MLB Preview 2016: AL West

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Current Pawtucket Red Sock Roenis Elias, who once was a Mariner.

I’m writing divisional previews this year (I think) because I had way too much to write about the AL West.

AL West
Mariners*
Astros*
Rangers
Angels
A’s

* = projected playoff team

Everyone loved the Mariners last year. A unanimous playoff pick? A World Series pick?? Even Jonah Keri had them winning the pennant. (I probably shouldn’t word it that way since he also had the Marlins winning the World Series, but he used to have a clue.) This year, not so much.

The Rangers are popular—Cole Hamels is back and wants revenge (and that’s just the Rangers’ defense—no wait, that’s Victoria’s Secret)! Yu Darvish will be back eventually (right?)!

The Astros, who improved by 16 games last season, are even more glamorous; there’s the Plexiglass Principle (teams that improve their record substantially one year tend to drop back the following year) but there’s also team age (the Astros are the sixth youngest team in the league at 27.6; their stars Correa, Altuve, Keuchel, and (yup) Ken Giles will be 21, 25, 28, and 25 when the season begins).

The Angels aren’t especially good in terms of depth but they have Trout, the twilight of Albert Pujols’s Hall of Fame career, a bunch of mid-rotation pitchers, and Andrelton Simmons (I wavered over picking them last but figured Simmons could luck into 20 homers out of nowhere a la late career Kevin Elster, which granted was 1996).

The A’s—I have no idea how they A’s will do other than they have Sonny Gray who is good and cheap, they could trade him for other potentially good players who are also cheap but will be cheaper longer, they should have a better record than last year with the same roster as last year which they already don’t have because they signed a bunch of relief pitchers who may not be as good as last year but are still an improvement over the relief pitchers they had last year who might have been better this year anyway, Ryan Madson still rocks, and I could have bought a “Stairway to Blevins” tshirt at the Salvation Army on Broadway in downtown Oakland last October but it’s really not worth $10.

The Mariners, though, are my AL West pick for 2016. Why? Here’s Craig Calcaterra, picking them to finish last:

New GM Jerry Dipoto added a new manager in Scott Servais and all sorts of new players including Adam Lind, Nori Aoki, Wade Miley, Joaquin Benoit, Steve Cishek, Leonys Martin, Luis Sardinas, Chris Iannetta, Steve Clevenger and Nate Karns… First base has been improved with Lind. Chris Iannetta is a major improvement behind the plate. Aoki is a solid add…Leonys Martin was a disaster at the plate last year but his defense is excellent and will allow Cruz to play his natural position of DH this season…The rotation starts off wonderfully… Iwakuma has been a solid number two for a good while now…back end of the rotation, solidified somewhat by Wade Miley and boosted to the extent you believe that Taijuan Walker will finally emerge as the star he is expected to be…

Sure, there’s a lot of “…” and “yeah, but” (King Felix’s health and workload, Cano’s age and possible decline, dropoff from Nelson Cruz’s career year, a shaky bullpen) but that’s uncertainty, and last year uncertainty meant optimism (because 2014 meant missing out on the second Wild Card by a game) and “everything could work out” whereas this year uncertainty means “everything could not work out.” What’s the difference?

Replacing Jack Z. with Jerry Dipoto? Sounds like improvement to me. We’re worried about the Rangers based on the team the Rangers were for the last two-plus months of 2015? We’re worried about the Astros breaking out and winning one or two more games than the 86 they won last year? Break up the Mariners; they’re uncertain to be as good (or as bad) as everyone else in the West, or maybe more so.

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