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The Mariners knocked off the Athletics, 3-1 in 11 innings in Tokyo this morning; the win was engineerd in part behind the four-hit performance of -- who else? -- Seattle's new #3 hitter, Ichiro Suzuki.

Brandon league is leading the Majors in saves and is on "pace" to nail down 162 this season, while the inimitable Ichiro's pace will shatter all records as he knocks out a remarkable 648 base hits.

Proving that great minds think alike, Niall and I both chose similar formats, as I’ll also be asking discrete questions about each of the AL West teams. Given that the AL West has four teams to the NL Central’s six, I'll ask and answer three for each team.
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There's a young pitcher in North Texas who is starting to cement front-rumner status for 2011 AL Rookie of the Year -- except I'm not sure if Alexi Ogando is eligible, after pitching 41.2 innings out of the bullpen last year.

When Neftali Feliz was temporarily moved to the Ranger starting rotation during Spring Training, the club felt they could make the move in part because Ogando was around as a dominant setup man who could close for a pennant-defending squad in Arlington.

Then, the Rangers re-thought that move, left the '10-dominant Feliz in the closer's role, and moved Ogando to the rotation instead. Monday night in Arlington, Ogando tossed a five-hit shutout against the White Sox to move to 5-0 with a 1.81 ERA and a 43/14 K/BB ratio over 59.2 innings in eight starts.

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The defending American League champions hail from the smallest division in the majors.  The Texas Rangers won the West  in 2010 with 90 victories to finish nine games ahead of Oakland and ten games clear of the Los Angeles Angels.  Texas was led by American League MVP Josh Hamilton and Rookie of the Year, closer Neftali Feliz.  Seattle, despite the acquisition of Cliff Lee, clinched the basement with just 61 wins and was bad enough to convince Ken Griffey Junior to hang  up the cleats for good.  However, Felix Hernandez managed to win the AL Cy Young Award in spite of a 13-12 record and Ichiro Suzuki managed to reach the 200-hit plateau for a tenth straight season, which he did at the Dome in late September.   Let's see what these four teams have got to offer in 2011.

Neftali Feliz is hugged by catcher Bengie Molina after winning the ALCS.

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The Angels have won the division the last two years, by six games in 2007 and a whopping 21 games in 2008. Well, case closed, right? There's no way the rest of the division can make up more than 20 games on the Angels, even with their loss of Teixeira. Well, it's not likely, but among the additions by the other teams in the division are the NL West's best hitter and a new general manager who was one of the best scouting directors in the game. Here are the answers to ten questions about the 2009 AL West, presented by Matthew and Thomas.

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Do we really need a preview? They're better than the Athletics, Mariners and Rangers. Again. They're worse than the Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, and Cleveland. Again. They will make the playoffs. Again. They will be a fashionable sleeper pick on account of their good starting pitching and general fundamental soundness. Again. But although anything can happen in the playoffs, no amount of fashionableness can overcome the fact that Anaheim's OBP skills are usually a teensy bit subpar by AL playoff standards. Chances are they'll just get rolled by the dreaded Red Sox in the first round. Again.

Fortunately, the AL West is a foregone conclusion. Unless the Angels' top pitchers all get hurt or something.
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"In my 21 years in the Major Leagues, I never saw so many teams go through so many streaks, good and bad, and we were the streakiest team of all" - Mariners manager John McLaren.

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TEXAS RANGERS '08: FIGURING OUT WHO FITS IN 2009
One year ago yesterday, in the 2007 Texas Rangers preview (entitled Anything Can Happen), we presented an interview with "the Rangers fan," Jamey Newberg, who we called (and rightfully so) "the man who has probably written and published more words about that team than anyone else in the Internet age."

Okay, enough of the pleasant reminiscing. In that preview, Newberg laid out a prediction of 86 wins for those 2007 Rangers; they actually won just 75. (But don't worry, Jamey -- in the very next paragraph, I projected 92 wins and a Wild Card playoff berth.) When Newberg projected an "impact trade in July" last season, he probably wasn't anticipating Kenny Lofton to the Indians and Eric Gagne to the Red Sox, much less Mark Teixeira, the most productive hitter in the Ranger lineup, to Atlanta. (The Projected Ranger Win Total numbers from both of us are likely to be, erm, lower this year.)

But as Blue Jays fans Of a Certain Age can assure you, hope springs eternal every -- um, well, every spring for baseball fans of all teams, so let's check back in with our old pal Jamey (yes, he does have a member's account here at Batter's Box). So once again, this'll be like the Internet equivalent of talking baseball with a buddy over a beer or two – a Molson in the one hand and a Dos Equis in the other. Let's get to it ...
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I'm totally late with this Oakland preview. I was originally going to write it up like... it's hard to explain. But it would have been funny if I could have made it work. Now, though, I'll just be happy if I can put the analysis together in some kind of coherent way.

I think Head said it best when he said, "QQQQQQQQ! Is having Billy Beane! Oakland Athletics or death!"


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Wait 'til next year.
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I should make one thing very clear as we begin this preview for the 2007 Texas Rangers … I live in North Texas, work in Arlington about three or four miles from Ameriquest Field, and soak up all the media – radio, TV, newspaper – associated with living in a "major league city."

For all that, I must admit, I am not a Rangers "fan," per se, though I do root for the hometown nine (wait, this is the A.L. -- make that the hometown ten) in most cases. Having a World Series here in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex would be something I'd really enjoy, but for the most part, though the Rangers are live, local and available – they are not "my" team of choice.

Now, you want to meet a Rangers fan? Check that – want to meet the Rangers fan? Then sit back and enjoy this '07 sneak peek as we discuss all things Ranger with the man who has probably written and published more words about that team than anyone else in the Internet age …

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Are they the Mariners or the Mediocres?  Mediocre is the word that came to the top of my mind as I wrote this preview, from top to bottom the Mariners are "decent, fair, indifferent, middling, passable, tolerable, unexceptional and vanilla".  There are few major problems but there are few above average players, or front office people, to take Seattle to the playoffs.  The Mariners lost 84 games in 2006, their third losing season in a row. However, on the bright side, their 78 wins were the most for the Mariners since 2003.  The bright spots are few in this preview, and with an aging roster and lowly ranked farm system the future does not look any better.

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Basically unchanged
But will that suffice in this
Improved division?

Ah, why not have one more preview saturated with senryus, those wacky haiku-style reflections that avoid the "haiku" label when they do not specifically pay homage to nature. Reader submissions, as always, are encouraged.

The Angels, in one sense, are an organization firing on all cylinders. They play winning baseball in a fan-friendly park for a supportive owner in front of teeming crowds, and their stellar minor league system keeps cranking out power arms and promising bats alike. That said, the nature of season previews is such that "big picture" hopes and fears are cast aside momentarily in order to tightly focus on the task at hand, which is to win the 2006 World Series. Do the LAA o'A have the chops to get it done?

On to the preview!

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Compared to recent off-seasons, the 2005-2006 winter was a quiet one for the Athletics. They added a mid-range free agent, Esteban Loaiza; they acquired Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez from the Dodgers; they signed Frank Thomas to an incentive-laden deal. Will the new acquisitions help the A's return to the playoffs?

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Like Toronto, Texas had an eventful offseason that renewed the hope of its fans. New GM Jon Daniels made two bold trades and spent a healthy portion of his boss’s treasure to upgrade the team. Did Texas improve enough to overtake both Los Angeles and Oakland and reach the postseason for the first time since 1999?
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