AL West Preview: Astros Poised To Take Pennant And Make Deep October Run

Bryan Altman

Spring is slowly sweeping its way across the country, which can only mean one thing: baseball season. The boys of summer are back and, with Opening Day right around the corner, it’s time to dust off your glove and maybe catch up on some of the expectations for the 30 MLB teams this year. That’s where CBS Local Sports’ division preview series comes in. We’ll take you around the league giving you an overview of each team and their expectations heading into the year. 

On May 29, 2016, the Texas Rangers took the AL West division lead from the Seattle Mariners for good. From there, their lead only grew and the only thing that really changed was which team was chasing them at what point of the year.

At times, it was the Astros, who cut into the lead in July/August before fading.

Seattle pressured occasionally as well, but ultimately relented as the Rangers finished nine games ahead of the Mariners, which was the second largest margin of victory of any division in baseball.

The Astros have retooled and are the early favorites to win the pennant, the Mariners are still potent, the Rangers are looking different, yet promising, and hey, the Angels have Mike Trout, so let’s dive in and see how the West will be won in 2017 and who has the edge.

**Win totals courtesy of Bovada Sportsbook

[graphiq id=”gDsUdV6bnvv” title=”2016 Houston Astros” width=”600″ height=”578″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/gDsUdV6bnvv” ]

Vegas 2017 Win Total: 89.5

The Astros might have come up short last year in terms of postseason qualification, but by plenty of other metrics, the year was a success.

The youth movement that the Astros spent years mired in the muck to build has come to fruition and thanks to the addition of a few key free agents Houston has one of the most solid lineups in baseball this year.

Free agents aside, it all starts with Jose Altuve for the Astros. The 26-year-old second baseman was a serious MVP and NL batting title contender who finished the year with arguably his best season statistically to date (24 HR, .338 AVG, 154 OPS+ and 216 hits — his third straight year with 200-plus hits).

Carlos Correa entering his third year should only get better, while fellow youngsters George Springer and Alex Bregman are poised for breakout seasons for the Astros.

The additions of Carlos Beltran — even at age 39 — is a solid one for a young team learning how to win, and Brian McCann out of the bright lights of New York could revert to form from his days in Atlanta.

As CBS Sports points out, the Astros bullpen is rock solid, so the only question really is surrounding their starting pitching.

Can Dallas Keuchel carry the load after a 2016 season cut short by injury, and can Collin McHugh shake off a dead arm and a rough spring to become the veritable No. 2 starter the Astros desperately need?

23-year-old righty Lance McCullers Jr. hasn’t had the sharpest spring training (1-2, 7.31 ERA, 24 SO in 16 innings pitched), including a rough outing against the Cubs, but the Astros will need him to become a force with mediocre veterans Charlie Morton and Mike Fiers bringing up the rear of Houston’s rotation.

Ultimately, their young talented 1-9 lineup and deep bench might be called upon to win some high-scoring games with a rotation with a lot more questions than answers.

Lineup: (CF) George Springer, (2B) Jose Altuve, (SS) Carlos Correa, (DH) Carlos Beltran (C) Brian McCann, (3B) Alex Bregman, (RF) Josh Reddick (1B) Yulieski Gurriel, (LF) Norichika Aoki

 

Rotation: Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers Jr., Mike Fiers, Charlie Morton

 

[graphiq id=”7HSlXlMeX09″ title=”2016 Seattle Mariners” width=”600″ height=”979″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/7HSlXlMeX09″ ]

Vegas 2017 Win Total: 85.5

The Seattle Mariners have retooled their 1-9 lineup on the fly and appear ready to… well, I’m not really sure what they’re ready to do to be honest.

