MLB: AL West Preview capsules
Capsules of American League West teams, listed in order of finish last year:
Los Angeles Angels
2009: 97-65, first place.
Manager: Mike Scioscia (11th season).
He's Here: DH Hideki Matsui, RH Joel Pineiro, RH Fernando Rodney.
He's Outta Here: RH John Lackey, INF Chone Figgins, OF Vladimir Guerrero, OF Gary Matthews Jr.
Projected Lineup: SS Erick Aybar (.312, 5 HRs, 58 RBIs, 14 SB), RF Bobby Abreu (.293, 15, 103, 30), 1B Kendry Morales (.306, 34, 108), CF Torii Hunter (.299, 22, 90), DH Hideki Matsui (.274, 28, 90 with New York Yankees), LF Juan Rivera (.287, 25, 88), 2B Howie Kendrick (.291, 10, 61), 3B Brandon Wood (.195, 1, 3), C Mike Napoli (.272, 20, 56).
Rotation: RH Jered Weaver (16-8, 3.75 ERA, 174 Ks, 211 IP), LH Joe Saunders (16-7, 4.60), RH Joel Pineiro (15-12, 3.49 with St. Louis), LH Scott Kazmir (8-7, 5.92 with Tampa Bay, 2-2, 1.73 with Angels), RH Ervin Santana (8-8, 5.03).
Key Relievers: LH Brian Fuentes (1-5, 3.93, majors-leading 48 saves), RH Scot Shields (1-3, 6.62, 20 games before left knee surgery), RH Fernando Rodney (2-5, 4.40, 37/38 saves with Detroit), RH Jason Bulger (6-1, 3.56), RH Kevin Jepsen (6-4, 4.94).
Hot Spots: Third base and bullpen. The Angels are hoping Wood reaches his considerable potential and fills the vacancy left by Chone Figgins, who went to Seattle for a lucrative free-agent contract. Wood's minor league prowess hasn't translated to the majors, but he's never had a consistent chance to get in the rhythm that's produced 160 homers in six minor league seasons. He managed just one homer in his first 40 spring training at-bats, but he's still Scioscia's top choice for the job. Maicer Izturis could take over if Wood or Kendrick struggles early. Los Angeles' rotation is largely set, and the bullpen should get a boost from Rodney, the former Detroit closer. He should push Fuentes, the prolific closer who occasionally struggled down the stretch.
Stat Sheet: The Angels lost ace John Lackey to a big-money deal in Boston, but he made just 51 starts over the past two seasons due to injuries. Los Angeles did mostly minor tinkering to the offense that led the majors with a .285 batting average and set franchise records for runs (883), RBIs (841) and hits (1,604).
Bottom Line: After a handful of major changes, the Angels will pursue their sixth AL West title in seven seasons with a nucleus that's mostly the same as last season's steady, offensively spectacular club. World Series MVP Matsui appears to be an excellent replacement for former AL MVP Guerrero, while Weaver has the mentality and talent to become the Angels' ace after Lackey's departure. Although the rest of the division has improved, Scioscia rarely fielded an unimpressive team during his first decade on the Angels' bench, and this collection should be in the hunt again.
2009: 87-75, second place.
Manager: Ron Washington (fourth season).
He's Here: OF-DH Vladimir Guerrero, RH Rich Harden, RH Colby Lewis, LH Darren Oliver, RH Chris Ray, 1B Ryan Garko, INF Andres Blanco.
He's Outta Here: OF Marlon Byrd, RH Kevin Millwood, C Ivan Rodriguez, INF Hank Blalock, DH Andruw Jones, INF Omar Vizquel, LH Eddie Guardado, LH Jason Grilli.
Projected Lineup: CF Julio Borbon (.312, 4 HRs, 20 RBIs, 30 runs, 19 SB in 46 games), 3B Michael Young (.322, 22, 68), LF Josh Hamilton (.268, 10, 54), DH Vladimir Guerrero (.295, 15, 50 in 100 games with Angels), 2B Ian Kinsler (.253, 31, 86, 101 runs, 31 SB), RF Nelson Cruz (.260, 33, 76, 20 SB), 1B Chris Davis, (.238, 21, 59), C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.233, 9, 34), SS Elvis Andrus (.267, 6, 40, 72 runs, 33 SB).
Rotation: RH Scott Feldman (17-8, 4.08), RH Rich Harden (9-9, 4.09 ERA, 171 Ks in 141 IP in 26 starts with Chicago Cubs), LH C.J. Wilson (5-6, 2.81 in team-high 74 relief appearances), RH Colby Lewis (11-9, 2.96 ERA in 29 games in Japan), LH Matt Harrison (4-5, 6.11).
