Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Can the Rangers Repeat?

In 2010, the Rangers came out of nowhere to win 90 games and coast to a division title in the AL West.  After winning their division games over the Athletics, the Rangers surprised everyone by making it to the franchise's first World Series, where they lost to the Giants.  After an offseason highlighted by the fact that the Rangers couldn't retain star pitcher Cliff Lee, they may have competition from the A's for the division crown in 2011.  Here is the outlook for the AL West in 2011.

After finishing last season with a record of 81-81, the A's should move closer (and maybe even win) to a division title.  Oakland has the best young rotation in baseball (it might also be the best in general).  The top four starters, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, and Dallas Braden, have an average age of 24.  That core four pitched well enough last season that the A's were able to lead the AL in ERA (3.56) and shutouts (17).  In order to actually win the AL West, however, the offense will need to perform better.  The A's only hit .256 as a team last season and only scored 663 runs, good for 23rd in the majors.  New additions Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham will add more pop to the lineup, and if some of the returners can avoid injuries they suffered last season, the offense will be more balanced and produce more runs.  Injuries are the key to the A's success.  Fewer injuries than last season and the A's can compete with the Rangers.

After years as a perennial favorite to win a terrible division, the Angels struggled last season and finished with a record of 80-82, good for third place.  It was their first season under .500 since 2003.  Unfortunately for Angels fans, the struggles will probably continue into 2011.  Slugging first baseman Kendry Morales will return after missing all but 51 games last season after injuring himself while celebrating a walk-off home run, which will help the offense some (the Angels only batted .248 as a team last season).  However, the only newcomer to the Angels for the upcoming season is inconsistent outfielder Vernon Wells, who is sometimes great but much of the time doesn't play up to the expectations that come with having a huge contract.  The pitching staff isn't bad, with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana at the top, but it is basically the same as last season as well.  Expect to see a better season from the Angels in 2011, but the improved depth of the AL West will prove troublesome.  They didn't make enough moves in the offseason.

The Mariners are easily the worst team in the AL West, if not the worst in the entire AL.  They have two studs, one in the rotation (AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez) and one in the outfield (Ichiro Suzuki).  Besides that, the cupboard is pretty bare.  They were the worst offensive team in the bigs last season, finishing with a paltry .236 team batting average and only 513 runs scored.  Seattle's team ERA was pretty good, as they finished at 3.93, tied for ninth in the majors.  Until the offense gets better, however, expect the Mariners to keep losing.

As previously mentioned, Texas won 90 games last season and advanced to the World Series.  The only problem that they have for the 2011 season is that Cliff Lee is now pitching for Philadelphia.  That's a big problem to have, but not one that the Rangers can't overcome.  The rotation is still solid with C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hunter and Colby Lewis at the top.  Texas also signed Brandon Webb to an incentive laden one-year deal and if he can fully recover from injuries, he will be the steal of the offseason.  The bullpen is solid, with stud closer Neftali Feliz (2010 AL Rookie of the Year) at the back-end.  However, the Rangers offense can make up for the shortcomings of the pitching staff.  They are absolutely loaded.  Imagine being able to put Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Julio Borbon, and Mike Napoli on your lineup card everyday.  Manager Ron Washington is a lucky man.  The Rangers are the favorites to repeat as AL West champs.

Expect a much closer battle between the A's and the Rangers for the AL West Crown.  The Rangers pitching staff needs to show it can still be elite and the A's offense to needs to step up to help their young, excellent rotation.  Even after losing Cliff Lee, the Rangers will still win the division.  Their rotation is solid enough to win when it is backed by one of the best offenses in the AL.

1. Rangers
2. A's
3. Angels
4. Mariners

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