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American League

2018 Season Preview: AL West

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Houston Astros
2017 record: 101-61, first in AL West

It’s only appropriate to begin with the champions. Fresh off their first ever World Series win, the Astros are an energetic, young team with a phenomenal lineup and solid pitching. Their 101 regular season wins last year beat the second-place Angels by 21 games as Houston remained largely unthreatened for most of the season. For these reasons, the Astros are the overwhelming favorites to run away with the West once again in 2018. As for the other four teams competing against Houston, they finished within five games of each other in 2017. Those look to be close races once again; however, they’re no match against the Astros as they look to repeat in 2018.

Biggest asset: Offense

In 2017, the Astros led MLB in runs (896), batting average (.282), OBP (.346), and SLG % (.478) en route to their first title, as they promise to put up huge numbers once again this year. Their dynamic offense will once again be led by Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer- all home-grown talent, and all between 24-28 years old. The Astros have come a long way since three straight 100+ loss seasons (2011-13), but it’s their offense that has rebuilt them into a contender, and it starts with the three I mentioned- all developed by the organization. With solid offensive contributors surrounding them, there’s no telling how many runs the Astros will plate this year.

Biggest weakness: Bullpen

During Houston’s postseason run, the Astros used starters Lance McCullers Jr., Charlie Morton, and Brad Peacock in extended bullpen roles more often as October progressed. This was due to the ineffectiveness of Ken Giles, Chris Devenski, and Joe Musgrove- the three of whom finished with a combined 9.26 ERA in 24 postseason games out of the pen. The Astros have since improved their bullpen after adding relievers Joe Smith and Hector Rondon; but if there’s one thing holding the Astros back, it’s the pen. They’ve acquired Gerrit Cole as a starter, so they’re in good shape there as far as the rotation goes- the pen is ultimately Houston’s biggest question.

2018 prediction: AL West champs

Los Angeles Angels
2017 record: 80-82, second in AL West

Mike Trout missed 48 games in 2017, so you know had he stayed healthy, the Angels would’ve finished above .500. The team had a busy offseason, acquiring infielders Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler; however, there was nothing bigger than the signing of two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani. The Angels have a new-look lineup with potential; still, their rotation remains questionable come 2018.

Biggest asset: Mike Trout

When healthy, Trout is the best player in the game- the type of player any team wants to build around. A thumb injury forced Trout out of the lineup for nearly two months in 2017, his first ever trip to the disabled list. When he was healthy though, he performed; and he’s healthy now. With some new-look offense surrounding Trout (in addition to Albert Pujols and Justin Upton), expect him to rake as usual and be the best overall hitter on the Angels in 2018 assuming he remains healthy.

Biggest weakness: Rotation

You just don’t know with the Angels’ rotation in my opinion. Six pitchers made at least four starts in spring training, and only one pitched well (Garrett Richards). Even Ohtani, who made two starts in March, looked awful- he will take some time to adjust to facing Major League hitters. So there’s several questions surrounding the staff- again, mainly the rotation. To me, it’s filled with several pitchers who haven’t proven themselves yet, or have shown an inability to remain consistent and healthy.

2018 prediction: second in AL West

Seattle Mariners
2017 record: 78-84, third in AL West

With a solid lineup heading into 2018, the Mariners have plenty to be excited about. Ichiro is back with the club (his presence should make positive differences), Ryon Healy and Dee Gordon were added over the offseason, and slugging youngster Daniel Vogelbach made the Opening Day roster after a monster spring. So there’s promise as far as the lineup goes. The rotation does have its questions though, as ace Felix Hernandez looks to come back strong after an injury-plagued 2017.

Biggest asset: Offense

Before their busy offseason, the Mariners already had a solid core of hitters- Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager. Catcher Mike Zunino had his best overall year in 2017 and followed it up with a huge spring, so add him to that core. Seattle finished 15th in MLB with 750 runs scored in 2017; and this year, I think they’ll score at least 775.

Biggest weakness: Rotation

Seattle’s bullpen looks promising, as several have impressed in the spring- including newcoming veteran Juan Nicasio. The rotation though doesn’t have much depth. Felix Hernandez has struggled to stay healthy the last two years while seeing a rise in ERA. He’s the team’s most important starter; and if he goes down, that’s a huge blow to the rest of the rotation. Mike Leake, James Paxton, Ariel Miranda, and Marco Gonzales (2.08 ERA in seven spring starts) look to round out the Opening Day rotation. Beyond them and King Felix, there’s not many trusted options, which makes Hernandez remaining healthy that much more important for the Mariners.

2018 prediction: third in AL West

Texas Rangers
2017 record: 78-84, fourth in AL West

After two straight postseason appearances (and ALDS defeats), the Rangers missed out on the playoffs in 2017. This offseason, they’ve added Doug Fister, Matt Moore, and Mike Minor to their rotation. Minus the departures of Mike Napoli and Carlos Gomez, Texas’s lineup looks very familiar approaching the season.

Biggest asset: Joey Gallo

Don’t let his .209 batting average last year fool you, Joey Gallo still slugged .537, and was on base nearly one-third of the time in 2017. Gallo emerged as a big-time slugger with his 41 homers, so expect more power in 2018 from the 6’5’’ first baseman. Also, expect that average to climb. The more Gallo transitions and gets used to the majors, the better an overall hitter he will become. Texas has a good lineup (799 runs last year, ninth in MLB) and Gallo’s right in the middle of it, and he should produce this year.

Biggest weakness: Bullpen

Texas finished with a 4.76 bullpen ERA in 2017, the third worst mark in MLB.

2018 prediction: fourth in AL West

Oakland Athletics
2017 record: 75-87, last in AL West

Biggest asset: Farm System

Biggest weakness: Inexperience

2018 prediction: last in AL West

American League

Rays Place Austin Meadows On IL

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The Tampa Bay Rays placed outfielder Austin Meadows on the 10-day injured list due to a sprained right thunb.

Rays general manager Erik Neander said that the team may be without Meadows for “a few weeks”, according to the Tamp Bay Times’ Marc Topkin.

Meadows has started the 2019 season hot, posting a stellar .351/.422/.676 slash line to go along with six homers for Tampa Bay.

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American League

Blue Jays’ Matt Shoemaker Out for Season with Torn ACL

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Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Matt Shoemaker will miss the rest of the season after suffering a torn ACL, according to Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith.

Shoemaker, who was initially placed on the 10-day injured list, suffered the injury during a game on Saturday.

Shoemaker, 32, was off to an impressive start for Toronto, pitching the the tune of 1.57 ERA.

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American League

Indians Activate Francisco Lindor, DFA Hanley Ramirez

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The Cleveland Indians have activated star shortstop Francisco Lindor from the injured list on Saturday.

In a corresponding move, the Indians have designated veteran Hanley Ramirez for assignment to create the necessary roster spot for the return of Lindor.

Ramirez, 35, appeared in 16 games this season for Cleveland, posting a slash line of .184/.298/.327 with two home runs.

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