Thursday, March 24, 2011

AL West Preview—Texas Again

by Laird Harris, Seattle-Based FenwayNation Columnist

Seattle, WA—March 23, 2011—As the 2010 season began, virtually no one saw Texas winning the AL West, much less the AL crown. This year, the question is, “Can the Rangers be beaten?” The simple answer is not in the West.

Texas has a top shelf line-up with quality depth at every position. Pitching proved itself last year even before Cliff Lee appeared. Skeptics are wondering if a Lee-less staff can repeat its 2010 success. C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis were studs last year. Tommy Hunter and Scott Feldman had promising, if inconsistent, seasons. Nefti Feliz has a great power arm but it remains to be seen how he will perform as a starter. This is the stuff of much hope, but the Rangers have had good rotations fall apart in the past. The Ranger bullpen was solid last year, especially as Feliz showed he could own the ninth inning. In the absence of a trade, it is unclear if a reliable closer will emerge. There are a lot of power arms and great veteran presence with Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver tossing from the port side.

Despite these questions, the Rangers have fewer missing parts than the other AL West teams. Some expect Oakland to challenge and point to the addition of Hidecki Matsui and David DeJesus who are expected to bring some pop to an anemic offense. The young A’s pitching staff has incredible talent that will keep them in games throughout the year. Of course, there is always the specter of injury hovering over young pitchers but even if they stay healthy, the lineup does not have depth needed for a championship. It is also hard to imagine the team getting full seasons out of aging players like Matsui and Mark Ellis or injury-prone outfielders like Coco Crisp and DeJesus.

Speaking of anemic offenses, the Mariners hope to attract fans by showcasing some young talent throughout the year but have little else to offer. As usual, the pitching will be good to great with three strong starters at the top of the rotation and an exciting rookie power are in Michael Pineda who will be asked to finish his development in the majors. This team cannot be as bad as last year’s but it is almost certain to finish at the bottom of the division.

That leaves the Angels. I would never bet against Mike Scioscia but he will earn a place in Cooperstown if he can bring a championship with the pieces he has been given this year. The Angels still have some top quality pitching and a better than average lineup. They have, however, done little to improve an unreliable bullpen and starters Haren, Pinero and Kazmir have simply not shown they can maintain high levels of performance for an entire season. Starting the season without a health Kendrys Morales adds another level of difficulty for Scioscia to manage.

So Texas should win the division and then the question will be how they stack up against the Central and East division winners and the Wild Card that will almost certainly emerge from one of these divisions. If their pitching holds up, the Rangers will once again prove to be a handful in the post season.