A Quick Look At The American League West
Tuesday, March 30 2021 @ 06:36 AM EDT
Contributed by: Eephus
It's Shohei Ohtani's world and we are just living in it.
Into the American League! As an honest aside, I'm surprised I've gotten this far. Usually the NL Central and my Reds optimism slows me down so much that by the time I get here, opening day is in less than 72 hours and I have no chance of finishing this. It's kind of like playing the original Castlevania on NES and getting stuck on that hallway level with all the knights and flying medusa heads. I hope at least one person reading this can relate.
Anyway to baseball! The AL West has usually been, sorry if I offend, semi-interesting in its unremarkableness. Only two World Series champions have come out of the AL West in the Wild Card era (the 2002 Angels and the 2017 Astros*), which ties the AL Central for the fewest. Geez, no wonder I always lost steam around here. Nevertheless! Lets peek under these rocks and see what treasures lay beneath.
Oakland Athletics (2020: 36-24, 1st, lost ALDS)
Q: Will this be the time losing a bunch of crucial players actually hurts them?
Answer: You'd think so, but I wouldn't be quick to put money on it. They've lost closer Liam Hendriks, shortstop Marcus Semien, Robbie Grossman, Tommy La Stella and Joakim Soria. Maybe I missed somebody. Those were all very useful players for the 2020 team. Their big addition? Shortstop Elvis Andrus... who's been a pretty bad hitter for a few years now. In fairness, it was a way to ditch slumping slugger Khris Davis' contract (the Rangers are throwing 13 million to the A's since Andrus has an extra year on his deal) so... that's exciting I guess.
Hey you know what though, the A's will still be good. Their knack of building a dominant bullpen out of spare parts is second to none, while Swiss Army Knife Mark Canha, super 3B glove Matt Chapman, stud young catcher Sean Murphy and scooper specialist 1B Matt Olson are still around (for now) to pace the offense. Andrus could potentially be a change of scenery guy (getting away from the Texas Rangers has to be good for ya) and there's still time since he's probably younger than you think. He's been around so long it's crazy he's only 32... he was the shortstop on those pennant winning Texas teams in 2010 and 2011! He was traded for Mark Teixiera! Oh and he made a couple of bad plays in the 7th inning of some ALDS game, but ah nobody remembers that part.
Their other additions are the types of under the radar moves you'd expect: Mitch Moreland to DH and hit some homers, Jake Diekman to hustle lefty batters, Mike Fiers to grow a super long beard, and Trevor Rosenthal. Whoa, they gave him 11 million? That's.... unexpected. Even now with Kirby Yates' elbow burnt to a crisp I still wouldn't want the Blue Jays to do that.
Oakland won the division rather comfortably in 2020, by virtue of being the only team with a winning record (blech). Will they win it again so easily though? Perhaps.... perhaps not...
Houston Astros (2020: 29-31, 2nd, lost ALCS)
Q: Will Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa return to an all-star level?
Answer: Dunno, are there any trash cans nearby?
Okay okay okay. To be honest I was rooting against the Astros pretty hard in the playoffs last year (I even wanted the Rays to win. The Rays. 2020 was unspeakably dark in many ways) but not completely because of the cheating scandal. Maybe it's just me, but I hate the idea of a team with a losing record winning the World Series. That's goofy and sorta cool in rec baseball or something... but the World Series? A team that lost more games than it won? It's probably my biggest argument against expanded playoffs in MLB: you risk the possibility of that happening... some crummy team with an ace sneaks in and gets hot for a couple weeks. It leaves a gross taste in my mouth, like it somehow lessens the truly great teams.
Well, back to the 2021 Astros. They're... probably good. Losing centerfelder George Springer is a blow (haw haw!) but if Altuve and Correa can start banging the ball again (*cough*) they'll still be all right. Outfielder Kyle Tucker is a fine looking young player, they've still got Alex Bregman at third (who I actually really liked until, well yeah), and their ability to build a very functional rotation last season after losing Justin Verlander was encouraging. This year Verlander is still on the shelf indefinitely, Framber Valdez (a key part of the 2020 rotation) is out until June, plus prospect Forrest Whitley is out until July of next year. So they signed Jake Odorizzi. Cool. Good for you guys, I guess.
