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AL West Roundtable, Part Five: Predictions

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Here is the final portion of the American League West Roundtable. The bloggers predicted the finish of the division, and I put it all together for posting here. Jeff Sullivan of Lookout Landing, The Rev of Halos Heaven, Adam Morris of Lonestar Ball, and Blez of Athletics Nation all participated in this roundtable.

Enjoy!

Blez: Before giving my prediction for 2006, I just want to point out that I successfully predicted the order of finish of the West in 2005.

While the A's have more depth than ever before, to me their season and chances will depend on the health of Bobby Crosby, Huston Street and Rich Harden. If those three miss any significant time, the A's will be in trouble in 2006 because those are players that they don't really have any replacement for. If those three remain healthy, I expect them to win the division over the Texas Rangers, not the Angels. I think the Rangers did enough to upgrade their pitching to match their remarkably good offense. Wilkerson is a great pickup, I like Millwood and the offense continues to be good for that ballpark. I expect the AL West to be an extremely competitive division this year with Seattle and Texas both being better. Seattle now has a bonafide ace in Felix Hernandez, Jeremy Reed will be better this year and Beltre has to be better than last year. They will also get significantly better production from their catcher. Anaheim still has good starting pitching to go with an offense that should be a little improved with MacPherson and Kotchman. But I don't think they improved as much as some of the other teams in the division, including the A's and the Rangers. I think the A's take it with Texas coming in second and possibly even sneaking into the Wild Card race. Then the Angels and the Mariners.

Adam Morris: My prediction for the A.L. West: Oakland/Texas/Anaheim/Seattle

I'm not quite as sold on Oakland as a lot of folks seem to be. Deep pitching staff, but not much help in the upper minors if something goes wrong, and a lot on offense riding on three guys -- Bobby Crosby, Frank Thomas, and Milton Bradley -- with a spotty injury history. Still, the are the best of the lot, I think...90 wins might be enough to win the division, because I think that all the teams could be good, but none are likely to be great.

I'll slot the Rangers ahead of Anaheim, and I'd peg them at around 85-88 wins this year, with Anaheim coming in at around 80-83 wins. I think Texas improved this offseason, although whether they are a decent offensive team or a very good offensive team will probably boil down to whether Hank Blalock and Brad Wilkerson return to their performance level of a couple of years ago. And the rotation will likely rise or fall on Adam Eaton and Vicente Padilla...they are huge question marks, but if they both click and pitch to their capabilities, this is a playoff-caliber rotation.

Anaheim has a couple of very good players, and a bunch of "meh" after that. K-Rod's arm is a ticking time bomb, the Angels have only two good offensive players (Vlad and Kotchman), and the rotation isn't likely to be strong enough, or durable enough, to make up for that. They were lucky last year, and aren't likely to be lucky two years in a row. The best thing for the rest of the A.L. West would be for a hole or two to open up, and Anaheim to deal an Aybar or a Wood or someone like that in a futile attempt to shore up the team. I expect they'll hang in the race until early July or so, and then fade.

Seattle has King Felix. They've got the ongoing human interest story that is Jamie Moyer, who seems like he'll last as long as John Franco, or even Julio Franco. They've got Ichiro Suzuki, who is a very good player, but like Nolan Ryan, is overrated because he can do things skill-wise that no one else in baseball can do. But there's not much else to cling to right now, it seems. Jeremy Reed's broken wrist hurts, particularly since I don't think they will want to put Ichiro in centerfield. I expect them to win about 72-75 games, and Bill Bavasi to be fired after the season.

