BASN’s 2007 MLB Previews: Scouting The AL West

By Tony McClean
Updated: March 30, 2007
MLBNEW HAVEN, Ct. — With the 2007 Major League Baseball season set to begin Sunday night in St. Louis, BASN is down to the last two divisions in our preview of the upcoming campaign.
Today, our focus shifts to the AL West. There are two new managers in this division. Bob Geren takes over the defending champs in Oakland while longtime A’s coach Ron Washington becomes the head man in Texas.
On the surface, this looks to be a two-team race with the improved Angels and Athletics fighting it out all season long. Will either the Rangers or Mariners have enough to make it a three horse race? Stay tuned.
(Teams listed in order of predicted finish)
After finishing just four games behind the A’s in last year’s AL West race, Angels’ owner Arte Moreno was determined to his off season moves count. Adding OF Gary Matthews Jr. and DH/1B Shea Hillenbrand to the offense and hurlers Justin Speier and Darren Oliver to the bullpen may not have been headline moves, but they should help put the Halos over the top in the division. Matthews should also help solidify the Angels’ defense as well. As for the rest of the rotation, Mike Scioscia should get both Bartolo Colon and rookie phenom Jered Weaver back by the end of April. This means that guys like Kelvim Escobar and Ervin Santana will hold the fort until they’re healthy. However, with a good bullpen like the Angels have, they shouldn’t fall to far off.
Outlook: A slow start in April may have led to the Angels falling just short in 2006. They’ll only play Oakland five times during the month of April then and won’t see them again until late July. With all the new players on the roster, it’s very important that this team gets off to a relatively fast start. They have enough to dethrone the A’s, but it’s still likely that the race will come down to the wire.
Oakland Athletics 2. OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Now that Barry Zito and Frank Thomas have left town, the big question is can the A’s handle the loss to two main ingredients. Asking new DH Mike Piazza to put up Thomas’ numbers while trying to switch leagues is probably a bit unfair. However, Bob Geren is hoping that guys like OF Milton Bradley, 3B Eric Chavez, and OF Nick Swisher can take some of the pressure off. While the Oakland pen remains relatively solid, the starting staff is a bit questionable after righties Dan Haren and Rich Harden. Yes, I know Joe Blanton and Esteban Loiaza had solid years in 2006, but I just can’t see them duplicating those numbers in 2007.
Outlook: In the long run, the losses of Zito and Thomas coupled with the Angels’ additions make me think that Oakland will have a hard time repeating as division champs. Are they still a good team? Definitely, which means they could very easily battle for a wild card berth this season. But with all the other quality teams in the AL, it’s going to be a dogfight all year long.
Texas Rangers 3. TEXAS RANGERS
Ron Washington has waited, waited, and waited and now he finally gets a chance to manage a major league squad. Hey, I hear you back there wisecracking about how the Rangers aren’t a major league team. Well, they definitely have some major league bats in their lineup with guys like SS Michael Young and 1B Mark Texeira. If 3B Hank Blalock can bounce back from a dismal 2006 and if Sammy Sosa’s spring training wasn’t a fluke, Texas’ bat will sizzle even more. But hitting has never been the problem in Arlington. The Rangers will go as far as their pitching will take them. They do have three decent starters in Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, and the newly acquired Brandon McCarthy. Even with free agent reliever Eric Gagne starting the year on the DL, the bullpen is decent with Akinori Otsuka (32 saves in ’06) and Kameron Loe.
Outlook: Something to ponder about Mr. Washington’s karma. When Buck Showalter left the Yankees in 1995, New York won the World Series the next season. When Buck left Arizona left in 2000, the D-Backs won the World Series a year later. Now should you go bet the mortgage on the Rangers. That may be pushing it just a bit. Washington will have them playing a bit better, but the postseason is still probably a few quality starters away.
Seattle Mariners4. SEATTLE MARINERS
Like many teams in both leagues, the Mariners are somewhat loaded in one area and lacking in the other. The hitting with guys like OF’s Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez, C Kenji Johjima, and 3B Adrian Beltre will have them scoring a lot of runs. But like many of the previous teams that we’ve mentioned, the pitching is either inexperienced or just godawful. Unfortunately, the M’s staff can be a deadly mix of both at times. Felix Hernandez is the young workhorse of the staff in front of ex-Angel Jarrod Washburn. After that, it’s veterans Jeff Weaver and Miguel Batista. J.J. Putz mans the bullpen with Arthur Rhodes back for a second turn of duty in Seattle.
Outlook: Not signing Ichiro to a long term deal could come back and haunt the M’s at the end of the year. While his numbers have dwindled, he still can be a potent bat. Unless they make a deal with him, they may lose the face of their franchise for nothing. For team whose fan base has dropped steadily over the years, that can’t be a healthy sign heading into 2007.
Tommorrow: The NL West.