Beyond Golf — 31 March 2013 by Bob Sherwin
AL West Preview: Angels gathering strength

Remember last year when the Los Angeles Angels acquired perhaps the two best free agents on the market, slugger Albert Pujols and crafty lefty C. J. Wilson?

They went on to ride those guys to the World Series Championship? Wait, no they didn’t. In the four-team American League West, they would finish third. No trophy. No rings. No nothing, but a huge player payroll.

What did they do this year? They signed the best free agent on the market, OF Josh Hamilton, and traded from yet another crafty lefty in Jason Vargas.

So now the lineup is filled with the oozing talent of Pujols, Hamilton, last season’s rookie sensation Mike Trout, and Mark Trumbo. Can they get any worse? It’s hard to imagine. If this team can’t win, who would beat them?

Pujols, Hamilton and Trout, back-to-back-to-back. A pitcher’s nightmare. There’s no pitching around those guys. They are going to do six months of damage.

The question is how well the pitching staff holds up. The Angels will score. They also could be scored on. Success will not be won on at plate as much as on the mound. It’s a veteran staff seeking chemistry and consistency.

Texas, without Hamilton and clubhouse stabilizer Michael Young, could drop a notch. Oakland, the defending West champion, will try to moneyball the division while Seattle should have power to reach to seats more often, especially with the fences moved in. Newcomer Houston will be trampled like a doormat.

Here’s a look at the American League West:

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

2012 Record/Finish: (94-68, third place)

Rotation: RHP Jered Weaver; LHP C.J. Wilson; RHP Joe Blanton; LHP Jason Vargas; RHP Tommy Hanson.

Acquisitions: LHP Jason Vargas; OF Josh Hamilton; RHP Joe Blanton; RHP Ryan Madson; LHP Sean Burnett; RHP Tommy Hanson

Departures: DH/1B Kendrys Morales; OF Vernon Wells; RHP Ervin Santana; RHP Dan Haren; OF Torii Hunter, 3B Maicer Izturis; RHP LaTroy Hawkins; RHP Zack Greinke; RHP Jordan Walden; RHP Jason Isringhausen; C Bobby Wilson

Comment: It defies logic to expect the Angels to finish third again – and miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season. What’s the point of a series of $100 million contract with nothing to show for them? It will make all the small-market teams giggle but you hold back the tide. This is a ridiculously powerful lineup with Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. Try pitching to those three. The rotation is good to very good, anchored by Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. The bullpen has some experience, although projected closer Ernesto Frieri needs to establish himself. This is a team built for a championship. But we also said that last season.

Prediction: First place

OAKLAND A’S

2012 Record/Finish: (94-68, first place, lost in division championship)

Rotation: LHP Brett Anderson; RHP Jarrod Parker; LHP Tom Milone; RHP A.J. Griffin; RHP Bartolo Colon

Acquisitions: C John Jaso; OF Chris Young; SS Jed Lowrie; SS Hiyoyuki Nakajima

Departures: 3B Brandon Inge, SS Stephen Drew, RHP Brandon McCarthy, OF Jonny Gomes; RHP Tyler Ross.

Comment: Players come through Oakland with a dream a bus ticket. Somehow, some way, this team just keeps churning out young talent, then they are gone – traded for more young talent. They’ve nurtured or acquired such fine young pitchers as Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone and A.J. Griffin. They have a lineup of no-namers who helped the team climb up through the AL West all season until winning the division title on the final weekend. Can’t explain how, they just do.

Prediction: Second place (wild card)

SEATTLE MARINERS

2012 Record/Finish: (75-87, fourth place)

Rotation: RHP Felix Hernandez; RHP Hisashi Iwakuma; LHP Joe Saunders; RHP Blake Beavan; RHP Brandon Maurer

Acquisitions: 2B Robert Andino; DH/1B Kendrys Morales; OF Mike Morse; DH Raul Ibanez; OF Jason Bay

Departures: LHP Jason Vargas; RHP Kevin Millwood; SS Munenori Kawasaki; LHP George Sherrill; C John Jaso; 2B Chone Figgins

Comment: So much is riding on this one season. Besides a whole bunch of now-or-never players, such as Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero, under pressure to finally perform like legitimate big-league contributors, this team also brought it some quality bats generally on one-year contracts, Kendrys Morales, Mike Morse, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay. Those newcomers are expected to be the core of the offense but for how long? If they don’t produce, watch the July 31 trading deadline. If they can turn the heretofore moribund offense around, Seattle may have something special this year. They already are have someone special in ace Felix Hernandez but the rest of the starters are average at best. A quality bullpen may be able to save them.

Prediction: Third Place

TEXAS RANGERS

2012 Record/Finish: (93-69, second place – lost in Wild Card game to Baltimore)

Rotation: RHP Yu Darvish; LHP Derek Holland; LHP Matt Harrison; RHP Alexi Ogando; RHP Nick Tepesch

Acquisitions: C A.J. Pierzynski; RHP Joakim Soria; OF Lance Berkman

Departures: OF Josh Hamilton; 3B Michael Young; C Mike Napoli, RHP Koji Uehara; RHP Roy Oswalt; RHP Ryan Dempster

Comment: Have the Rangers peaked with these corps of players? Two years ago, they came within a strike, or two, of the World Series title. Last year they lost in the one-game Wild Card playoff then they lost power man Josh Hamilton to free agency. This is not the power-laden lineup it once was. The team also lost it glue when popular infielder Michael Young left for free agency. It’s still a formidable lineup with Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre. They will continue to drive the ball out of ballparks. It’s a decent staff behind Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. But critical pieces have been taken away the past couple years and this group may not have enough talent to bully its way to the post-season once again.

Prediction: Fourth place

HOUSTON ASTROS

2012 Record/Finish: (55-107, sixth place)

Rotation: RHP Bud Norris; RHP Phillip Humber; RHP Lucas Harrell; RHP Jordan Lyles; LHP Erik Bedard;

Acquisitions: SS Ronny Cedeno; RHP Phillip Humber; 1B Carlos Pena; RHP Alex White; RHP Rick Ankiel.

Departures: RHP Wilton Lopez; 1B Carlos Lee

Comment: After finishing the 2011 season with just 56 wins, last season the Astros actually declined, if that’s possible. Apparently it is as they won just 55 games. There was even talk that the club was so bad it was tanking for a better draft position (they have the No. 1 pick). They dumped veterans, brought up unproven (still) prospects and have little hope for anything to change. It’s the definition of insanity. Now they move into the American League West this season, a division that produced three teams (of four) teams with winning records and two that went to the playoffs. This is a terrible team and won’t even be fun to watch they players grow because they probably won’t. One exception might be 2B Jose Altuve, a developing star. They just need 24 more but they should start with two.

Prediction: Fifth place

 

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 44th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. He won't win the club championship any time soon with his 14 handicap and default-swing slice but he does have a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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