Will Tonight’s Angels-Mariners Game Decide the AL West?

A few days ago I wrote that the Angles should dominate an American League West division that is not as strong as last season. This is based primarily on the fact that the Oakland A’s are a shadow of last year’s team, having traded away the likes of Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes, and Derek Norris, and now enter the 2015 season facing significant injuries to Coco Crisp and Sean Doolittle, and with last year’s wounded starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin not yet ready to return, and with the Texas Rangers looking worse, at least on paper, than they did last year in compiling the AL’s worse record. Seattle

was the surprise of the division last year, and they have added offensive strength with Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith. But, they will only go as far as their pitching takes them, and after solid veteran starters Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, it's youngsters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton that must come through and be reliable three and four performers for the Mariners to improve upon last season and play into the postseason.
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The lefty Paxton will in fact start tonight’s second game of the season ahead of Iwakuma, in a battle of lefties against the Angels’ C.J. Wilson, the 34-year-old coming off a very disappointing 2014 and who will be making his first start since his horrific playoff meltdown that ended the Angels’ 2014 World Series hopes. Wilson, beginning the fourth year of a five-year, $75 Million contract with LA, had a miserable season statistically (4.51 ERA, 1.45 WHIP), but the team is hoping that he can regain the dominance that he displayed through his 17-7 2013 season.

The Angels went into spring training having acquired two young starters, Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano, and they hoped one or both would win a spot in the rotation. This was a carbon copy of last season, when the names were Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. After a horrible start, Santiago pitched well in the second half and will begin 2015 in the rotation. Skaggs, however, underwent Tommy John surgery at midseason, and will not return to action for several months. After a disappointing outing yesterday from Jered Weaver, Wilson will start ahead of last year’s rookie sensation, Matt Shoemaker. With Garrett Richards’ return still undetermined and neither of the Angel’s new young studs having won a job during the spring, it appears that for now Weaver, Wilson, Shoemaker

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and Santiago will be the rotation, and when a fifth starter is needed sometime next week, it could be a surprise selection, such as Drew Rucinski.

But tonight, the Mariners need to see a solid performance from Paxton to solidify their faith that their young starters are ready for regular starting rolls on a contending team, and the Angels need to know that Wilson will bounce back not just from a bad regular season, but
from his last appearance that counted, the Angel’s final 2014 playoff game, an 8-3 loss to Kansas City in which he retired only two batters while allowing three runs. Interestingly enough, though Wilson suffered through a terrible second half of 2014, in September he pitched very well against Seattle, allowing only five hits and a single earned run over 13 innings. Against the rest of the American League in September, he gave up 14 earned runs in 15-1/3 innings. That followed June, July and August, in which months he posted ERAs of 5.97, 10.13 and 4.94, respectively.

It may be only game number two of a long, 162 game season, but it’s an important game tonight for Seattle and James Paxton, and for the Angels and C.J. Wilson.

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