The American League West has belonged to the Oakland Athletics the last two seasons. The “Moneyball” approach sure is working.
The A’s, who were the AL West’s lone playoff team last season, don’t feature many household names, but they’re damn good. Billy Beane’s bunch won 96 games in 2013 and has its sights set on a third straight AL West crown in 2014.
The AL West appears to have only gotten stronger since the A’s were ousted by the Detroit Tigers in last season’s playoffs, though. Let’s see if the A’s have what it takes to fend off their division rivals.
Strengths: The Rangers revamped their lineup over the offseason, and Texas’ offense could end up being one of baseball’s best. Shin-Soo Choo adds excellent on-base ability, and Prince Fielder should find success in Texas’ bandbox ballpark.
Yu Darvish is a legitimate ace, and the Rangers’ rotation will be solid once Derek Holland and Matt Harrison return from their respective injuries.
Weaknesses: The Rangers already are banged up.
Holland is out until the All-Star break, Harrison likely will miss the first few weeks, and catcher Geovany Soto and shortstop Jurickson Profar are expected to be sidelined for 10-12 weeks with a knee and shoulder injury, respectively. The Rangers’ most concerning ailment, however, belongs to Darvish, who will miss his Opening Day start because of a back/neck issue.
If everyone gets healthy, the Rangers will be in great shape. If not, they could be in trouble from jump street.
Projected finish: 89-73, first place
Strengths: The Athletics aren’t flashy. They simply do a lot of things well.
The A’s used countless lineups the last two seasons while taking advantage of favorable matchups. Expect more of the same in 2014.
Oakland’s biggest strength might be its bullpen. Grant Balfour left in free agency, but the A’s acquired Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson and Fernando Abad. Eric O’Flaherty — one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball before undergoing Tommy John surgery — should provide an additional boost upon returning.
Weaknesses: Sonny Gray shined in the 2013 playoffs. He’ll need to do so again in 2014, or Oakland’s rotation could regress.
Jarrod Parker is done for the year after Tommy John surgery, A.J. Griffin will start the season on the disabled list, and Bartolo Colon signed with the New York Mets over the offseason. Gray and newly acquired Scott Kazmir need to step up.
Projected finish: 88-74, second place
Los Angeles Angels
Strengths: The Angels’ offense features the best player in baseball (Mike Trout) and two sluggers with impressive resumes (Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton).
A full season of Jered Weaver will help the rotation, and new additions Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago bring potential, albeit with uncertainty.
Weaknesses: There’s no guarantee Pujols and Hamilton bounce back. They might now be nothing more than big names, which would be a problem in the wake of trading Mark Trumbo, who despite his shortcomings provided right-handed power.
The rotation also will be in trouble if Skaggs and Santiago don’t validate the Halos’ offseason moves.
Projected finish: 84-78, third place
Strengths: Seattle’s rotation has the potential to be very good if everything clicks.
Felix Hernandez obviously is elite. A rotation comprised of him, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez could make life difficult for opposing offenses at some point, but health remains a question.
Weaknesses: The Mariners shelled out big bucks, mostly to Robinson Cano (10 years, $240 million). But the lineup is filled with wild cards — Corey Hart (injury?), Logan Morrison (struggles?), Justin Smoak (bust?).
Seattle might soon regret its reckless spending.
Projected finish: 77-85, fourth place
Strengths: The Astros have several intriguing pitching prospects, although they won’t help in 2014. Houston could add to that mix in this June’s draft and then again in next June’s draft when they inevitably finish near the bottom of the league this season.
Weaknesses: Take the year off, Astros fans.
Projected finish: 63-99, fifth place
Every team in the AL West faces questions, most of which are injury-related. This season likely will come down to who stays healthy, which is nearly impossible to project.
All things considered, the Rangers — again, provided they’re healthy — have the talent to overcome the Athletics, especially with Jarrod Parker sidelined for the entire year in Oakland.
Editor’s note: NESN.com will preview each MLB division leading up to Opening Day. Below are the scheduled run dates for each preview.