Spring Training is in full swing and teams are in the thick of preparing for the 2012 season. There are tons of storylines in each camp and optimism is abundant everywhere. With the opening Oakland-Seattle series in Japan fast approaching, it’s time to take a look at how the divisions could turn out this season. A majority of preview magazine/websites start with the East divisions when looking at each league and end with the West. Because this is my preview series and to combat the East Coast Bias, I’m starting with the West division in the AL which will be a two team race in the last year as a 4 team division before Houston arrives.

1) Texas Rangers
The Rangers made it back-to-back World Series appearances on the strength of their lineup. They had 5 players with 25 or more home runs and with their loaded offense it was easy to forget Michael Young topped 100 RBIs. With the same starters returning, the Rangers will continue to rack of the runs. Their rotation is the area that changed. Ace CJ Wilson bolted for LA and they signed Japanese sensation Yu Darvish to replace him. Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison return and with the signing of Joe Nathan, Neftali Feliz moves into that 5th starter slot. The pen has its questions, mainly in the form of Nathan. If he can return to form, Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando and Mark Lowe form a solid backend. If Darvish can adjust to the American game and Feliz can make the transition, then the Rangers will three-peat as division champs because there’s no need to worry about scoring runs.

2) Los Angeles Angels
The Angels made the biggest news of the offseason by signing Albert Pujols and then inking CJ Wilson. Pujols will definitely help improve an offense that definitely isn’t as strong as the Rangers. No regular last season hit over .290 and they still have declining vets Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter manning the outfield corners. But youngsters Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos did have solid seasons and that’s to say nothing of uber-prospect Mike Trout who’s waiting in the wings. The strength of the team is undoubtedly its rotation. It was already deep with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana but is now even more so with the addition of Wilson. The Angels got a breakout season from young Jordan Walden in the closer role and with vet Scott Downs setting him up, the bullpen should be solid. The Pujols and Wilson signings shook the baseball world, but won’t be enough for the Angels to catch the Rangers in what will be a very close division race.

3) Seattle Mariners
The goal for the Mariners in the offseason was clear: improve an offense that finished last in the league in every major category. The only remedy achieved was trading for Jesus Montero who should inject some power into the lineup. Otherwise they are counting on breakout seasons from Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp and bounceback years from Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro. Any rotation that has perennial Cy Young contender Felix Hernandez knows it has a bonafide ace. The question is whether the rest, including Jason Vargas, Kevin Millwood and Japanese import Hisashi Iwakuma can keep up. But they have a bullpen that might contend for best in the division. Brandon League is an underrated closer and George Sherill, Hong-Chih Kuo and Shawn Kelley are all proven late inning options. The offense has nowhere to go but up this season and will be the facet of the game that carries them the most. They won’t contend for the division, but should finish out of the cellar.

4) Oakland Athletics
With the success of Moneyball the movie, Billy Beane traded away several top players this offseason for a boatload of prosepcts which may be the basis for the an evantual movie sequel. Yet another new look lineup for the A’s features breakout stars in Jemile Weeks and Yoenis Cespedes. Seth Smith and Josh Reddick will also be counted on to provide offense for a lineup that won’t really make opposing pitchers fearful. Good thing that, even with the offseason trades, they still have a deep pitching staff. Brandon McCarthy is the defacto ace with Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson out. Even without those two they have plenty of options including Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock and Tommy Milone. The bullpen should be also be strong with Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour, Fautino De Los Santos, Jeremy Blevins and Joey Devine. Still their offensive shortcomings will be the achilles heel this season, where they will likely occupy the cellar of the AL West.