The Rev Halofan: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, contrary to Rob Neyer's inaccurate chronometer, are hardly an older team. With Jeff Weaver instead of Paul Byrd and Casey Kotchman taking away the full-time ABs of Steve Finley (courtesy of Erstad's switch to Center), they are a competitive, balanced bunch. The WBC showcased a healthy Bartolo Colon and a dominant Kelvim Escobar. And of course, any injuries will simply expose a stacked farm system. The last time there were this many talented Adolescents in Orange County, Tony Cadena was their lead singer, and Rikk Agnew's Kids of the Black Hole was their anthem. Of course, a stocked Angel team creates its own Social Distortion for the Oakland Athletics, who win this division on paper every February and choke it up ever September. Cue Bad Religion's Latch Key Kids for this bunch, who will be left behind in the division by their hopelessly fragile personnel and the piecemeal manner in which they were constructed. Fear not, though, as Oakland's GM has a good ear for music and will grab a few future chart-toppers with his July dealings aimed at 2007 as the owner whistles Do You Know the Way to San Jose. If the Seattle Mariners put it together early, things could be a little more exciting than a runaway division. Felix Hernandez is pure Sonic Youth, throwing Total Trash at a helpless division who will share the misery. Kenji Joe-Mama will allow The Emerald City to be a little less polite and forms a good core along with Reed and Ichiro enabling an otherwise mediocre pitching staff to look just a little bit better; but until they jettison some of those contracts, this team sits around channeling the ghost of Joey Ramone, wailing I Just Wanna Have Something To Do. Texas meanwhile is in desperate need of implosion to end this infatuation with Buck Showalter. Until they fix the air currents in the stadium, chuck Buck and get their three minor league arms major league ready, it is a steady diet of the Pistols' Submission, choruses of No Future and 4th place.

Jeff Sullivan: Predicted order of finish: Oakland, Texas, Anaheim, Seattle.

I like the way the A's are set up - they have a real solid top and good depth in the rotation, a strong bullpen, and a fairly young lineup with two shiny new cogs to slip right into the middle. No longer will Eric Chavez have to feel the pressure of being the only "big bat" on the roster. This is a very balanced team with few weak points, and I think it's going to take a whole lot of things going wrong to knock it out of first place.

The surprise here is probably me picking Texas to finish second, but they look like another solid team, if thinner than the A's. While each pitcher in the rotation has his own question marks, the top four have the potential to be very, very good, giving the Rangers its first above-average group of starters in years. That should take a lot of stress off the bullpen, which has a history of being overtaxed and worn down. As for the offense, I loved the Wilkerson addition then and I still like it now, as he should go a long way towards stabilizing what looked like a problematic outfield. That said, I think the key here has to be Hank Blalock - if he gets back to where he was two years ago, it'll give the Rangers four terrific bats in the heart of the order, which is tough to get around. Barring some unforeseen disaster, this team should win something like 85 games and hang in the race until the first or second week of September.

Everyone's been talking about the unimpressive shape of Anaheim's lineup, and for good reason - only Guerrero and Kotchman are likely to be above-average players at their positions. The rest is troublesome, and with the Big Four prospects all still at least several months to a year away, there's not much depth there should the offense struggles to score runs in the early going. The good news is that, lousy offense aside, the Angels should be pretty good at run prevention, as the rotation goes five deep with quality starters and the bullpen returns most of the pitchers who helped it post the seventh-best ERA in the league a year ago. Expect a lot of 3-2 and 5-3 games, along with a record just north of .500.

The Mariners bring up the rear, although it's not for lack of talent. When I say that no team in baseball is better prepared to take people by surprise than the M's, it sounds like I'm being biased, but I'm really not. They have either young players or established stars locked in at nearly every position on the field, which is a pretty good way to exceed expectations. On the other side of the coin, while the offense should be pretty good, an iffy, thin rotation is going to hold this team back. Behind Felix, who rocks, you have three guys who might be okay, and one guy who just needs to pack up and leave and never come back. And after Meche, then what? There's nobody in the bullpen or the minors capable of stepping in and making a handful of effective starts in the big leagues, meaning we have to cross our fingers that a 20 year old, a 43 year old, and three guys with a history of arm or shoulder problems are able to stay healthy for the duration of the season. Color me skeptical. The pitching's probably going to be a little better than I give it credit for, but there's not much of a chance that it'll actually be *good*, so look for the M's to lose their share of barnburners and end up around 81 wins. A breakout season or two, though (I'm looking at you, Beltre), and it's a completely different story. How many divisions are there in which the consensus worst team has legitimate hopes of contending?