Want to know the way shut we’re to the starting of the 2023 season? Well, if you happen to have been to preview a special division each two weeks and be sure to obtained all six of them in earlier than the season began, you’d have to begin proper now. Like, right now. That’s thrilling, proper? It’ll be right here earlier than it.
That is our long-winded means of claiming right now kicks off our Division Previews sequence, in which we ask two large questions about every group and, foolishly, try to make predictions. We start with the American League West, a division that has:
• The defending World Series champion
• The finest participant of the final decade
• The finest two-way participant ever
• The high free-agent pitcher signing
• The defending AL Rookie of the Year who simply led his group to the playoffs for the first time in 21 years
• The A’s
So, enjoyable division! Let’s begin our previews with the AL West. Teams are listed in alphabetical order by nickname. We’ll pose two key questions for every group (10 whole) with my standings prediction beneath.
1) How a lot of the vets can keep wholesome?
The drawback with the 2022 Angels was, if you happen to can consider this, not their pitching. The group had 5 starters with above-average ERA+ numbers, and the bullpen was, effectively, common — which for the Angels counts as enchancment. But the lineup imploded. Injuries ravaged what was supposed to be a formidable lineup, which is the form of factor that occurs when you’ve as many veterans as the Angels did. Well, guess what? They have extra veterans this yr. The additions of Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Drury ought to theoretically lengthen the lineup, however they’re each over 30 themselves (though nonetheless youthful than Mike Trout). The Angels’ lineup might be a energy this yr, however provided that Trout, Jared Walsh, the two new additions, Shohei Ohtani and, maybe particularly, Anthony Rendon, can keep wholesome. Can the Angels depend on that? Can they ever?
2) How lengthy will they maintain agency with Shohei?
You could have heard that Ohtani, the most thrilling participant in baseball and a expertise like we’ve not seen in a long time, is a free agent at the finish of this season. The Angels have been steadfast in not entertaining any commerce provides for him, however that is as a result of they plan on contending this yr. What occurs if it is late June they usually’re eight video games out of a playoff spot? (Not probably given the expanded playoff format, however actually attainable.) The minute the Angels admit they’d choose up the cellphone if anybody calls about Ohtani would open up a commerce feeding frenzy that’d make the Juan Soto sweepstakes appear to be a Pokemon swap. The Angels nonetheless need to re-sign him. But no participant doubtlessly on the market subsequent offseason would deliver again greater than Ohtani, contemplating he’s, basically, two gamers. The Angels have a ton of questions dealing with them after this yr. Trading Ohtani is likely to be the solely means to reply not less than a few of them.
1) Can any of the younger starters step up and be the subsequent Justin Verlander?
All proper, so there actually is not a “subsequent Verlander.” The man simply received the AL Cy Young, one other one, so anticipating Framber Valdez or Cristian Javier (and even Luis Garcia) to do what Verlander did for this Astros rotation is unrealistic. But Valdez, Javier and Garcia (and Lance McCullers Jr. and José Urquidy) have all spent their Astros careers not having to be that No. 1 man as a result of Verlander was there. Now he is not. They all have the chance of being ace starters, particularly Valdez and Javier, however the Astros want certainly one of them to step up and achieve this. Put it this fashion: If there is a top-shelf starter who hits the market in July, the Astros could be in on him.
2) Did they want to improve at catcher?
The Astros do not have numerous holes, which is smart: They simply received the World Series. But they have been broadly anticipated to be in on a catcher this offseason, whether or not it was a free agent like Willson Contreras or a commerce candidate like Sean Murphy. Houston ended up staying put, conserving Martín Maldonado (a free agent after this season), saying goodbye to midseason acquisition (*10*) Vázquez and hoping the children can fill in appropriately. The Astros even have two prospect catchers: Yainer Diaz (MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 Astros prospect) and Korey Lee (No. 7). Diaz is the higher hitter, one who can play first base (which is now occupied by José Abreu), and Lee is the higher fielder. The Astros clearly belief them each in the long run. Which one do they belief in the quick time period? Also: You can inform the Astros are good as a result of we simply spent a couple of sentences asking questions about their backup catchers.
1) So which younger gamers are you constructing round?