I'm gonna be honest... I don't know about the 2021 Astros. The only reason they were somewhat decent in the regular season was that jury-rigged starting rotation. Correa and Altuve getting off the can (*cough*) and back to their old selves could offset that if those same pitchers aren't up to repeating the task over a longer season, but I wonder about their spare part offensive pieces since... they're on the older side (Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel, who is 37!) and losing Springer cuts into that deep lineup. Still... they have too many quality players to completely collapse... probably a fringe wild card contender at worst unless the pitching goes to shambles.
Seattle Mariners (2020: 27-33, 3rd)
Q: Can our intrepid writer find anything remotely interesting to say about the 2021 Seattle Mariners?
Answer: Thank you for the question, intrepidly handsome reader. In response to your well considered query, my response: geez. I really can't.
This is a franchise that has MLB's longest active playoff drought (2002? *checking*...geez it was 2001) and with the Nationals winning the 2019 NL Pennant, is also the only franchise to never appear in a World Series. Even the Colorado Rockies have! I mean the Rockies didn't win a WS game... but they got there! It's not like the Mariners have been completely dreadful the past two decades either... (*checks again*) okay yeah there are a lot of 90+ loss seasons in there.
I suppose the thing with the Mariners is they rarely seem like a presence. Ever since that insanely great 116 win team when everyone was talking about them, they've just kind of been another team out there on the west coast, especially in the 2010s... just churning through notable names here and there. Robinson Cano signed a huge contract, remember that? Adrian Beltre was there for a while, wild right? Felix Hernandez was an awesome pitcher for a good long time, and the King's Court stuff was really cool. Once his arm problems limited his effectiveness near the end, even that bit of fun was diminished since Hernandez himself wasn't the same dominant guy.
My outlook for the 2021 Mariners is that they'll definitely be an MLB team, playing against other MLB teams. Outfielder Kyle Lewis seems exciting I suppose (and now he's hurt), as does top prospect RF Jerred Kelenic (so exciting that their clown former CEO said the loud part quiet and the quiet part loud... sigh). Kyle Seager! He's still pretty good... I think? SafeCo Field (or whatever it's called now) is a beautiful ballpark I'd love to see one day! Okay that's enough lets get out of here.
Los Angeles Angels (2020: 26-34, 4th)
Q: Is this finally the year Shohei Ohtani is healthy and unleashes his two way brilliance on the unsuspecting universe?
Answer: Boy, MLB baseball would sure be super fun if he is and does. And yes, I am aware that I technically just said "major league baseball baseball".
The Angels are a fascinating team, as you'd hope a team that employs the best position player of the last fifty years would be. The analogy is always made how baseball isn't basketball, so I won't repeat that in detail. Basically: Mike Trout needs other dudes. They've tried Albert Pujols (it's easy to forget now, after the foot injuries and meh seasons, just how damn incredible a hitter Pujols was), they've tried Justin Upton (why have both Upton brothers just fallen off a cliff once hitting 31?) and now recently Anthony Rendon, which worked because thus far Rendon has been awesome as an Angel.
I like Rendon (good defensive third basemen who can hit... what's not to like) but Ohtani can really make this team a League Pass must. Oops, slipped into basketball again. He'd probably be their best pitcher, maybe even their second best hitter (the Angels seem to lean heavily to the right so definitely their best lefty hitter). He hits 440 foot bombs, throws 100 mph on the mound: baseball is just a better place and so much cooler when he's able to do those things.
