Beyond Golf — 29 March 2014 by Bob Sherwin
AL West preview: Losing the arms race

The best rotation in the American League West this season won’t even suit up when the season opens this week.

They’re all in the trainer’s room.

How’s this for a starting five: Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Jerrod Parker, Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker?

Those guys are dealing with various degrees of injuries. Darvish, the Texas Rangers’ ace, is the least affected, as he has a stiff neck and likely will miss his Opening Day start. He should be back for his second turn.

His Ranger rotation mate, Harrison, could be out until mid-May with back issues.

Parker, who would have been the Oakland A’s opening day starter, will have to wait a year for that. He will have Tommy John tendon transplant surgery and is lost for the season.

Seattle has the other two key disabled pitchers in the group. Iwakuma, third in the Cy Young voting a year ago, has a sore ligament in his pitching hand. He was brought along slowly in training camp and won’t likely be ready until the end of April.

Walker, the Mariners’ system brightest prospect, has had shoulder issues and also was brought along slowly. He’s on about the same timetable as Iwakuma.

How that all affects the balance of power in the AL West could be revealed in the first month. A team that starts fast could be the one that ends first.

Here’s a look at the American League West:

OAKLAND A’S

2013 Record/Finish: (96-66, first place, lost in division championship)

Rotation: RHP Sonny Gray; LHP Scott Kazmir; RHP Jesse Chavez; RHP Dan Straily; LHP Tom Milone

Acquisitions: RHP Luke Gregerson, RHP Jim Johnson, LHP Scott Kazmir, LHP Eric O’Flaherty, RHP Josh Lindblom, INF Jake Elmore, INF Nick Punto, OF Craig Gentry.

Departures: RHP Grant Balfour; SS Jed Lowrie; SS Hiyoyuki Nakajima. RHP Bartolo Colon, LHP Brett Anderson, RHP Jerry Blevins, INF Jemile Weeks, OF Michael Choice, RHP Chris Young

Comment: Despite the loss of RHP Jerrod Parker (elbow surgery), the A’s just seem to churn out the hurlers. Also without A.J. Griffith for perhaps a month with elbow issues, the club expects much from youngsters Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez and Dan Straily. The A’s offense is a collection from everywhere and, when together, are irrepressible.

Prediction: First place

TEXAS RANGERS

2013 Record/Finish: (91-72, second place, missed playoffs)

Rotation: RHP Tanner Scheppers; LHP Martin Perez; LHP Robbie Ross; LHP Joe Saunders; RHP Nick Martinez.

Acquisitions: C J.P. Arencibia, 1B Prince Fielder, RHP Tommy Hanson, OF Michael Choice, OF Shin-Soo Choo

Departures: C A.J. Pierzynski; 2B Ian Kinsler; RHP Joe Nathan; OF Nelson Cruz.

Comment: After a couple World Series appearances, the Rangers have won 93 and 91 games the past two years with one playoff game (a loss) to their credit. Is this a team built for the season and not the post-season? Darvish will not miss more than one, maybe two, starts but RHP Matt Harrison (back) won’t be around till mid-May, RHP Colby Lewis is coming off hip and flexor muscle issues, 2B Jurickson Profar (shoulder) will miss the first two months, C Geovany Soto (knee), SS Elvis Andrus and closer Joakim Soria both have fragile elbows. This team may not have enough talent to pick up for those who don’t show up.

Prediction: Second place (wild card)

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

2013 Record/Finish: (78-84, third place)

Rotation: RHP Jered Weaver; LHP C.J. Wilson; LHP Hector Santiago; RHP Garrett Richards; LHP Tyler Skaggs.

Acquisitions: 3B David Freese; RHP Joe Smith; RHP Fernando Salas; LHP Hector Santiago; RHP Tyler Skaggs; DH/OF Raul Ibanez.

Departures: LHP Jason Vargas; RHP Tommy Hanson. OF Peter Bourjos; RHP Ryan Madson.

Comment: The Angels keep picking up bigger and bigger names and getting worse. The club went from 94 wins to just 78 last season, despite the addition of Josh Hamilton. And they already had Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. They’ve added World Series hero David Freese. But one of the biggest problems for the Angels last season was inconsistent pitching. Weaver and Wilson need to lead the way but all the youngsters behind then have to step up as well or this could be another perplexing non-playoff season.

Prediction: Third place

SEATTLE MARINERS

2013 Record/Finish: (71-91, fourth place)

Rotation: RHP Felix Hernandez; RHP Erasmo Ramirez; LHP James Paxton; LHP Roenis Elias; RHP Chris Young.

Acquisitions: Manager Lloyd McClendon (and staff); 2B Robinson Cano; OF/1B Logan Morrison; RHP Fernando Rodney; OF/1B Cory Hart; Inf/OF Willie Bloomquist; C John Buck.

Departures: RHP Carter Capps; 2B Robert Andino; DH/1B Kendrys Morales; OF Mike Morse; DH Raul Ibanez; OF Jason Bay; LHP Joe Saunders; LHP Oliver Perez.

Comment: The best player on the market signed with Seattle over the winter, 2B Robinson Cano, for too much and too long. However, the club failed to really add much to protect him. A dollar long and a pound foolish. Once again, the Mariners need to hope that someday-stars such as Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders and Mike Zunino collectively show something. The club also will be scrambling with starting pitchers in the first month with RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (finger) and RHP  Taijuan Walker (shoulder) out. This is a team that can’t afford to be left behind because it hasn’t shown it can come from behind. New manager Lloyd McClendon needs a pocket full of miracles.

Prediction: Fourth Place

HOUSTON ASTROS

2013 Record/Finish: (51-111 55-107, fifth place)

Rotation: RHP Scott Feldman; RHP Jared Cosart; LHP Brent Oberholtzer; RHP Lucas Harrell; LHP Dallas Keuchel.

Acquisitions: RHP Scott Feldman; RHP Anthony Bass; OF Dexter Fowler; RHP Jerome Williams; RHP Matt Alberts; RHP Chad Qualls; 1B/OF Jesus Guzman; RHP Jesse Crain; LHP Darrin Downs

Departures: LHP Erik Bedard; RHP Jordan Lyles; RHP Bud Norris; OF Brandon Barnes; 1B Brett Wallace; Utl. Jimmy Paredes.

Comment: This rebuilding thing the Astros have been going through the past couple years, is not working. The foundation still has yet to be laid. When your staff ace, RHP Scott Feldman, is acquired during the off-season without much competition for his services, you have to understand it’s going to be another long season. A long decade. 55 wins two years ago. 51 last year. 50-something seems the number in 2014.

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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