2015 AL West Standings Prediction:
X-Factors: Matt Joyce, Andrew Heaney
I could not find any possible way to keep the Angels from the top of this division. They finished with the best regular season record in baseball last year, only to eventually succumb to a sweeping by the red hot Royals. Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and even the almighty Mike Trout struggled immensely throughout the beatdown. But this year, even with the tragedy surrounding Josh Hamilton (I wish he and his family the best of wishes with a hope for recovery), the Angels are still one of the more intriguing teams in the game. Their pitching staff reemerged last season with the help of future stars Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker, and it can be argued that if Richards didn't hurt his knee last year they may have been able to advance further into the postseason. Even after losing Howie Kendrick at second base in a trade for young left handed pitcher Andrew Heaney, they were able to also make a move to add Josh Rutledge to replace Kendrick. Between Rutledge, Heaney, and new fill in right fielder Matt Joyce, I'm not too worried about the Angels falling from first quite yet.
2 - Seattle Mariners
X-Factors: James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Seth Smith
If the Mariners are going to become the contender many think they can be, this is their year to prove it. Fresh off of issuing a $57 million dollar deal to slugger Nelson Cruz, they now have the right handed power bat to place between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager in the lineup. Although Safeco Field may lower Cruz's chances of hitting 40 home runs again in 2015, his power bat will certainly improve a lineup that needed an extra boom. They shipped out Brandon Maurer for Seth Smith, which should also supply some additional offense. Cano now has what he said he needed last year, and with the best pitching rotation in the division led by perennial Cy Young Award candidate Felix Hernandez, this could easily be their year. Young pitchers James Paxton and Taijuan Walker will need to stay healthy and take strides to give the M's a legitimate shot, and I think they will do what it takes to pick up the 2nd wildcard spot and make the postseason for the first time since Ichiro Suzuki's rookie season in 2001 (want to know how long that's been?)!
3 - Texas Rangers
X-Factors: Prince Fielder, Derek Holland
This Rangers team has the most "if's" of any team in the American League. If Yu Darvish is healthy, he can potentially be a Cy Young candidate. If Prince Fielder, Derek Holland, and Shin-Soo Choo can rebound from their injury plagued 2014 campaigns, they can be key contributors to the team as well. If father time hasn't caught up to possible future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre, he will be a huge piece of the Texas sized puzzle. They already lost former top prospect Jurickson Profar for the second year in a row, so Rougned Odor will be taking his place once again in their everyday lineup. Newly added starters Yovani Gallardo and Ross Detwiler might come in handy in picking up the pieces if chaos ensues in Arlington, but I'm going to go with an optimistic approach and say: how much worse could it get? If half the players lost in 2014 are injured again this season, they still will win more than their AL low 67 games.
**UPDATE: Yu Darvish may undergo Tommy John surgery as it was revealed today that he has suffered a UCL sprain in his elbow. This is a huge blow to a team that had more than enough injuries to handle in 2014. With this news, I will flip my predictions and put the Rangers in 4th and the Astros in 3rd for the season.**
4 - Houston Astros
X-Factors: Dallas Keuchel, George Springer
I was so tempted to rank Houston above the Rangers on this list, but ultimately I held off and put them right behind. I didn't actually list predicted W-L totals because I think that's as unpredictable as it comes, but if I were to I'd have the two Texas teams neck and neck in the middle of the division. Neither are ideal playoff candidates, but although they are from the same state, they don't have much else in common. Where the Rangers field a team of former superstars similarly to the Yankees, the Astros are taking the youth approach, which has been known to work lately in St. Louis and San Francisco especially. The Astros may be a fun team to watch in 2015 thanks to budding star George Springer in particular, but also because of their offseason acquisitions. Evan Gattis may be a bit of a defensive liability, but "El Oso Blanco" can and will mash balls into the left field bleachers time and time again at Minute Maid Park. Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek will stabilize what was a shaky bullpen, and lend helping hands to the very young pitching rotation the team has built over years of development. But the player to watch in Houston turns out to be the shortest player in a state loaded with size: Jose Altuve. If he can come close to his MVP-type 2014 season statistics, we'll be in for some fun in this division. Chances are, he will.
5 - Oakland Athletics
X-Factors: Brett Lawrie, Jesse Hahn
Three years in a row Billy Beane has assembled playoff teams, in light of the box office smash Moneyball. But this year, I believe his run has come to a halt (temporarily). Over the winter the team made 9 trades including almost 30 players; and leading that list are 2014 All Stars Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, and Josh Donaldson. Both Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija, who were traded for midseason in hopes of bringing playoff success, left Oakland as well. I still have no idea what his mindset was in moving Donaldson so soon, as he could've easily been affordably held for 4 more years before hitting free agency. For all they lost, they came back with almost a completely new team featuring Ben Zobrist, Billy Butler, Tyler Clippard, Jesse Hahn, and Brett Lawrie. It may work out, and Beane tends to be a magician with these sorts of moves, but I don't see what they did as enough to have a successful 2015. The prospects gained will be of great value for the future, and maybe this is all part of his scheme to get back to the playoffs (if so, well played), but we won't know how he did this offseason until years down the road. He could either be building a Hall of Fame legacy, or tearing it apart. None of that seems to matter much in 2015.
Division MVP: Mike Trout
Division Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
Playoff Teams: Los Angeles, Seattle (Wild Card)
I hope these three posts have helped you understand that the competition in baseball is at a whole new level. I picked the Orioles to finish 4th in the AL East, the Tigers to finish 3rd in the Central, and the A's to finish last in the West. All three of these teams seemed to have no difficulty reaching the playoffs in 2014, and I picked them to completely miss out this year. Whether or not I look like a genius or an idiot is to be determined, but for now it just goes to show that there is so much talent in the game today, and any team can be made or broken within a matter of a single offseason. You can't base a team off of solely what they look like on paper, but some GM's are starting to learn from past mistakes and only signing players that make actual sense. There isn't one horrible team in this entire league, and it was tough for me to even put the Rays, Twins, and A's in last place. The Red Sox went from worst to first to worst again, thus, any team could face any outcome no matter what people say they're going to do.
I'll have the National League posts coming up soon, and I'll wrap things up with a couple of postseason predictions just to round up all the fun. I've had a blast writing these posts so far, and I hope a few people out there are enjoying them too. It's been tough to afford a lot of what I want lately because I've been looking for a job and paying for college, so I've had to think of some new ways to keep you all interested, and baseball is an absolute passion of mine and I love getting to share it for you.
With all that in mind: agree or disagree? Feel free to leave any comments below; they're greatly appreciated.