariners last season. Danny Valencia and Yonder Alonso are both gone, but the offense should still manage to be fine.

Weakness: Rotation

James Paxton is the new ace over Felix Hernandez, although both have been having some recent health issues. If they both end up going down, Mike Leake would likely be at the top of the rotation. Ariel Miranda was the top Seattle pitcher in innings pitched last season, but he still had some issues, posting a 5.12 ERA.

Question: How far away are the Mariners from ending baseballs longest playoff drought?

2018 Projected Record: 80-82

ESPN Images

Oakland Athletics

2017 Record: 75-87, Did not make playoffs

Strength: A sneaky good lineup

The losses of Ryon Healy and Yonder Alonso hurt, but the A’s did a pretty good job replacing them. Stephen Piscotty, although coming off a down year, should still be an upgrade over last season, as should the recently signed Jonathan Lucroy. Khris Davis will look to keep going after his 43 home runs in 2017, second in the AL, along with Matt Olson, who hit 24 homers in 59 games. The biggest hole in the lineup is in center field, with Boog Powell still sort of an unknown quantity. Some projections have the A’s suffering toward another last place finish, but this lineup could still surprise some people.

Weakness: Pitching reliability

The A’s staff right now is missing a true ace, and Alex Cobb just came off the market. The best starters right now are Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman. Both seem like mid-rotation guys instead of true aces, and both have struggled with consistency. There are a couple of depth options here, Paul Blackburn and Daniel Mengden among them, but they also still have some work to do. Prospect AJ Puk will be a pitcher to keep an eye on.

Question: Can anyone in the rotation step up enough for them to win a few extra games?

2018 Projected Record: 80-82

Lori Shepler/UPI Images

Texas Rangers

2017 Record: 78-84, Did not make playoffs

Strength: Power

Despite some offensive problems, the Rangers were fifth in the AL in runs scored in 2017, and third in the majors in home runs. Of the nine Rangers who hit more than 17 homers last season, only two (Mike Napoli and Carlos Gomez) are gone. It should be mentioned that Napoli took his abysmal .193 batting average with him. Rougned Odor will need to improve his batting numbers, despite his 30 home runs. Joey Gallo should be fun to watch as usual, as he had more home runs than he did singles in 2017 (41 to 32), so expect either a home run or strikeout whenever he’s up.

Weakness: Bullpen

Outside of Alex Claudio, the Rangers bullpen was downright awful in 2017, and probably cost them a playoff spot. Their ERA of 4.76 was the second-highest in the AL. Sam Dyson didn’t convert a save in Texas, gave up 23 runs, and was quickly shipped off to San Francisco. Matt Bush may end up joining the rotation, or he could be another option of closer, which the Rangers already have plenty of options for. They’re hoping a new season is the best thing for this group as they try to make it back to the playoffs.

Question: The Rangers were sellers at the deadline, but were still in playoff contention until the final week. With mostly the same roster, can they make a push in 2018?

2018 Projected Record: 79-83

 

All projected records according to Fangraphs.

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