Major League Baseball

AL West preview
2. Texas Rangers

USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale and Ted Berg look at the American League West, in order of projected finish: 3. Oakland Athletics 4. Seattle Mariners

By Jake Roth, USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles’ Mike Trout

1. Los Angeles Angels

uWhy they’re enthused: They have the best lineup in all of baseball, and, yeah, they no longer have to worry about trying to find ways to squeeze $21 million outfielder Vernon Wells in the lineup. They can flat-out rake with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Mark Trumbo in the lineup. They also have perennial Cy Young candidate Jered Weaver leading the rotation. uWhy they’re worried: Scouts are alarmed about their starting pitching. Take away Weaver and No. 2 starter C.J. Wilson, and you have problems with Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton. They also will open the season without closer Ryan Madson, turning the reins over to Ernesto Frieri, who had 23 saves but collapsed at the end of last season. uKid in play: The Angels have the worst farm system in baseball, according to Baseball America. Their best rookie who could help this year is Andrew Romine, 27, who can play all of the infield positions and will be the perfect backup shortstop. uFollow this guy: @Trouty20. It’s Mike Trout. uThe end game: The Angels are solid, but they have flaws. It’s hard to fathom that they’ll go the entire season without trying to pick up another starter in hopes of holding off the Rangers and Athletics. They should win the division on paper. If not, look for manager Mike Scioscia to be the scapegoat.

uWhy they’re enthused: They no longer have Josh Hamilton or Michael Young, but they have a powerful lineup, led by Adrian Beltre. They think the acquisitions of DH Lance Berkman and catcher A.J. Pierzynski will make up for the departures of Hamilton and Mike Napoli and believe they’ll be more consistent. Ace Yu Darvish also looks more comfortable in his second year. uWhy they’re worried: The rotation that opens the season will look nothing like it does at midseason. They are opening without Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz and Martin Perez. They hope to have Lewis and Perez back at midseason, but Feliz likely won’t be ready until September. Nick Tepesch, who hasn’t pitched above Class AA, is for now their fifth starter. This is the same guy who yielded a 4.28 ERA in 14 Class AA starts. uKid in play: Jurickson Profar, perhaps the game’s best prospect, is the heir apparent to shortstop Elvis Andrus, but Andrus has two years remaining in his contract. The Rangers would love to move Profar to second base, but Ian Kinsler won’t budge, for the time being. Profar will open the year at Class AAA Round Rock (Texas) but could be up before June. uFollow this guy: @Dutch_ Oven45. Pitcher Derek Holland tweeted a photo of his dog wearing a hat, and this is the Internet. uThe End Game: The Rangers will be better than everyone thinks. They still have a solid nucleus, and if Berkman can stay healthy, there’s no reason why they can’t return to the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year.

uWhy they’re enthused: They are young, spunky and still under the radar despite winning the division in 2012. They realize they’ll go as far as their pitching will take them but love their staff. Their bullpen just might be the best in the AL and is so powerful that they could have four topquality left-handed relievers. And, of course, they have Yoenis Cespedes, 2012’s finest offensive rookie this side of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. uWhy they’re worried: Their starting rotation led them to heights they never imagined a year ago, but can they stay healthy after last year’s stress load? They all struggled this spring, with none of their projected five starters yielding less than a 6.00 ERA. Their infield is a mess, and there are doubts whether Hiroyuki Nakajima can play at the major league level. uKid in play: Michael Choice. He has never played above Class AA, but the 10th pick in the 2010 draft is knocking on the door. He worked out with Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter all winter and made adjustments to his approach and stopped trying to always pull the ball. Despite a crowded A’s outfield, he might find his way up in the big leagues late this season. uFollow this guy: @JoshReddick16. The hirsute outfielder tweets his beard accomplishments with plenty of homemade video. uThe end game: Fourteen walk-off wins would be hard to repeat and suggests good fortune in 2012, but the A’s have enormous raw talent. If their pitching stays healthy, there’s every reason to think they’ll stay in the hunt.

uWhy they’re enthused: They get to play the Astros and Chicago Cubs 22 times, giving them a chance to be over .500 for only the third time since 2003. They had a strong 2012 and showed life offensively, and now the left-center-field fence has been moved 17 feet closer at Safeco Field. They also have a nice corps of young starters on the way, led by Brandon Maurer and Taijuan Walker. uWhy they’re worried: They still are in the same division as the Rangers, Angels and Athletics; even an improvement might leave them in fourth place. Their pitching appears improved, but their defense is mediocre, at best, loaded with players whose position should be designated hitter. uKid in play: Maurer was the Mariners’ biggest story in camp, making the rotation after having never pitched above Class AA. He was dominant in the Cactus League, yielding a 0.90 ERA, striking out 22 and walking six in 20 innings. He beat out their touted trio of prospects for a job in Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Walker. His biggest improvement was his ability to throw his slider and changeup at any time in the count. uFollow this guy: @RealKingFelix. The username means that it’s the real “King” Felix Hernandez, not that Felix Hernandez is a real king. But he should be. uThe end game: The Mariners are improved, and their future looks so much brighter, but it’s not good enough. Not in this division, and not this year, though they should finish with a winning record.

By Brad Barr, USA TODAY Sports

Houston’s Brad Peacock

5. Houston Astros
uWhy they’re enthused: Well, for most of them, it’s their only chance to be in the big leagues. They love their youth, but they have no other choice. uWhy they’re worried: You know what kind of season this might be when the Astros consider losing fewer than 100 games a successful year. They have a chance to beat the 1962 New York Mets’ dubious record of 120 losses, the most in major league history. Their bullpen could be the weakest in the league, and their starting rotation isn’t capable of going deep enough into games to help out. Veterans who do pan out also run the risk of getting traded. uKid in play: Brad Peacock, acquired from the Oakland Athletics in February in the Jed Lowrie trade, pitched his way onto the big-league roster with a solid spring. He gave up two hits and one run over five innings in his last start against the New York Yankees. He’ll either be the fourth starter over Alex White or be in the bullpen. Either way, he will definitely be on the team. He appears much more confident after spending last year at Class AAA Sacramento and has had good command of his fastball. uFollow this guy: @Kevin_Goldstein. The Astros’ pro scouting director got his start as a writer, so his tweets are professional quality. uThe end game: This is a team that lost 107 and 106 games the last two years in the National League Central, winning seven of 50 games during one stretch. So can you imagine how brutal it will be playing in the much-tougher AL West? Their DH this year is Carlos Pena, who has seen tough times before: He was the first baseman when the Detroit Tigers lost 119 games in 2003.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful