2020 MLB season preview: AL West

Baseball is back after one of the strangest offseasons in the history of the game. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the start of the season back four months, causing the season to be shortened to 60 games. However, the pandemic pushing the season back hasn’t been the only major headline in the MLB. The defending American League Champions and the 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros were caught implementing an elaborate sign-stealing scheme during the last few years. They lost some money, draft picks and the reputation of their players and accomplishments have been forever tarnished.

As we head into the start of the shortened season, here is a preview of the American League West division as I list the teams in order of predicted finish.

  1. Houston Astros (2019 record: 107-55)

Despite all the turmoil facing the locker room, the Astros are still a loaded team and will continue to reign over the other four teams in this division. They won 107 games last year and the only significant player they lost was starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, who left to sign with the New York Yankees. Despite the loss of Cole, they still have a nice rotation of 2019 Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. who returns after missing all of 2019 from Tommy John surgery. McCullers went 10-6 with a 3.86 era in 2018.

The lineup is still as stout as ever and with the scandal, they have everything to prove. With the sign-stealing scandal, the legitimacy of the Astros’ success has been shot and almost all the backlash was thrown at the lineup. The core of last year’s pennant winning lineup, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and George Springer are all still here and looking to prove that they can still be successful without the aid of hidden cameras.

2020 will be challenging as they must face the possibility of constantly getting thrown at by opposing pitchers. In a Spring Training matchup against the Kansas City Royals, Altuve, Bregman and Springer were all nailed by pitches. However, the Astros still have a plethora of talent and will be too much for the rest of the division to contend with.

2. Texas Rangers (2019 record: 78-84)

The Rangers had a decent third-place finish last year, as they finished 78-84. While their team earned run average (ERA) and On-base plus slugging (OPS) were below league average, they showed glimpses of a team that could contend for a Wild Card berth. They were a solid 46-37 heading into July which included a strong 18-11 record in June. Part of the reason for their decline started July 23, as breakout right fielder Joey Gallo broke his wrist and missed the rest of the season. Hunter Pence also missed half the season with injuries. The starting pitching was led by the duo of Lance Lynn and Mike Minor as both won at least 14 games and finish with an ERA of under 3.70.

The Rangers come into this season healthy after their lack of depth (along with a run of injuries) crushed any postseason ambitions they had last season. However, in a 60-game season, depth is not as much of an issue. They also added to their rotation by trading for former Cleveland Indians’ ace Corey Kluber. The Rangers, if they stay healthy, will be a legit threat for a Wild Card spot as they will improve on their lackluster overall numbers from 2019.

3. Oakland Athletics (2019 record: 97-65)

Many are picking the Athletics to finish second in the division, and they have good reason to. They won 97 games but lost 5-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays at home in the Wild Card round. They were sixth in team ERA and 10th in team OPS. Their lineup was led by the trio of Matt Olson, Matt Chapman and Marcus Semien, who all hit over 30 home runs and had an OPS of at least .840. They return this lineup and are looking to possibly overtake the Astros for the division crown. As for their pitching staff, Sean Manaea is ready to play a full season after shoulder surgery in 2018. Also, Mike Fiers returns to lead the rotation after a stellar 15-4 season last year.

Here are my two reasons why the Rangers will finish above the A’s: pitching depth and lineup consistency. The A’s had a powerful lineup last year but a team batting average of .249, only .001 above the injury-riddled Rangers. This was showcased in the Wild Card loss as their offense lacked any punch to compete against the stout pitching rotation of the Rays. Also, outside of the top two pitchers, the rotation is a mixed bag and that has the potential to cause some major problems in a season with less margin for error. The A’s have potential for success, but the biggest question will be if their power lineup will be enough to mask some of their other underlying issues.

4. Los Angeles Angels (2019 record: 72-90)

The Angels continue to waste the prime of the greatest baseball player of this generation: Mike Trout. Despite a fantastic MVP season last year, the Angels finished 72-90. The Angels’ lineup had no other player besides Trout to bat an OPS over .800 and play in at least 100 games. To make matters worse, there was not a single pitcher on their rotation that won them double digit games.

To patch up the rotation, the Angels added Julio Teheran who went 10-11 with a 3.81 ERA on the Atlanta Braves last season. They still do not have even one starting pitcher that can be considered an ace and a quality piece on any rotation. However, they did add a legit star to their lineup in World Series champion third baseman Anthony Rendon. Rendon put up MVP numbers for the champion Washington Nationals and will look to ease Trout’s burden.

Despite the improved lineup and slightly improved pitching staff, it isn’t enough to move them ahead of the Rangers and Athletics.

5. Seattle Mariners (2019 record: 68-94)

Two-years old. That is how old I was when the Seattle Mariners last made the MLB Postseason. They have averaged only 77 wins a season and have constantly collapsed in September. After bolstering household names such as Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion and Nelson Cruz, they have entered a rebuild. Last year, things looked promising as they raced out to a 13-2 start. They would lose their next six, go 7-21 in May and ultimately finishing in last place again with a record of 68-94. Also, 2019 marked the final season of team legend Felix Hernandez as he signed with the Atlanta Braves this offseason. Marco Gonzalez takes over as the team’s ace as he went 16-13 with a 3.99 ERA last year. Designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach hit 30 home runs last season and clocked in a .780 OPS.

The Mariners have some promising prospects as they have five top 100 prospects, including 11th overall prospect in outfielder Jarred Kelenic. However, with no real star players on the team this season, it is going to be another long and tough year for Seattle fans. While the rebuild is looking promising, it will take at least a year or two to be at least competitive in the AL West.

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