Today, I will talk about a division with many mysteries, especially when it comes to the race for first place between the Angels, Mariners, Rangers, A’s, and Astros. It is obvious that the Rangers will be the ones to catch after they won the division last year, but do not count out the Astros, who were close on finishing first. Now, the Angels are a streaky team that has a lot of potential to do damage in the American League with Mike Trout and Garrett Richards maturing into a true ace. The Mariners always look good on paper, but can never prove anyone wrong, but with new general manager Jerry Dipoto in charge, he has so far made the Mariners a better ball club with additions like Joaquin Benoit, Adam Lind, and Nori Aoki. The biggest move was re-signing Hisashi Iwakuma. Lastly, the Oakland A’s always turn their roster over, but last season it did not succeed like past success. People are already writing off the Athletics, but they will regret that as they will look to sneak into the wild card this year. There is one rule and that is too never doubt Billy Beane.
First off, The Angels obvious pick is Mike Trout, but I think their catcher is a big piece in their team’s success this year. Yes, Carlos Perez. Perez is a 25-year-old catcher that is getting the chance to be the Angels’ full time catcher. He split time with Chris Iannetta, who was traded to the Mariners to rejoin former general manager in Jerry Dipoto. Perez had a nice year both offensively and defensively. He posted a batting average of an even .250 with 4 homers to go along with 21 RBIs. He did this in 86 games and only 260 at-bats. Now, on the defensive side, he caught 38% of his baserunners trying to swipe a bag from his team. The league average was 32%. He caught 665 innings and will need to lead his pitching staff by calling solid games.
Next, the Astros have tons of young stars, but one potential All-Star has yet to be unraveled. That is George Springer. Springer has been up and down so far in his career, but it is hard to get on a streak when you get hurt. Yes, he has been hurt before and it has slowed his progression. That is why he will break through and become an All-Star this season and look like the player the Astros have always dreamed about. The 26-year-old outfielder was looking good last year until he got hurt. He posted a slash line of .276/.367/.459/.826 with 16 homers and driving in 41 RBIs. He also stole 16 bases. Springer did all of this in only 102 games. Imagine when he is fully healthy.
In addition, the Athletics struggled all season long and so did their bullpen, which is usually one of their strongest suits. Well it did not help when Doolittle was delayed on his recovery from an injury. Well, he is a big part of the team and they need his fire and leadership. The A’s won’t be a big offensive team and will rely on their starters to not give up one to two run leads and hand it over to Doolittle to shut down the game to put that win in the bag. Doolittle only pitched in 12 games and picked up 13.2 innings by posting 15 strikeouts and 3.95 ERA, which is really high for a closer, but he was trying to get some work in, which the season was already lost at that point. Expect Doolittle to return to his old form by posting an ERA of a low 3 or high 2 in 60 plus innings, while punching many batters out. Lastly, he did save 4 out of 5 games last year.
Meanwhile, the Rangers have all the pieces to be great and to win their division again, but they need two players to produce, well Yu Darvish is one of them, but he needs to get his arm right so they can make a deep run in the playoffs, but Elvis Andrus is the main dude. He has not lived up to that rough and lucrative contract that they dished out to him. Andrus is a great player, but he is not worth that much. He is consistent and durable on what he does, but players who get paid over $100 mil should produce like Mike Trout. The 27-year-old’s batting average has been on the decline after his 2012 All-Star season, where he batted .286 at the plate. He batted .258 in 2015. Last year, he set career highs in home runs (7). He also drove in 62 RBIs and stole 25 bags in 160 games. I predict Andrus replicates his 2012 All-Star form that leads the Rangers to the playoffs.
Finally, the Mariners. When will Felix Hernandez get help in that rotation? Well Iwakuma returned, Nate Karns and Wade Miley added via trades, will James Paxton and Taijuan Walker improve? Well yes of course, especially Walker, who was once one of the top prospects in baseball when he was coming up the Mariners’ farm system. Walker’s 2015 season started off slow due to an injury, but when he returned he was shaky, but as the season progressed he got on his grind and finished the season with an 11-8 record in 29 starts. To add to the 29 starts, he posted a 4.56 ERA in 169.2 innings and punched out 157 batters. Now, Walker will be near the end of the rotation, but if he pitches well down there, it will help the team out. Pitching wins championships, plus it will be nice to see the 23-year-old starter take a big step forward in his career. He is the piece for the Mariners to break their playoff drought.