Key Relievers: RH Frank Francisco (2-3, 3.83 ERA, 25 saves), RH Darren O'Day (2-1, 1.94, 64 games), LH Darren Oliver (5-1, 2.71 in 63 games with Los Angeles Angels), RH Chris Ray (0-4, 7.27 in 46 games with Baltimore), RH Dustin Nippert (5-3, 3.99, 20 games, 10 starts), RH Neftali Feliz (1-0, 1.74, 2 saves, 39 Ks, 8 walks in 31 IP).
Hot Spots: Back end of the starting rotation and catcher. Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland, who were mainstays in the rotation last season as rookies, were sidetracked this spring by nagging injuries. That opened spots for Wilson, a former closer who has long wanted to be a starter, and Harrison, who missed the second half of last season after left shoulder surgery. Plus, the hard-throwing Feliz failed to convince the Rangers he was ready for a rotation spot. What will be interesting is what happens when Hunter and Holland are healthy, and if Feliz shows he's ready to be a consistent starter. Saltalamacchia, who had the same kind of surgery as Harrison, started 82 games at catcher before being sidelined. Saltalamacchia has had a couple of minor setbacks in his comeback, creating more opportunities for also-young Taylor Teagarden.
Stat Sheet: The Rangers scored fewer than 800 runs for the first time since 1995 and their .260 batting average was their lowest since 1992. But Texas' 4.38 ERA was its best since 1993, and down from 5.37 in 2008.
Bottom Line: With the Rangers coming off only their second winning record in 10 seasons, good for second place in the division, team president and pending part-owner Nolan Ryan has set the bar for this year at 92 victories. Some reasons for Ryan's optimism: Young and Hamilton are healthy after both missed most of the final month last season; Guerrero has something to prove after not being re-signed by the Angels; and Harden now heads up the rotation. But the Rangers are depending on several youngsters, including Borbon leading off and playing center field, and the back end of the rotation is unsettled. It also appears that every team in the division has improved. Washington is going into the final year of his contract and has survived some slow starts in the past. The manager likely won't have as much leeway this time because of the expectations for the team. There was also the revelation this spring that Washington last summer used cocaine — he says only one time. The Rangers knew about his indiscretion, sticking with him then and again when it became public. Kinsler likely will miss the start of the season because of an ankle injury sustained in spring training. Andres Blanco, acquired last week from the Chicago Cubs, will fill in for Kinsler.
2009: 85-77, third place.
Manager: Don Wakamatsu (second season).
He's Here: LH Cliff Lee, 2B Chone Figgins, OF Milton Bradley, 1B Casey Kotchman, RH Brandon League, OF Eric Byrnes, 1B-DH Ryan Garko.
He's Outta Here: 3B Adrian Beltre, 1B Russell Branyan, C Kenji Johjima, OF Bill Hall, INF Jack Hannahan, RH Brandon Morrow, RH Chris Jakubauskas, RH Miguel Batista, RH Carlos Silva, RH Randy Messenger.
Projected Lineup: RF Ichiro Suzuki (.352, majors-best 225 hits, 26 SB), 2B Chone Figgins (.298, 114 runs, 42 SB with Los Angeles Angels), 3B Jose Lopez (.272, 25 HRs, team-leading 96 RBIs), LF Milton Bradley (.257, 12, 40 with Chicago Cubs), CF Franklin Gutierrez (.283, 18, 70), DH Ken Griffey Jr. (.214, 19, 57), 1B Casey Kotchman (.268, 7, 48 in 126 games with Atlanta, Boston), C Rob Johnson (.213, 2, 27), SS Jack Wilson (.224, 1, 8 in 31 games with Seattle).
Rotation: RH Felix Hernandez (19-5, 2.49 ERA, 217 Ks in 238 2-3 IP), LH Cliff Lee (14-13, 3.22 in 34 starts with Cleveland and Philadelphia), LH Ryan Rowland-Smith (5-4, 3.74), RH Ian Snell (5-2, 4.20 in 12 starts with Seattle), LH Justin Vargas (3-6, 4.91).
Key Relievers: RH David Aardsma (3-6, 2.52, 38/42 saves), RH Brandon League (3-6, 4.58, 76 Ks in 74 2-3 IP with Toronto), RH Mark Lowe (2-7, 3.26, 75 games), RH Sean White (3-2, 2.80, 52 games).
