Preview of the AL West

1. Oakland Athletics- The young Oakland Athletics have been resurgent over the last five years, falling into early season holes and climbing out with a ferocity that makes you wonder how good they really could be if they played a whole season. Another season with a strong core (pitchers Barry Zito and Rich Harden, third baseman Eric Chavez and short stop Bobby Crosby) as well as some key free agent pickups, including starting pitcher Esteban Loaiza and outfielder Milton Bradley, should allow the Oakland A’s to surge past the Los Angeles Angels. The batting order is going to need to stay healthy for most of the season in order to avoid any early or late season collapses. Milton Bradley, whose blow ups with the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers have given him a reputation as a head case, needs to fit in as a role player instead of the center of attention. The pitching staff looks solid and another year of experience for closer Huston Street (who may surpass Mariano Rivera as the best closer in baseball in the next few years) and starter Danny Haren will take pressure off of All Star pitcher Barry Zito.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- The Los Angeles Angels are becoming older by virtue of the rest of the AL West getting younger, making their preeminence in the AL West a valid question. No one questions the top heavy talent of the LA Angels, including superstar Vladmir Guerrero and pitching ace Bartolo Colon. However, there are questions about the age of team leaders like Darin Erstad and the potential of third baseman Chone Figgins, designated hitter Dallas McPherson, and first baseman Casey Kotchman. If these players can overcome these questions and role players like John Lackey and outfielder Garret Anderson can contribute significantly, they will push for the division title and for a wild card spot.

3. Texas Rangers- If the Texas Rangers were in the mediocre NL West, they would easily win their division and show how tough an out they would be in the MLB playoffs. The outstanding core of their batting order, including first baseman Mark Teixeira, shortstop Michael Young, and third baseman Hank Blalock, will only get better in 2006 and provide some cover for an uncertain pitching staff. Other fielders, including young catcher Rod Barajas and second baseman Ian Kinsler, will receive cover from the big guns and be allowed to develop quickly at the major league level. The real question is in their pitching rotation, with only starter Adam Eaton and closer Francisco Cordero as reliable members of the staff. The Texas Rangers need new pitcher Kevin Millwood and the revolving door of pitchers that will fill out the rotation to step up and keep the runs against low enough to put together a winning season.

4. Seattle Mariners- The Seattle Mariners may improve slightly over last season if only because the expectations for decent performances from players like Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexon have been lowered from the previous offseason. The word “slightly” is used with some trepidation, because as soon as the Seattle Mariners fall to a solid fourth place in the AL West (probably by All Star weekend) they will deal closer Eddie Guardado and possibly Adriana Beltre or Raul Ibanez (if not both). Manager Mike Hargrove has a lot of work to do before this team will even be competitive in the AL West, much less in the American League. The Seattle Mariners need whatever young players they have at the major league level (including Felix Hernandez and Kenji Johjima) and those within their farm system to grow up quickly or they will be trade bait in 2007.

Division Winner- Oakland Athletics

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