In the Declining AL West, Angels Still By Far the Best

A year ago on the eve of the 2014 major league baseball season, the American League West was baseball’s strongest division. By the end of the season, the Angels had baseball’s best record, and the Oakland A’s had gone through a significant transition, and after a solid season limped towards the playoffs, a shell of their former selves. The Seattle Mariners improved significantly and made a strong run for the post season, falling a single game short. The doormat Houston Astros saw significant improvement putting together a new

and talented roster, had their best season in years, and now look like a contender in the making. The Texas Rangers suffered through a host of significant injuries and poor player transactions to have their worst season in years. But now the new season is about to begin, and overall, the division is not what it use to be.

The Rangers have done little to right their sinking ship and start the season knowing they will be without both their number one starter, Yu
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Darvish, and second baseman, Jurickson Profar, for the season. Former ace Matt Harrison is also questionable for a 2015 return. Their roster is a shell of its former self, possessing neither the power that once was their hallmark, nor the solid and deep pitching staff needed to contend.

Houston is on the right track with young stars like Jose Altuve and stars in the making like George Springer, Jake Marisnick, and maybe Jon Singleton. But they are at least a year way from being a factor in the race to the post season.

Oakland has had another makeover, and looks at least on paper, to not be nearly as strong as they looked a year ago. Gone are Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes, Derek Norris, Jed Lowrie and more, and Coco Crisp will miss the first couple of months. Their previously deep starting rotation now can rely on little beyond Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, after the Jon Lester debacle, the renting of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, and the rehab yet to come for Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin. They will be fighting for .500 and maybe second place.

The 2015 Major League Baseball Season opens Sunday, April 5, with the St. Louis Cardinals playing against the Cubs in Chicago. The Dodgers open their season the next day, with a game at Dodgers' Stadium against former Dodgers' star Matt Kemp and the San Diego Padres. The Angels open against division rival Seattle Mariners in Seattle also on Monday, April 6, and they have their home opener against the defending American League champion Kansas City Royals on Friday, April 10. Tickets to all these games and to every other home opener are available Right Here, Right Now, from Razorgator.

Seattle is the new darling of the American League, as are the Cubs in the National. Granted, the Mariners had a great 2014, and showed promise for the future. They made a big splash in the off season landing Nelson Cruz off his monster year in Baltimore, plus Seth Smith, but Chris Young is gone from the rotation and they will have to have major contributions from young starters James Paxton and Taijuan Walker to maintain anything resembling the 2014 status quo. I would also have to say that the likelihood of Fernando Rodney having another year anything like his 2014 next to impossible.

And all that leave the AL West for the Angels to run and hide from everyone else. It will not be close.

The Angels have two weak spots, the hole at second base left by the trade of Howie Kendrick, and questions with the starting staff as to when Garrett Richards will return and how well this year’s duo of rookie possibilities, Nick Tropeano and Andrew Heaney, will do. Other than that, they are solid and deep, with a front line of solid starters, a deep and talented bullpen headed by a star closer in Huston Street, excellent overall team defense, and solid hitting and hitting for power, lead by AL Most Valuable Player Mike Trout.

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After a spring where newcomer Matt Joyce was vying with Collin Cowgil to see who would replace the "suspended" Josh Hamilton in left field, MLB announced today that after an arbitration proceeding, it was determined that Hamilton would not be suspended, and as soon as he is healthy enough following his late off season shoulder surgery, he could be back in the lineup. Could be, not will be, as a statement released today from the Angels seems to hint that they just might not want him back and just
might be willing to eat the rest of his substantial contract. At second base, Josh Rutledge will likely get the nod over Grant Green, but I wold expect to see 20-year-old Cuban import Roberto Baldoquin there by the end of the season, and if not, certainly by next season.

The AL West may have lost it spot atop division rankings, but for the Angels, they are still in the running to be the AL’s best team, and get a shot a making up for last yea’s post season disaster.

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