Hot Spots: Milton Bradley's temper. Third, fourth and fifth starters — not to mention Lee's strained abdominal that came after left foot surgery. Lack of power hitting and overall run production, after Suzuki and Figgins get on base. Inexperience and lack of offense at catcher. Oft-injured LH Erik Bedard is slowly working his way back from shoulder surgery and could land in the middle of the rotation by summer. Snell's contract gets him a spot. Rowland-Smith remains unproved — he spent 10 starts at Triple-A Tacoma last year trying to find himself. The Mariners are so devoid of power that Kotchman could become the No. 3 hitter despite never having hit more than 12 homers in a season. Pitchers love how he calls games, but Johnson has just over a season of major league experience — and is coming off three winter surgeries that limited him deep into spring training. But that's the path Seattle chose when it parted with hitting-first catcher Kenji Johjima.
Stat Sheet: The Mariners drove sabermetric fans batty by overcoming an anemic offense to finish with a winning record. The numbers (according to the oft-recited Pythagorean Wins-Losses calculation) say they should have been 75-87. The reason was pitching and defense. Seattle led the AL in ERA last season (3.87), then added Lee, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2008 with Cleveland, and traded away struggling Carlos Silva in the deal for Bradley. The defense includes perennial Gold Glover winner Suzuki in right, highly regarded Gutierrez in center and stellar glove men in the infield with Figgins, Wilson and Kotchman. Those stats aficionados may get even more agitated this season. The offense is still weak, but the pitching and defense may be better.
Bottom Line: After adding Lee, Figgins and Kotchman, locking up Hernandez for $78 million and bringing back Griffey to keep the clubhouse rollicking, anything less than a first playoff appearance since 2001 would be a huge disappointment. The Mariners have enough pitching and defense to beat anyone — but will they get enough offense to win the division? Bradley already is proving to be a huge risk, getting ejected from two recent spring games for run-ins with umpires. Second-year general manager Jack Zduriencik's rebuilding plan is moving along quite nicely. It may just be enough for October baseball in Seattle.
2009: 75-87, fourth place.
Manager: Bob Geren (fourth season).
He's Here: RH Ben Sheets, OF Coco Crisp, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, INF Jake Fox, OF Gabe Gross, RH Edwar Ramirez, RH Chad Gaudin.
He's Outta Here: INF Bobby Crosby, INF Nomar Garciaparra, INF Adam Kennedy, RH Santiago Casilla, OF Aaron Cunningham, OF Scott Hairston.
Projected Lineup: CF Coco Crisp (.228, 3 HRs, 14 RBIs in 49 games with Kansas City), LF Rajai Davis (.305, 3, 48, 41 SB), RF Ryan Sweeney (.293, 6, 53), DH Jack Cust (.240, 25, 70, 93 BBs, 185 Ks), C Kurt Suzuki (.274, 15, 88), 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff (.255, 18, 88 with San Diego), 1B Daric Barton (.269, 3, 24) or Eric Chavez (.100, 0, 1 in 30 ABs because of back, forearm injuries), 2B Mark Ellis (.263, 10, 61), SS Cliff Pennington (.279, 4, 21, 60 games).
Rotation: RH Ben Sheets (missed last season with elbow injury), RH Justin Duchscherer (spent last season on disabled list), LH Brett Anderson (11-11, 4.06 ERA), LH Dallas Braden (8-9, 3.89), RH Trevor Cahill (10-13, 4.63), LH Gio Gonzalez (6-7, 5.75) if Duchscherer is hurt.
Key Relievers: RH Andrew Bailey (6-3, 2.60 ERA, 26 saves, AL Rookie of the Year), RH Brad Ziegler (2-4, 3.07, 7 saves), RH Michael Wuertz (6-1, 2.63, 102 Ks in 78 2-3 IP), LH Craig Breslow (8-7, 3.36).
ot Spots: Health. Sheets and Duchscherer missed all of last season with injuries. If they return to their All-Star form, the A's will have one of the league's stronger rotations. But Sheets has struggled mightily in the spring and Duchscherer is likely to open the season on the DL. Crisp and Chavez also are coming off injury-plagued years and are being counted on to help an offense that was ninth in the league in runs scored.
Stat Sheet: Davis' 41 steals were the most for an A's player since Rickey Henderson swiped 66 in 1998 and marked a departure in philosophy for a franchise that stole only 31 bases as recently as the 2005 season. Henderson says Davis could reach 75 or 80 stolen bases this year.
Bottom Line: After making the playoffs four straight years from 2000-03, the A's have been back to the postseason just once in the last six campaigns. They hope they hit rock bottom last year, when they had their most losses since losing 88 games in 1998. While the health questions surrounding the veteran pitchers are important, the key to the rebuilding process will be if the young pitchers like Anderson and Cahill can be as good as the vaunted Big Three of Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito were a decade ago.