al-west-capsThis week, my MLB preview series turns it attention to the Junior Circuit. The AL West was home to the most exciting late season divisional race as the Oakland A’s swept the Texas Rangers in their final series to capture the divisional crown. The Angels’ spending spree from last offseason didn’t work out as was expected and they hope another big splurge does the trick. Seattle finally locked up King Felix, but their young bats need to take a step forward in order for the team to compete. The division will welcome the Houston Astros by promptly beating up on them all season long as the newcomers could be historically bad with their dearth of talent.

Other Previews: NL West, NL Central, NL East

5) Houston Astros
New uniforms, new colors and a new logo will do nothing to help this team on the field. The roster is filled with young and unproven guys which doesn’t bode well for the season. They’re depending on Rick Ankiel and Carlos ‘New Mendoza Line’ Pena for production, which says all you need to know. The lone bright spot on offense is pint size 2B Jose Altuve who is a leadoff and speed threat. The rotation and bullpen are filled with spare parts such as former perfect game thrower Philip Humber, vet Eric Bedard and presumed closer Jose Veras. It’s going to be a very longtime before the ‘Stros are relevant in the AL West.

4) Seattle Mariners
If the team is to have any chance this season, their anemic offense must improve. Bringing in OFs Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez doesn’t seem like a good solution, but they did get 1B/OF Michael Morse who should rebound after a down year and DH Kendry Morales to provide some power. A young infield must learn to hit with some consistency. The Mariners did lock up one of the most dominating starters in the game in Felix Hernandez. King Felix will be his usual self as he leads an uncertain rotation that could get a boost if Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders are consistent. The fact that Tom Wilhelmsen will be the closer doesn’t bode well for the bullpen.

3) Texas Rangers
The competition will get stiffer for the Rangers after losing several pieces that were part of their WS appearances, most notably Josh Hamilton. RF Nelson Cruz, 2B Ian Kinsler and 3B Adrian Beltre must pick up the slack as depending on Lance Berkman is a risky proposition. Finding a place for Jurickson Profar, baseball’s best prospect, could help. Yu Darvish had a great first season in the US and should be the ace going forward, while Matt Harrison is consistently underrated. Joe Nathan never really gets mentioned as an elite closer, but he’s good for around 40 saves each year. The team will be in contention and could even grab a wildcard spot, but the sailing isn’t as smooth as it’s been in recent years.

2) Los Angeles Angels
It seems like everyone is picking the Angels to win the division this year. They certainly have the offense for it with 1B Albert Pujols, RF Josh Hamilton, DH Mark Trumbo and former uber rookie LF Mike Trout. Pujols will ‘bounceback’ after a ‘down’ year and while Hamilton certainly adds another big bat, the money could have been spent better elsewhere. Plus burning any and all bridges with the team that made him what he is doesn’t say much about hi s attitude. Spending on the rotation would have been the wisest choice. Jered Weaver is a rock at the top, but CJ Wilson was exposed as the mediocre pitcher he is while additions Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton mean the offense will to work that much harder. Ryan Madson as the closer isn’t a good sign, but they have Ernesto Frieri as a backup. Still it’ll be a very tight race to the end.

1) Oakland Athletics
Many are predicting the As to fall back to earth after their amazing comeback last season, but that would ignore what the team has in place. LF Yoenis Cespedes exceeded all expectations and could be even better, RF Josh Reddick was a pleasant surprise, while CF Coco Crisp was also a key piece. The infield situation is unsettled but shows promise. Not content to rest on the laurels Billy Beane went out and added C John Jason, CF/DH Chris Young and SS Jed Lowrie to the mix as well as Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima. However, pitching will be the backbone of the team. Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and AJ Griffin are all young hurlers who solid years and should be better. The most underrated part of this underrated team is the bullpen which was one of the best last season. Like last year it;ll go down to the final weekend, but the As will edge out the Angels for the division.