Sweet Nasty MLB Preview: A.L. West
Let’s stay out west and turn to the AL…
1) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (of Orange County on Planet Earth) – Last year, I picked the Seattle Mariners to overtake the Halos in a surprise move. Whoops! (Hey, who knew that Richie Sexton would serve giant suck margaritas to the whole organization? Did not see that coming…) Anaheim, ahem, LAofA, has been the class of the division for the better part of a decade no matter what the called themselves and will stay on top. Not only because they are the best team, but also because no one else in the division is ready to rise up and take it away from them.
THE SWEET: Stability. When Mike Scioscia was named manager, he was a smart, young leader who wanted to instill sound fundamentals throughout the organization. Nine seasons, 803 victories, and a World Championship later, Scioscia is still that leader. You know exactly what you are going to get from this club: smart, situational hitting and base running, a tough pitching staff, and a right fielder with one leg shorter than the other. Players, assistant coaches, and GM’s come and go, but Scioscia is the key to the Angels success.
THE NASTY: The Hump. Since winning the 2002 World Series as a Wild Card, the Angels have won their division 4 times. They have advanced to the ALCS only once though. Kind of like Matsuflex and his girlfriend on Tool Academy. Sure, they fool around, but he never quite gets to the Promised Land. (You didn’t watch Tool Academy? Really? Well, I’m pretty sure I’m 7.2% dummer for it. See? I’m sure I’ll get those IQ points bak waching Tough Love.) Angels fans are some of the most loyal in the league. Owner Arte Moreno has done a great job cultivating that fan base. (Not so much on signing free agents, Vlad excluded…) But can this team give those fans the champagne they got a taste of in 2002…
PREDICTION: Winning the division isn’t the problem. Neither is replacing the free agents they lost in the off-season (Bobby Abreu – the best bargain bin pick up of the winter). The 1st week of October is. But if John Lackey and Ervin Santana are gone for while, Angels fans will long for the problem of a first round exit.
2) Texas Rangers – If only they could pitch… They are 1_ dominant pitchers away from being a scary good team. Prez & CEO Nolan Ryan is starting to put his stamp on this team. He wants his starters to go deep into games. Like he did. (No word on whether he will continue that line of teaching by having all of the starters beat the crap out of Robin Ventura though.) Not only will that make for a stronger starting staff, he won’t have to fill as many holes in the bullpen. (Which is like NBC moving Jay Leno to 10pm in the fall so they don’t have to shovel as much fecal matter at us, like Kings, Southland, Knight Rider, Life, and The Philanthropist? It’s either Leno or Law & Order: GTA, Law & Order: Narcs, and Law & Order: Lost & Found.)
THE SWEET: Hitting for Days. This could be the most potentially dangerous lineup, top to bottom, in AL. Michael Young is the oldest everyday starter at 33 and he may get traded somewhere during the season. Young masher Chris Davis will be an everyday player, joining last year’s breakout stars Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler. Nelson Cruz, Dave Murphy, Jarrod Saltalamaccia, and rookie SS Elvis Andrus (great name) hope to join that list this year. Opposing pitchers will have to lace them up tight when facing this team, especially in Arlington.
THE NASTY: The Ball Throwers. (It’s like a game to see how many different ways I can say a team’s pitching staff is the weak point.) Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla “lead” this staff. (That might be the loosest use of the term “lead” since Allen Iverson “led” the 2004 US Olympic team.) The best/worst part of the rotation is Kris Benson, coming back from arm surgery, who could really fill a role on this team. But he brings with him his super hot, “look at me, LOOK AT ME” wife, Anna. Last time we saw her, she was in Maxim, FHM, and any other magazine she could tease us with and threatening to sleep with the entire Mets organization if Kris cheated on her. (Her website plays “Golddigger” when you first get there.) She did all that for attention, and that was before Facebook and Twitter. Over/Under on her first publicized twit (tweet? twat?): May 15th (take the under…) Oh, and the bullpen will cause more anxiety for fans than would pictures of Robert Pattinson wrestling at a gay bar.