Their retooling was by way of acquiring starters, but essentially starters that will be called upon to be role players most days. Guys like Jean Segura, Carlos Ruiz, Drew Smyly, Jarrod Dyson, Yovani Gallardo, Mitch Haniger, Danny Valencia, and Chris Heston won’t bring this team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2001 without great years from aging stars in Nelson Cruz (36) and Robinson Cano (34). Oh and a return to form from King Felix Hernandez, who hasn’t pitched like an “ace” since 2014. Last year, Hernandez pitched only 153.1 innings and had his highest ERA in 10 years.

He’s coming off of a stellar spring training in which he went 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA, so there’s hope the 30-year-old right-hander can return to form.

Flanking Hernandez are four serviceable, but relatively unremarkable starters in Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Yovani Gallardo and Drew Smyly, so Hernandez’s expertise will certainly be needed.

Best case scenario: The Mariners’ new additions beautifully complement Cano, Cruz, Hernandez and Kyle Seager, giving the Mariners an unexpectedly solid 1-9 lineup and buoying what will be a relatively weak starting rotation.

It could happen, but I don’t think the Mariners have the rotation or the supporting cast around their stars to finish above .500 in 2017. Under 85.5

Lineup: (LF) Jarrod Dyson, (SS) Jean Segura, (2B) Robinson Cano, (DH) Nelson Cruz, (3B) Kyle Seager, (RF) Mitch Haniger, (1B) Dan Vogelbach, (C) Mike Zunino, (CF) Leonys Martin

 

Rotation: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Yovani Gallardo, Drew Smyly**

**Reports indicate Smyly may miss up 6-8 weeks with a strained elbow.

 

[graphiq id=”asd8EBpLeHb” title=”2016 Texas Rangers” width=”600″ height=”578″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/asd8EBpLeHb” ]

Vegas 2017 Win Total: 84.5 

Sometimes, Vegas loses, and my guess is that Vegas betting on the Rangers to finish beneath the Mariners in the standings is a losing bet.

From a Sabermetrics standpoint, the Rangers are expected to decline this year due to their unsustainable penchant in 2016 for winning close games. Last year they finished 36-11 in one-run games, an MLB record that caused sabermatricians’ heads to burst at the improbability of such a feat.

Still, the Rangers are an above-average team that has bolstered their weak points and is poised to have a decent, if not above average rotation depending on how well they can weather the injury storm.

The Rangers boast a formidable 1-9 lineup and Mike Napoli should offer protection and power behind Adrian Beltre in the lineup. The Rangers have also re-upped Roughned Odor, signed Carlos Gomez as a free agent after his release from Houston, and have Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate after last year’s deadline deal, so navigating their lineup will be difficult for even the best of MLB’s pitchers.

Luckily for them, they’re in a division rife with mediocre pitching. In fact, their rotation might have the most upside of any of the three contenders (Astros, Mariners).

Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish are by far the two most impressive one-two starters in the West, if the pair can stay healthy and pitch a full season.

By all reports No. 3 starter Martin Perez has put together a solid spring training and could be a pleasant surprise in this year’s rotation while what the Rangers will get from Andrew Cashner and A.J. Griffin is anybody’s guess, but much shouldn’t be expected.

It’ll be up to the Rangers’ aces and their bats to get this team back into postseason contention, which is a distinct possibility; especially if they can keep sabermatricians scratching their heads and win some more of those one-run thrillers. Over 84.5

Lineup: (CF) Carlos Gomez, (DH) Shin-Soo Choo, (3B) Adrian Beltre, (1B) Mike Napoli, (2B) Rougned Odor, (C) Jonathan Lucroy, (RF) Nomar Mazara, (SS) Elvis Andrus, (LF) Jurickson Profar

 

Rotation: Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, Andrew Cashner, A.J. Griffin

 

[graphiq id=”4Xxzg68IFj7″ title=”2016 Los Angeles Angels” width=”600″ height=”957″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/4Xxzg68IFj7″ ]

Vegas 2017 Win Total: 79.5

If you have to ask if Mike Trout can do it alone, then you already know that the answer is no. Mike Trout can do a whole lot — more than any other baseball player on the planet — but not even he can will this Angels team to more than the outskirts of Wild Card contention in 2017.

