AL West Preview

After producing two playoff teams last season, the AL West is back with a World Series favorite and a few teams looking to surprise. Oakland came out of nowhere last season to capture a Wild Card spot as the Astros once again won the division crown and returned to the ALCS. Houston enters 2019 as the heavy favorites once again, but there are four other teams hoping to spoil the party.

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Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Los Angeles Angels

2018 Record: 80-82; 4th AL West

Postseason: Did not qualify

Hello to: Cody Allen, P; Justin Bour, 1B; Trevor Cahill, P; Matt Harvey; P; Jonathan Lucroy, C

So long to: Garrett Richards, P; Blake Parker, P; Matt Shoemaker, P

2019 Forecast: There will be some new faces in the Angels clubhouse this season after an offseason rehaul of their pitching staff. Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey will look to stem the loss of Garrett Richards but it is unclear exactly what each have left in the tank. They did not land a highly coveted name like Machado or Harper in free agency but they did get superstar outfielder Mike Trout under contract for the long term, avoiding him hitting the market in two years. The Trout signing is by far the biggest news to come out of Angels spring training, but now the pressure is on management to build a team around the consensus best player in baseball. During Trout’s career to this point, the Angels have only managed one postseason trip, simply not good enough when you employ a generational talent like Trout. They are still buried under the Pujols contract but getting Trout under contract long term hopefully signals the franchise is serious about winning. That winning may have to wait one more season as the Astros remain the division front runners and the Athletics don’t plan on making 2018 a one year wonder. Things will have to fall right for the Angels to be in contention come fall.

Look out for: It would be a cop out to put Mike Trout here because he really is must-watch if you have an opportunity. Trout aside, the Angels lineup does not really jump off the page, but there is one player to keep an eye on. Last season, Shohei Ohtani made the lead from Japan to MLB and stole the show. He won’t pitch this season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, but he will be taking on the role of DH and he has shown plenty well just how good he is with the bat in his hands.

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Erik Williams/USA Today

Houston Astros

2018 Record: 103-59; 1st AL West

Postseason: Lost in ALCS

Hello to: Michael Brantley, OF; Robinson Chirinos, C; Wade Miley, P

So long to: Dallas Keuchel, P; Charlie Morton, P; Brian McCann, C; Marwin Gonzalez, OF; Martin Maldonado, C

2019 Forecast: A year after winning the World Series, the Houston Astros again won the AL West and returned to the ALCS where they were eventually vanquished by the Red Sox. Over the winter, the Astros parted ways with Dallas Keuchel, Charlies Morton, Brian McCann, and Marwin Gonzalez, all integral parts of that 2017 title winning side. Those losses were alleviated through free agency, bringing in Michael Brantley, Robinson Chirinos, and Wade Miley. All three guys will be regulars in the 2019 Astros everyday lineup. With those holes filled, the Astros return almost all of their 2018 roster, most of whom contributed in 2017 as well. Their infield will still be one of the best in baseball with Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa in the middle and Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel on the corners. Brantley figures to slot in nicely in left field and in the middle of an already potent lineup. George Springer and Josh Reddick round out the rest of the outfield. It remains to be seen how their rotation bounces back from losing Keuchel and Morton, both former All-Stars, but they still have Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole going 1-2. They’ll likely be fine. Entering the new season, the Astros face more turnover than they did last offseason, but until someone knocks them off, they remain top of the class in the AL West.

Look out for: Alex Bregman has asserted himself as one of the best third basemen in baseball after a stellar 2018 campaign. For his efforts, the Astros rewarded Bregman with a nice long term contract during spring training. He typically hit in the two-hole last season but based on what we saw in the spring, Bregman will slide down to the #3 spot behind Springer and Altuve. Last season saw him finish 5th in the AL MVP voting, a position which could easily improve in 2019.

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via NBCSports.com

Oakland Athletics

2018 Record: 97-65; 2nd AL West

Postseason: Lost in AL Wild Card Game

Hello to: Marco Estrada, P; Robbie Grossman, OF; Joakim Soria, P

So long to: Trevor Cahill, P; Jeurys Familia, P; Shawn Kelley, P; Jed Lowrie, 2B; Jonathan Lucroy, C

2019 Forecast: Moneyball seems to be alive and well in Oakland these days as the Athletics stunned the baseball world in 2018 by making a shock appearance in the playoffs. Their stay in October was short lived after falling to the Yankees in the Wild Card Game but they return in 2019 hoping to build on their success. On paper, the lineup returns almost at full strength, only needing to replace Jed Lowrie and Jonathan Lucroy. The biggest question for the Athletics will come on the mound where they will need to replace some faces from last year. Marco Estrada signed in the offseason and helps stem some of the free agent bleeding, but more work will need to be done to replicate the success of 2018. By the time this goes live, the Athletics will already have two games in the books since they opened their season in Japan with the Seattle Mariners. That trip came with more than just the two losses on the scoreboard as first baseman Matt Olson will miss at least a month with injury. The good news for the Athletics entering 2019 is most of the teams around them in the AL West either didn’t do much to improve or even got worse in some cases. While the Astros may still be the top dog, there is no reason the Athletics can’t replicate their 2018 success and make another run at a postseason berth.