PREDICTION: The rumored signing of a healthy Ben Sheets would have gone a long way to helping the Rangers contend for at least a Wild Card spot. For now, they will have to settle for winning a share of 11-9 games, while gaining another year of experience.
3) Oakland Athletics – We are several years removed from the heyday of Moneyball, but Billy Beane has changed things up a little. This off season, he actually ADDED a big name. Matt Holliday. And if they are still in 3rd place by July 4th, he will go back to what he knows and TRADE free agent-to-be Matt Holliday. Sing along…It’s the Circle of Aaaaaaaaaaaaa’s…
THE SWEET: Bargain Bin Tractor Beam. So Beane said, “We can trade a dime-a-dozen closer and some spare parts for one of the best hitters in the National League. Then put the band back together with Jason Giambi-Skywalker (as he is no longer Darth Vader on the Evil Empire). Throw in Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra for 30 cents on the dollar and let’s have at it! And if we don’t contend, screw it, I’ll turn Holliday into 3 more prospects in July and avoid a 25 second phone call with Scott Boras.”
THE NASTY: Moneyball. How can anyone on this team buy a house? If you sign with Oakland, you must get a rental agent’s card stapled to your contract. If you’re a veteran, perform well, and you know you could go at any moment if Billy can get his flavor-of-the-month from another team. If you’re a rookie, perform well, hire Boras as your agent, and sign with another team in 5 years. Either way, you’re not exactly comfortable in your situation.
PREDICTION: A’s fans (the ones who now go to the smallest stadium in the league, because 20,000 seats have been permanently covered, so 30,000 wouldn’t be empty for every game…) will have to hope for lightning in a bottle, and Justin Duchscherer having arm trouble in Spring Training is not a good start. More likely, it will just be more fun to get to know the 2009 A’s, since they won’t be the 2010 A’s.
4) Seattle Mariners – Fool me once… I really thought the Mariners were in line for big things last year. A 1-2 punch of King Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard. Speed and power in the line up. Who knew Bedard’s training habits were…mercurial? And that their manager would quit halfway through the year. And Richie Sexton would refuse to take extra batting practice despite having a batting average below his weight? I will not be fooled again. And speaking of getting fooled, it’s a contract year for Adrian Beltre…!
THE SWEET: Pieces of the Puzzle. When a good team on paper doesn’t perform due to injuries and unexpected, and this is a technical term, “suck”, there are usually plenty of pieces left to start to put together. Ichiro is still a hitting machine. Hernandez has Cristina Aguilera Dirrrrrrrrrrty stuff. A healthy Bedard can be the best lefty in the AL, averaging almost a strikeout an inning in his career. Pieces are there. Not enough to contend, but enough to start to be competitive.
THE NASTY: A New Day. A New Way. That’s the slogan on the Mariners website. They certainly needed “A New Way” since their “Old Way” was a steaming turd burger. But what exactly is “new”? Any starting pitchers? Nope. David Aardsma and Chad Cordero are the only new pitchers on the whole staff and they weren’t exactly Mariano Rivera and Brad Lidge last year. Position players? Endy Chavez in LF, Franklin Gutierez (who, along with his robust .247 avg, the Indians finally gave up on) in CF, and Russell Branyan at 1B. Mike Morgan thinks Russell Branyan is a journeyman. (No? Mike Morgan jokes aren’t relevant anymore? Hmm… How about this? The Octo-mom just had a kid for every team Branyan has played for. Better? And as a side note, why didn’t Octo-pussy catch on? She would have had a theme song where ever she went! Some publicist she has…) But who do the Mariners sign to really tell their fans it’s “A New Day”? Ken Griffey Jr. He’s a lock Hall-of-Famer and the most popular player in franchise history, but not exactly the dawning of a new day. If he can DH in 120 games and hit 25 HR, that should shatter expectations and make Seattle feel better, while the rain continues to fall.
PREDICTION: 2 years away from contending. If everything breaks right, next year could be it. But for now, Seattle, sip coffee, ignore the NBA after it jobbed you, and enjoy that 3rd Seahawks jersey!