Outside of Trout, Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron and Albert Pujols are the Angels’ best hitters and fittingly occupy spots in the lineup flanking Trout in the No. 3 slot. Ultimately, though, this triumvirate isn’t enough to make the Angels anything more than a mediocre run-producing team (17th in runs scored, 15th in RBIs in 2016).

For the Angels to take a step closer to contention in 2017, it’ll come from their defense, which has been upgraded significantly thanks to signings of Cameron Maybin and Danny Espinosa, and their starting pitching, which will hopefully be led by Garrett Richards for the entire season.

Richards is attempting to come back from a partial tear of his UCL without the use of Tommy John surgery and early indications are that his treatment is working out well.

Matt Shoemaker takes the No. 2 slot and has shown promise, sporting a 4.77 walk-to-strikeout ratio last season along with a 3.88 ERA in 27 starts (9-13).

Behind Shoemaker, however, things get murky. The Angels lack rotational depth and are poised to trot out Ricky Nolasco, who had a career year ERA wise after joining the Angels midway through the year but has been inconsistent over his 11-year career, youngster Tyler Skaggs (poised for his first full season in the big leagues after a solid spring training) and Jesse Chavez, who won the fifth and final starter spot on the strength of his spring training over Alex Meyer.

There is upside here, as they’re a young staff, but Richards makes or breaks this rotation.

Without him, they’re in trouble. The bullpen will be fine, with Cam Bedrosian leading the way along with Huston Street at closer, so if the rotation can get the ball into their hands, they can win some games this year. Still, run production could be a problem, and with the uncertainties surrounding the rotation, it’s hard to see an 80-win season in Los Angeles — at least for the city’s American League representative. Under 79.5

Lineup: (3B) Yunel Escobar, (RF) Kole Calhoun, (CF) Mike Trout, (DH) Albert Pujols (1B) C.J. Cron, (LF) Cameron Maybin (2B) Danny Espinosa, (SS) Andrelton Simmons (C) Carlos Perez

 

Rotation: Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Ricky Nolasco, Tyler Skaggs, Jesse Chavez

 

[graphiq id=”6kHXBIXtO9D” title=”2016 Oakland Athletics” width=”600″ height=”578″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/6kHXBIXtO9D” ]

Vegas 2017 Win Total: 73.5

It’s more than likely going to be another year of non-competitive baseball out in Oakland as the Oakland A’s have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, and hey, in this game, you pretty much get what you pay for.

A look up and down the batting order for the A’s isn’t going to put a chill in the heart of many — if any opposing pitchers, but there is some talent here.

Khris Davis proved that he can mash in 2016 (42 HR) and newcomers Rajai Davis, Matt Joyce and Trevor Plouffe can be valuable contributors, but are unlikely to change the fate of the A’s.

The A’s rotation is spearheading the team’s youth movement and is their best hope for a surprise season, with no starter on their roster above the age of 28.

While each of the starters has a question mark attached to him, it’s the one surrounding ace Sonny Gray that looms the largest. Gray had a down year last year to say the least, sporting a 5.69 ERA in 117 innings. The A’s are counting on their top guy to lead this rotation if they’re going to have any chance at approaching .500 this year.

Ultimately, however, the A’s just aren’t in the same stratosphere as the other clubs in the AL West just yet. This year will be about their young arms developing, getting some top prospects up for some playing time in Franklin Barreto, A.J. Puk, and Matt Chapman to see what you’ve got in store in the future. Under 73.5

Lineup: (CF) Rajai Davis, (C) Stephen Vogt, (DH) Ryon Healy, (LF) Khris Davis, (RF) Matt Joyce, (SS) Marcus Semien, (3B) Trevor Plouffe, (1B) Yonder Alonso, (2B) Jed Lowrie

 

Rotation: Sonny Gray, Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman, Jharel Cotton, Andrew Triggs

 

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