One of these years the Angels have to figure it out, right? I'm not exactly sure Joe Maddon is that guy (he sure seemed content to let a bunch of guys hitting .160 get lots of at-bats on that 2020 team, or watch the corpse of Julio Teheran give up 35 runs in 31 innings) but good teams tend to overcome the mistakes their managers may or may not make. The pitching staff was a huge problem for the Angels last year, as anybody not named Dylan Bundy, Andrew Heaney or Griffin Canning tended to be... oh what's the word... ah right... Terrible. Recognizing that, they picked up Alex Cobb from the Orioles (Baltimore paying most of that bill) and signed lefty Jose Quintana to a one year deal.
Even at best, that rotation doesn't exactly terrify beyond Bundy and Ohtani (whose innings you have to think will be limited) so the key will be the bullpen (uh oh) and the offense (okay more hope!). Dexter Fowler is another veteran dude they've picked up with the other team paying most of the bill and he... could? help their outfield depth, depending if well-regarded young Jo Adell can find himself. I mean, putting up a .161/.212/.266 line in 132 plate appearances would embarrass a fair number of National League pitchers.
I'm not sure if it will work... there are a lot of notable names here well past their prime, but gosh at least it's an interesting team. As a Reds fan, expecting Raisel Iglesias to be your bullpen answer is not a relaxing proposition, despite his usually reliable numbers. They're one of those teams that look really good at first glance! Then you realize this guy has really struggled for a few years, this other dude can't play the position you'd want him to play anymore, another gets hurt all the time... this is like somebody drafted a fantasy team! Well like any fantasy team, you need a few top tier guys, you gotta stay healthy, gotta be ready to swap out a supporting piece here and there and well... maybe it all clicks.
Texas Rangers (2020: 22-38, 5th)
Q: So... full capacity for opening day, eh?
Answer: Yep. That's their plan. Yep. Yep yep yep. With a highly contagious disease still very much rampant, mutating and transmissible in close quarters... like a full stadium for example? Yep. Ohhhh yep. I'm sure there will be a legion of staff monitoring oh... 40,000 people to ensure they're wearing masks or coverings. Yep? yep???
Forget it. I'm not even gonna bother talking about this team. They don't deserve it and they're gonna be really terrible anyway so who cares about this also-ran organization clowning itself. You just hope somehow(!!!) this doesn't become a superspreader event and that everyone who attends manages to get out healthy and unaffected.
Also, that new ballpark is so damn awful. How do you build a new state of the art stadium in 2019/2020, make it look like a steel barn/airport hangar from the outside and then make the inside blander than Tropicana Field in Tampa? Why are the all seats dark green? Why has whoever designed this never heard of open space? Geez those old cookie cutter stadiums from the 70s were less claustrophobic. It's an outdoor venue, not an arena! Think of all the bad ballparks in MLB: Tampa at least has the weird ground rules and bizarre rattling echo, Oakland the hilarious amount of foul ground, SkyDome its little charms (watching the dome closing, the CN Tower peeking up over, the bright blue seats, the hotel, the setting sun on a nice summer night when the roof is open), Miller Park has the slide and Miami (well used to) fires off the home run sculpture! This place is just so drab, boring, ugly and uninspired... like a Create-A-Ballpark mode in a video game and you just skip past that because you're simming seasons anyway.
All right, enough hating on the Texas Rangers and their idiocy at ballpark design or common sense. Crystal ball time for the AL West, and I will explain afterwards yet again:
This is a total hunch (maybe all those videos of Ohtani hitting missiles have affected me) but I just feel like this is the year the Angels find the right supporting pieces to bring them to the top. The team isn't as good as the names would suggest, but they also don't need all of them to be their former selves. Definitely a few have to be a positive in some way, don't get me wrong, but I don't think Justin Upton batting .203 again sinks this team. Sure, if that happens and Dexter Fowler is completely washed, Jo Adell totally overwhelmed again while Trout misses 50 games... then you've got an serious issue (Trout missing 50 games is a serious issue regardless). It's a shot in the dark, but I've been playing it pretty safe up until now anyway. Oakland is such a much different team, and still good at what they do, that it would be pretty cool if it played out like this down to the wire.
Onto the AL Central! Until next time.