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A.L. West Previews: Seattle the Favorite

By Rory P. Pheiffer

SPORTS COLUMNIST

Well, you’ve seen who I have in store for division winners in the National League, so we will move on to the American League, working our way back from the West Coast to the East. Yes, that means you will have to wait another week to see if I will be picking the hometown favorite Soxes or the Bronx Bombers. I have received a bit of advice from a few people, mainly people pulling for the BoSox, but I also was advised by one individual to take the Orioles this year. Well, I doubt that I will, but stranger things have happened.

Baseball’s smallest division is also its weakest. In the recent past the American League West has provided for the most interesting pennant races, but at the same time, the most pointless because none of these teams can compete with cash that the teams in the East and Central are spending.

Oakland Athletics

The AL West is a division full of other teams’ unwanted and young players, relatively unheard of talent. One of the best examples of such a conglomeration is the Oakland Athletics. As I said earlier, Oakland surprised a lot of people last year, much like the Reds did in the National League, so the question that everybody seems to be asking is can they do it again.

Unlike my opinion that the Diamondbacks batting line-up couldn’t duplicate its 1999 performance, I think the Athletics can put up similar numbers to last year’s, maybe even more. The difference? Age. Oakland’s overachievers are young, and can use last season as a stepping stone to more success. None of Oakland’s power alley (batters three through six) have more than four seasons of 100-plus games under their belts. I look for Jason Giambi, John Jaha, Matt Stairs, and Ben Grieve to put some runs on the board for Oakland. Kevin Appier, Tim Hudson, and Omar Olivares give Oakland decent starting pitching that can win games with run support.

However, it is the rest of the Athletics that are suspect. A lead-off hitter without big league experience and a mediocre bullpen could prove fatal for the upstart Athletics. Unless their big four produce a monstrous amount of runs, or other players step-up, it looks like another competitive season for Oakland that will end with them falling short again. However, after having been in the basement of the division three of the four years prior to last, I don’t think manager Art Howe will be terribly upset.

Seattle Mariners

This brings us to the Seattle Mariners, who despite the fact that they no longer have Ken Griffey Jr., still boast a pretty good line-up. Alex Rodriquez, on the last year of his contract, is expected to take charge of the clubhouse, and he knows the better he performs the better his value on the market will be next year. Look for him to continue to post big numbers, though they may tail just a bit since pitchers no longer have to pitch to Alex because Griffey follows.

Edgar Martinez does though, and he’s not a player to overlook. Edgar has batted .322 or higher each of the past five seasons, and does so while averaging over 27 home runs a season. Follow that up with John Olerud and Jay Buhner, and you have a pitcher’s nightmare. Garcia, Moyer, and Sele give the Mariner three reliable starters, and Seattle’s bullpen is stronger with the move of Jose Mesa to a middle reliever and naming the closer Kazuhiro Sasaki. If Sasaki performs like he did in spring training all season long, and Brian Hunter finally plays to his potential as Seattle’s lead-off hitter, the Mariners may even make some noise in the playoffs, at least driving the first round opponent to five games. Regardless, Seattle has enough to beat out the Athletics for the division crown.

The pretenders

So that leaves us the pretenders, who in this division are the Texas Rangers and the Anaheim Angels. The Texas Rangers have one of the best bullpens in the business. The problem is that they don’t have any talented starting pictures. Texas traded away superstar Juan Gonzalez for six Detroit Tigers.

That in itself is pretty scary. Trust me, I’m a Detroit native, and I can attest to the fact that a team that trades for six Tigers is a certainly questionable. Gene Kapler should be a solid player for them, but as for Justin Thompson, he has spent too much of his career injured to ever amount to the hype that once preceded him. None of the other players they acquired will make to much of an impact for the Rangers. As good as Ivan Rodriquez is, he cannot carry this team even with Raphael Palmero’s aging bat behind him, I don’t expect good things from the Rangers.

Thankfully for them though the Angels are in the division. Anaheim does not appear to be heading out of the cellar anytime soon. Tim Salmon and Mo Vaughn provide a powerful one-two punch in the heart of the order, but that is the only punch this line-up packs. A starting rotation that boasts Tim Belcher (past three season’s ERA’s: 5.02, 4.27, and 6.73) and 42-year-old Tom Candiotti is a desperate rotation. Look for the Angels to accumulate a triple-digit number in the loss column this year. Related stories: