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AL West Betting Outlook

AL West Betting Outlook

AL West Betting Outlook
By Matt Zylbert

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The 1927 New York Yankees lineup carries the distinction of being known as "Murderers' Row" but looking at this year's Angels' batting order, there might be some competition for that title. That's what happens when you make a monumental splash in free agency, reeling in the biggest fish on the market, that of course being Josh Hamilton, formerly of their big AL West rivals in Texas, to join the stacked bats they already have in this star-studded lineup. Of course, the Angels are just as excited to see how their prized prospect, Mike Trout, does in his first full season in the bigs, after wowing the world last year as soon as he was called up in late-April. After the torrid pace he was on last year, it's safe to dub him the most dangerous lead-off man in the game. Oh, and then there's Albert Pujols, the consensus best player in baseball over the last decade-plus. Meanwhile, that's not just it, as Mark Trumbo, who would be the bona fide clean-up hitter on just about most other teams, also resides in this offense as the DH. And then there's a fine supporting cast consisting of the likes of Howie Kendrick, Chris Iannetta, and Erick Aybar.

On the other side of the equation, the pitching may not be as powerful as their lineup, but it can still be very good and enough to help propel the club towards a potential championship run. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are terrific 1-2 punch to have at the top of the rotation, and the Angels upgraded the back-end of it by bringing aboard Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas, and Joe Blanton, all of whom have had success at one point or another. To shore up the bullpen, which ranked towards the bottom of the American League last year, Los Angeles picked up Ryan Madson to be their closer. He missed all of last year, but is finally due back around mid-April, and until then, the Angels boast the services of smoke-throwing Ernesto Frieri to fulfill that role. Furthermore, they added Sean Burnett during the offseason, one of the best set-up men in the business. With Kevin Jepsen also still there, the Angels' bullpen should definitely be improved from last year. That'll be especially important in 2013, being the favorites to win the division, if not more. Predicted Record: 95-67

Oakland Athletics

Just about everyone thought the Rangers or Angels would take the American League West crown in 2012. Well, just about everyone ended up being wrong with that assessment, as the Athletics pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks in the standings, dethroning Texas on the final day of the season to capture their first division title since 2006. While they would go on to be ousted in the first round, the team did provide a nice foundation from which to build upon. Their young pitching staff was phenomenal a year ago, getting equally impressive work from Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, AJ Griffin, and later on, the returning Brett Anderson. All four are young and only just getting started at the big-league level. In fact, a year or two down the line, it wouldn't be crazy to think that this might be the best starting rotation in the league, as even someone like Dan Straily in the fifth spot could blossom as well. They also have a steady bullpen with Grant Balfour closing out those frequent quality starts, not to mention other useful arms in Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle.

On offense, the A's won't blow you away, but they have the makings of a nice line-up that can provide enough run support on any given night. The acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes last year ended up being a brilliant move, as he evolved quicker than most anticipated in morphing into a legitimate major league power hitter, while the club figures to get a boost from their main offensive additions this year, that being Jed Lowrie and Chris Young. If he stays healthy, Lowrie is a huge upgrade for the infield, while Young is capable of playing all three outfield positions and providing some heavy lumber. The A's also picked up Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima, who brings over slick fielding and a fine batting average. With Josh Reddick and Coco Crisp still around, Oakland quietly has themselves a pretty well-rounded batting order. It may be tough to duplicate their 2012 accomplishments, as they won't be flying under the radar this time, but the A's should be heavily in the mix. Predicted Record: 84-78

Texas Rangers

Before dwelling into the outlook for this year's squad, let's examine this interesting journey: The Rangers, entering 2012, were coming off two outstanding campaigns that led to consecutive World Series appearances, and then proceeded to have a very notable season - that is, until running into an unlikely dry spell at the end of the year, leading to a Texas-sized collapse that resulted in the team coughing up their lengthy division lead, and ultimately, an anti-climactic exit via the historic first-ever American League "play-in" game. If that wasn't bad enough, the Rangers endured a shaky offseason, as free agent superstar Josh Hamilton elected to depart the franchise that helped restore his career - for their biggest rivals in Anaheim. Even so, Texas still contains a good amount of firepower that can shoot them back into first when all is said and done. There is still perennial MVP candidate Adrian Beltre, along with one of the best mid-infield combinations in baseball, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler. While the Rangers lost the services of Mike Napoli through free agency, they were able to replace him with A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman. The outfield can still survive without Hamilton as long as Nelson Cruz stays healthy, which he did finally accomplish last year and produced as usual. The loss of Hamilton also means more at-bats for David Murphy, who has always been serviceable, and potentially more for sleeper Leonys Martin.

