Someone once said, “In Spring a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love.” It might have been Shakespeare…or the Coen Brothers. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between the classics. At any rate, Spring is most definitely the time when baseball returns to stadiums and televisions alike. Who should we watch? Who will boom? Who will bust? While no one knows for sure, here are some guesses from the American League West.
The American League West has been dominated in recent years by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the Texas Rangers. Last year, the Houston Astros snuck in the side door and made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. While Texas is the defending division champ, the oddsmakers are betting on Houston sticking around and winning the division. Texas is the second favorite. Whither the Angels? Predicted for an ignominious third place finish with only a slim chance at the one-game Wild Card playoff.
The top storylines in the American League West are as follows:
Up until March 28, the Astros had made only 21 off-season moves. That is surprisingly few moves for a team on the cusp. Here, it means the ‘Stros believe in the improvement potential of their current roster. Houston added two starting pitchers in Wandy Rodriguez and Doug Fister. Both have had moments of near-brilliance interspersed with puzzling downturns. The Astros lost hard-hitting first baseman Chris Carter to free agency. They hope rookie Tyler White can hit like Carter and field better than his predecessor.
Usually, the Texas Rangers spice up the off season with a splashy free-agent signing. The names Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, Cliff Lee, and Josh Hamilton filled the bill. This year, unless you are related to Tom Wilhelmsen, Ian Desmond is the highest-profile free agent to come to Arlington. And the Rangers want Desmond, a shortstop in Washington, to play left field.
The Seattle Mariners won 116 games in 2001. It was the biggest baseball thing in Seattle since Jim Bouton wrote, “Ball Four” about the ’69 Seattle Pilots. Alas, the Mariners have barely won 116 games in the succeeding 14 years combined. But, a new front office and a new field manager have brought life and hope to Mariners’ fans from Vancouver B.C. to Vancouver, Wash. M’s fans are guaranteed a treat once every five games. That’s when “King” Felix Hernandez takes the mound in front of his adoring “King’s Court.” Can Seattle play important games in October? Only if they find hitters to rake in cavernous Safeco Field.
The L.A. Angels of Anaheim saw the end of the David Freese era and the beginning of the Andrelton Simmons era this off season. Freese, a World Series hero with St. Louis, was a bust in Orange County. Simmons, upon arrival the best defensive shortstop in the American League, heralds a new focus on pitching and defense. The Angels will still hit the ball. Albert Pujols and Mike Trout guarantee it. Angels’ faithful hope opposing teams find scoring runs a harder task than they have in the last few years.
The Oakland A’s play in the worst facility in all Major League Baseball. And, it has to rankle Oakland fans that they can see, from the O.Co parking lot, the lights of San Francisco’s gem of a ballpark. Given their salary and environment limitations it is nigh on to amazing the A’s can be competitive. But, usually they are. This year the A’s added infielders Yonder Alonso and Jed Lowrie. To the mound to start games Oakland will send ace Sonny Gray…and not much else of proven starting pitcher ability. But, overlook the A’s at the peril of the rest of the league. They find a way to be relevant late in the year.