The A’s are in such a interval of flux proper now — truthfully, is it attainable Aledmys Díaz is the cleanup hitter for this group? — that you simply actually can solely have a look at the future. Which present Athletics will probably be on the subsequent aggressive A’s group? Shea Langeliers, sure; Ramón Laureano, possibly. Esteury Ruiz, hopefully. The A’s even have extra veterans on their group than you would possibly like, from Díaz to Jace Peterson to Tony Kemp to even Seth Brown, who’s over 30 himself. You don’t desire to rush guys, however how excited are you able to be about anybody over 30 on this roster proper now?
2) Are we going to get some readability quickly?
So a lot of the A’s future is up in the air, together with their future house ballpark. If you have been to a sport in Oakland when this group is aggressive, you know the way thrilling a spot it may be when it is rocking: The fan base typically resembles that of a school soccer one — rowdy, loud, younger, rambunctious, constantly loud It has been some time since we have seen that in Oakland. There’s some fascinating younger gamers right here, particularly a few of these rotation items, however that run of three straight playoff appearances from 2018-20 looks as if a lengthy time in the past, would not it?
1) The drought is over. Now what?
One would not essentially say the wait was value it — 21 years is an unreasonably very long time to be with out playoff baseball — however actually there was numerous frustration launched in the Mariners’ Wild Card Series win vs. Toronto final yr. (There’s an alternate universe the place Yordan Alvarez strikes out in the ninth inning of ALDS Game 1 and issues prove very in another way for everybody.) But you solely get to break by means of as soon as. Now, the Mariners will probably be anticipated to make the playoffs shifting ahead. Their offseason strikes mirror this: The additions of Kolten Wong, AJ Pollock and (particularly) Teoscar Hernández are the strikes of a group that seems like it’s simply getting began. The Mariners is likely to be proper.
2) How excessive can Julio fly?
Julio Rodríguez was all the Mariners may have presumably hoped for final yr. The man did every thing. He hit for energy, he stole bases, he performed terrific center-field protection, he was the face of the franchise, and he made you’re feeling like baseball was the most enjoyable sport that has ever been invented each time he stepped on the area. So now he simply has to exit and do all of it once more, and possibly even be a little bit higher. Where may he presumably enhance? You marvel if there’s a little bit bit extra energy in that bat, possibly? Maybe a little bit increased OBP? Rodríguez, in accordance to Fangraphs WAR, was the Twenty eighth-best participant in baseball final yr. Imagine how excessive this group may soar if he is in the high 10. So, go get ’em, Julio!
1) How many innings can they moderately count on from deGrom?
It is undeniably thrilling that Jacob deGrom is pitching for the Rangers. Texas followers ought to be ecstatic: That’s Hall of Fame-level expertise proper there, on the mound for you, each fifth day. But, after all, it is the every-fifth-day half that’s the query. deGrom hasn’t thrown greater than 92 innings in a season since 2019, and whereas the innings he has thrown have largely been unimaginable — although he did get a little shaky down the stretch final yr — there simply have not been sufficient of them. If the Rangers make the playoffs and deGrom is at 100% for a Game 1 begin, this transfer seems genius. But numerous issues have to occur for each of these issues to line up. Would you are expecting it?
2. Do they want an outfield improve?
It’s spectacular that the Rangers have been so keen to go after top-tier expertise, and, it ought to be famous, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney aren’t unhealthy back-of-rotation provides both. But it is form of bizarre that the Rangers have not added a lot to the outfield, is not it? Your mileage on Adolis García could range — the energy is spectacular, clearly, however he is a free swinger and an iffy fielder. Then once more, not less than he holds down a spot. Is a playoff contender actually trotting out Leody Taveras and Josh Smith in the different spots, although? It positive looks as if the Rangers ought to be dialing Pittsburgh’s cellphone about Bryan Reynolds, proper? The Rangers have some top-shelf gamers, and some constructive notes like Jonah Heim and the rising Josh Jung. But there are large holes right here. Can they fill them?
THIS HUMBLE SCRIBE’S BEST GUESS AT THE STANDINGS:
It’s robust to see anybody catching the Astros, however the Mariners appear to be a transparent playoff group, and the Angels and the Rangers will definitely be in the chase. (The Angels could have extra boom-or-bust potential than any group in baseball.) The division winner may not be in doubt, however one will get the sense we’ll be listening to lots from the AL West in the postseason.