Pitching has generally been a major issue for the Rangers throughout their franchise history, but certainly not so in recent years, including last season, when the signing of Yu Darvish proved to be a very pivotal one in getting consistency. Meanwhile, Matt Harrison enjoyed his first career all-star campaign, and Derek Holland registered his second straight campaign with double-digit wins. Colby Lewis is still out until June due to elbow surgery, but in the meantime, Alexi Ogando, who was marvelous in 2011 as a starter, has been recalled upon to fill that void. What Texas lost on offense in the offseason, they gained back for their bullpen, garnering three key pieces (Joakim Soria, Jason Frasor, and Josh Lindblom) in stabilizing the bridge to Joe Nathan in the ninth. Significant change has occurred in Arlington, but under manager Ron Washington, the Rangers will always be legitimate contenders. Predicted Record: 83-79

Seattle Mariners

It's been a long stay in obscurity for the Mariners. After all, they've served as the cellar dwellers of the division for three straight seasons, and seven of the past nine. Offense has been, far and away, Seattle's biggest problem, finishing last in the AL in runs scored in each of the past four years. Part of the problem involved their home park, Safeco Field, which has always been very friendly to pitchers, so the team decided to move the fences in, in an effort to improve power output. That obviously wasn't the only thing, so the Mariners addressed their dead-bat offense early on in the offseason by trading for Kendrys Morales, who swings a heavy stick. The club also collected Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse, each interestingly having already spent time in Seattle during this extensive run-scoring drought, but they are certainly two names that provide power. Oh, and if Jason Bay's name carries any significance anymore, they added him, too, for depth. In addition, there are a number of talented youngsters already in place, particularly Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, and Justin Smoak, who haven't hit their stride yet, but seem close.

Starting pitching has certainly never been an issue, consistently fronted by Felix Hernandez every year. Despite losing Jason Vargas in the trade that netted Morales, the Mariners have a nice group past "The King." They added Joe Saunders to help fill the void, but it may be their underrated arms who offer the most promise, that being Hisashi Iwakuma and Blake Beavan. Iwakuma impressed in his brief stint starting towards the end of last year, while Beavan, a huge sleeper of mine, was beginning to look like his normal self after returning from getting hit by a line-drive. In fact, he was very good in the second half of the season. Also featuring a solid bullpen that includes Tom Wilhelmsen closing games and the electric Stephen Pryor, Seattle simply just needs to provide them leads. With their influx of new bats, the Mariners should start scoring runs again for the first time since the George W. Bush administration. At the very least, with Houston entering the division, their string of last-place finishes seems likely to end. Predicted Record: 78-84

Houston Astros

Long gone are the days of the Killer Bs - Biggio, Bagwell, and Berkman. Hell, it even seems like awhile ago when Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee were launching longballs into the Crawford Boxes at luxurious Minute Maid Park. Yup, the Astros are far removed from good times, and a return to glory is probably even more delayed now with their historic move to the always-competitive American League West. But, is this youngster-laden roster capable of speeding up the rebuilding process? The answer might surprise you: Perhaps. As always, it all begins with pitching, and if you are someone that watches the games, then you know the Houston pitching rotation is actually quite underrated. Bud Norris, despite taking a step back in 2012 statistically, was looking like his dominant self throughout portions of the year, and certainly has the skillset to return to his 2011 success. Lucas Harrell, who is coming off his first full season in the bigs, was very impressive and clocked in as the club's most consistent pitcher all year long. Beyond them is an intriguing group featuring Jordan Lyles, Philip Humber, Alex White, Erik Bedard, and even John Ely that really have considerable potential in bringing something to the table. The decisions for those final rotation spots have yet to be made, and the same could be said for who's going to pitch out of the bullpen. There's only one given, that being newcomer Jose Veras will get his first full-time shot at closing, but outside of him, there's very little depth except for Rhiner Cruz and Wesley Wright.

Offensively, the Astros do own an all-star, that being Jose Altuve, one of the better second basemen in the game, while the team brought in Carlos Pena and Chris Carter to exhibit some power. The latter is especially interesting, as Carter has not had a full major league season, but possesses unbelievable power, making him a prime sleeper candidate. Speaking of sleepers, former top prospect Jason Castro definitely also qualifies as one behind the plate. Hopefully there aren't too many sleepers - in the crowd that is - as the Astros seek to avoid losing 100 games for the third straight season. It will be tough, and under first-year manager Bo Porter, there will be growing pains. Predicted Record: 63-99

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