AL West predictions


Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez throws to the San Francisco Giants during the first inning of a spring training baseball game. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
March 29, 2011

Due to our early bedtimes and admitted East Coast bias, we hadn’t seen much of the 2010 Texas Rangers until they showed up in the World Series. What a revelation! “Hey, isn’t that Nolan Ryan behind home plate?” “That Josh Hamilton — he’s pretty good, eh?” “Oh, wait — when did they get Cliff Lee?”

The Western stealth attack worked so well in 2010, we’re going with it again in 2011.

This year’s surprise out west will be the Athletics . They already possessed one of the best young pitching staffs in baseball, and this winter GM Billy Beane made some smart, low-cost pickups — in the persons of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui — to boost their drooping offense.

They’ll need some things to go right — a return to health for Coco Crisp, no recurrence of closer Andrew Bailey’s elbow issues this spring, continued production out of the 36-year-old Matsui — but if they do, the A’s could go a long way.

The Rangers already had a stranglehold on the division title when Lee arrived. With him, their late-season rotation slotted into place with ferocity. C.J. Wilson was a superb No. 2 starter; without Lee, he’s a questionable No. 1. Likewise, Colby Lewis excelled as a No. 3 starter; as a No. 2, he’s lacking. As for rehab-project Brandon Webb? Wake us when he’s getting big league hitters out again.

Also, three cornerstone pieces of their lineup — Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz are injury-prone. True, third baseman Adrian Beltre was a nice pickup, but he doesn’t add quite as much as they lost when Lee walked away.

The Angels once owned the division, but they suffered a 17-win decline in 2010, finishing 80-82, then endured a winter of failed free-agent runs (losing Carl Crawford to Boston) and curious counter-moves (trading for Vernon Wells). They have a nice rotation, headed by Jered Weaver, and could get a boost from the return of first baseman Kendry Morales. But this season could be nothing more than a countdown to the day uber-prospect Mike Trout arrives.

A year ago, the Mariners became the first team with a payroll of at least $100 million to lose at least 100 games. And things don’t look a whole lot better in 2011 — unless you believe Jason Vargas replacing Lee as the No. 2 starter represents an upgrade, or that the big Miguel Olivo signing this winter is going to push them over the top. The only way the Mariners will matter this year is if they decide to put Felix Hernandez on the trade market.

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