In a division that will be tough to figure this coming season, betting too much on a winner isn’t really in the cards. Determining how any of these teams will really play over the course of a full season will be difficult. But all of them will have some interesting pieces worth taking a look into.
Houston Astros. There are so many oddities at play with this team. They were put together in a long overhaul of a roster by obtaining prospects and picks. Last year they got things going ahead of schedule with their playoff appearance. Guys like Dallas Keuchel turned the corner and became an elite Cy Young pitcher. Lance McCullers took his opportunity in the bigs and had a great debut season (despite what his record may show). Collin McHugh had one of those awkward seasons where nothing really was great but he won with great run support.
Then there’s the young core of hitters who showed great power and not much else. Carlos Gomez came in at the trade deadline and was (and will be) what this team was missing. Jose Altuve is the team’s leader, Luis Valbuena, Evan Gattis, Preston Tucker, and Colby Rasmus don’t do much more than hit homers. But all those guys could improve. And George Springer is going to be a fine ballplayer.
So who’s really that guy? Carlos Correa came in and produced from the jump. He hit a wall and his average dropped a good bit making him look average in comparison. But this guy is legit. Correa is only 22 and he already hit that many home runs in his first season (99 games). His fielding could use some work but it’s expected that with a year learning in the majors and working with his Astros teammates that improvement will come sooner than later.
Texas Rangers. In a park that makes a lot of guys look like All-Stars, there won’t be any shortage of hitting any time soon. As long as Texas gets strong campaigns from Elvis Andrus, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, and maybe Jurickson Profar or Mitch Moreland, then things should be a-okay.
Gotta win in the playoffs with pitching. And that’s not going to happen if there isn’t some kind of depth. Cole Hamels doesn’t need to be the ace anymore. And if Derek Holland can stay healthy he should be fine as well. After losing Yu Darvish for the entire 2015 season it was realistic to assume failure. And that didn’t happen. Still, Darvish is coming off a tough injury and whether he can come back as a strong (if not dominant) pitcher, then the Rangers could be looking at another very competitive year.
LA Angels. Whether Garrett Richards emerges as the top pitcher on a staff of inflated pitcher salaries (Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson) is the only real storyline considering the pitching side of things. The hitters are the more likely side of what may make or break Los Angeles’ season.
Counting on guys like Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun, Albert Pujols, and even Yunel Escobar are sort of a foregone conclusion. But the trade to bring in Andrelton Simmons has the potential to affect this club well beyond this year.
Simmons was a great piece with a contract last through 2020. He’s a decent hitter with room to improve and a great fielder. At 26 years of age, the Angels should get the best years of Simmons and that will likely be a part of successful teams whether now or in the near future.
Oakland Athletics. Plenty of guys had breakthrough performances last year like Stephen Vogt, Mark Canha, Jed Lowrie, Marcus Semian, and Josh Reddick. Hopefully Billy Butler gets his act together and two new guys can contribute like many hoped they would have at their previous clubs (Khris Davis and Yonder Alonso).
Sonny Gray was magical. He will continue to be awesome. And at a shade over 500k, the Athletics have the biggest bargain in the history of time. If he can keep his ERA under 3 again and stay healthy then Oakland should at least be able to keep it close over the course of the season.
Seattle Mariners. They thought they were a “win-now” team. And then some injuries happened and they realized they just didn’t have enough talent to get the job done. Now that those stars (Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano among others) are getting older (and perhaps too old), it’s really important that the Mariners win now.
Maybe it’s not possible, but if Felix Hernandez could be cloned that would be great. The next best thing might be to have Taijuan Walker step up as the next big thing. Last year was an improvement that saw Walker come awy with 11 wins and an ERA under 5. That needs to get better and he needs to improve his control. Staying healthy is always important. But finding ways to pitch deeper into games on a regular basis will do wonders for a team that lacks much depth in its lineup.