Look out for: If you like the long ball (who doesn’t) then you will not want to miss Khris Davis in action for the A’s. Coming off three straight 40+ home run seasons, Davis kicked off his 2019 campaign with a bomb to centerfield during his first game in Tokyo against the Mariners. Since the A’s don’t get a lot of national television exposure it can be difficult to watch Davis work his craft, but he’s worth the effort to at least try if you can find the time.

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Joe Nicholson/USA Today

Seattle Mariners

2018 Record: 89-73; 3rd AL West

Postseason: Did not qualify

Hello to: Tim Beckham, SS; Cory Gearrin, P; Yusei Kikuchi, P; Hunter Strickland, P; Domingo Santana, OF

So long to: Robinson Cano, 2B; Nelson Cruz, OF/DH; Ichiro Suzuki, OF; Zach Duke, P

2019 Forecast: For the longest time last season, it appeared the Mariners were going to finally end their 16 year playoff drought. They were not only in playoff position, but pushing the Astros for the top spot in the division. That hope quickly faded last summer when the Mariners began to stumble and the Athletics became unstoppable. In the end, the playoff drought was pushed to 17 seasons and it looks like a few more may be added on to that after their offseason. Robinson Cano was sent east to the New York Mets and Nelson Cruz left in free agency. All signs now point to the Mariners entering yet another rebuild. There are some young, exciting faces on the roster but unless they all turn in career years, it looks like 2019 will be another lost season. This season could also spell a final end to the Felix Hernandez era in Seattle. Signs sprung up last season when Hernandez was sent to the bullpen at one point, and already this season he lost out on the opening day nod. Playing in a division against at least two sides who are clearly better while the Mariners got worse in the offseason means it will be another fall without baseball in the Pacific Northwest.

Look out for: One of the exciting faces we mentioned above is outfielder Mitch Haniger. An All-Star in 2018, Haniger is living up to the hype he created as a budding prospect in the Mariners system. Since making his debut in 2016, Haniger has shown marked improvement each season since. Any hope the Mariners have of competing in the tough AL West will rest on the shoulder of the young outfielder, and his continued growth as a player.

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via si.com

Texas Rangers

2018 Record: 67-95; 5th AL West

Postseason: Did not qualify

Hello to: Asdrubal Cabrera, INF; Jesse Chavez, P; Shawn Kelley, P; Lance Lynn, P; Jeff Mathis, C; Shelby Miller, P; Hunter Pence, OF

So long to: Robinson Chirinos, C; Matt Moore, P; Martin Perez, P; Adrian Beltre, 3B

2019 Forecast: Coming off two subpar seasons, the Rangers axed manager Jeff Banister and brought in Chris Woodward to replace him. Nothing the Rangers did in the offseason jumps out at you as particularly significant but they did bring in some recognizable names. Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller will provide depth on the mound, Asdrubal Cabrera is as solid as they come on the field, and Hunter Pence adds some experience. While notable, there is major concern how reliable some of these players still are at the major league level. Perhaps some good news for the Rangers is very little roster turnover in the way of players exiting the organization. Adrian Beltre decided to retire in the offseason but other than that things remained generally the same. Like the Mariners and Angels before them, competing this season in the AL West is going to be an uphill battle with the Astros and A’s reloading, but there may be a plan starting to form in Texas to get the Rangers back in the mix for a playoff spot sooner rather than later.

Look out for: Going along with Khris Davis, if you enjoy home runs then check out Joey Gallo at your earliest convenience. In two full MLB seasons, Gallo has clubbed a combined 81 dingers while managing to hit just .208 over that same span. Gallo is the textbook definition of an all-or-nothing player. He either hits the ball to the moon for just gets out. The good news for Rangers fans is Gallo has dedicated his offseason to retooling his swing in attempt to become an all around better hitter. If he can bump that average up a few percentage points without sacrificing power, he could become one of the better hitters across the league.

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