Can Cleveland Continue Strong Play Against Improving AL West?
Bob Toth | On 28, Mar 2016
One of the more exciting matchups to watch over the rest of this decade will be the battle for the American League All-Star team shortstop starting nod between Houston’s Carlos Correa and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor. That is, as long as fans of both clubs can curtail the insane voting habits of the Kansas City Royals to keep Alcides Escobar from blocking either player from the honor they will likely deserve as their respective careers blossom on the Major League Baseball stage.
The AL West is no longer a two-team race, as every team brings with them talented squads and the battle for the division title is any teams to win. The Indians, meanwhile, performed well against the West in 2015, finishing with a 19-14 record with only a losing record to Oakland.
Subtractions: 1B/DH Chris Carter (Brewers), C Hank Conger (Rays), SP Scott Kazmir (Dodgers), Jed Lowrie (Athletics), P Brett Oberholtzer (Phillies), Oliver Perez (Nationals), SP Vincent Velasquez (Phillies), UTL Jonathan Villar (Brewers)
The Astros will look to continue to climb the AL West ladder after they earned a Wild Card berth in 2015 and fought with the Royals for the AL pennant in the ALDS. It was a strong return to glory after improving 16 games in the win column while attempting to erase the memory of three straight seasons of 100+ losses and marked their first trip to the postseason since being swept by the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 World Series.
Manager A.J. Hinch was the club’s eighth manager since that World Series trip and proved himself worthy of the title by guiding the young Astros to an 86-76 record. They held the top spot in the West for the majority of the season before losing their first place foothold midway through September.
Returning will be AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel (20-8, 2.48 ERA in 33 games in 2015) at the top of the rotation. Collin McHugh (19-7, 3.89 ERA) was overshadowed in a breakout season of his own and topped 200 innings for the first time in his career. Rookie Lance McCullers will open the season on the disabled list, but the team has the added Fister in the rotation as well as Scott Feldman and Mike Fiers as veterans to fill in.
The long ball was a big part of their game in 2015 with five players topping 20 homers on the season and outfielders George Springer and Preston Tucker both reaching the mid-teens despite playing a combined 200 games between them. Evan Gattis led the club with 27 homers and a surprising eleven triples while driving in a team-leading 88. Former Indian Luis Valbuena was second on the squad with 25, matched by outfielder Colby Rasmus. The rookie Correa hit 22 and drove in 68 in just 99 games of action. They will have a full season of midseason acquisition Carlos Gomez. And don’t forget Jose Altuve, who hit .313 at the top of the lineup while stealing 38 bases.
The Astros may very well be a World Series contender again in 2016.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Additions: RP Al Alburquerque (Tigers), OF Todd Cunningham (Braves), 3B Yunel Escobar (Nationals), OF Craig Gentry (Athletics), 3B Jefry Marte (Tigers), OF Daniel Nava (Rays), IF Cliff Pennington (Blue Jays), SS Andrelton Simmons (Braves), C Geovany Soto (White Sox)
Subtractions: SS Erick Aybar (Braves), OF Collin Cowgill (Indians), OF David DeJesus (free agent) 3B David Freese (Pirates), RP Trevor Gott (Nationals), C Chris Iannetta (Mariners), OF Matt Joyce (Pirates), SP Mat Latos (White Sox), OF David Murphy (Red Sox), OF Efren Navarro (Orioles), OF Shane Victorino (Cubs)
The Angels fell just short of the playoffs last season (85-77) in the hotly contested battle at the top of both the West and the AL Wild Card chase. They return their strong lineup under Mike Scioscia’s leadership and will look for a healthy season from their rotation to give them an edge over their division counterparts.
Garrett Richards leads the staff, with several other options returning from injuries in C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver, and Tyler Skaggs. Andrew Heaney, Matt Shoemaker, and 2015 AL All-Star Hector Santiago also fill out the rotation.
Behind them, the defense improved with the addition of Simmons in a trade from Atlanta. Mike Trout will continue to be the center piece in the outfield with Albert Pujols returning at first base and designated hitter, with both men coming off of 40-homer, 90+ RBI seasons last year. Kole Calhoun was third on the club in both offensive stats, hitting 26 homers and driving in 83 while leading the club with 164 strikeouts.
Rotation health will be a big key for the Angels this season, as well as what the lineup can do with the other six spots not manned by Trout, Pujols, and Calhoun.
Additions: 1B Yonder Alonso (Padres), SP Henderson Alvarez (Marlins), RP John Axford (Rockies), OF Chris Coghlan (Cubs), OF Khris Davis (Brewers), P Liam Hendriks (Blue Jays), P Rich Hill (Red Sox), OF Andrew Lambo (Pirates), IF Jed Lowrie (Astros), RP Ryan Madson (Royals), RP Marc Rzepczynski (Padres)
Subtractions: SP Aaron Brooks (Cubs), SP Jesse Chavez (Blue Jays), 1B Ike Davis (Rangers), OF Craig Gentry (Angels), SP A.J. Griffin (Rangers), 3B Brett Lawrie (White Sox), RP Edward Mujica (Phillies), RP Dan Otero (Indians via Phillies), P Drew Pomeranz (Padres), RP Evan Scribner (Mariners), P Barry Zito (retired)
The A’s may be the worst of the bunch in the West, yet it is hard to ever count the team out as they seem to surprise more often than not. Their 2015 was a disappointment, as the club landed in the cellar at 68-94. They may line up as the worst team in the American League, especially as the West has gotten stronger.
Switch-hitting rookie Billy Burns will look to have a strong follow up campaign after hitting .294 with 26 steals while working in center field. New addition Davis should pair up nicely with Josh Reddick, who was the club’s leader in homers (20) and RBI (77). Catcher Stephen Vogt appeared out of nowhere in his age-30 season to finish second on the club in homers (18) and RBI (71) while making his first career All-Star game.
Sonny Gray will try again to win a Cy Young award after finishing third in the AL in 2015 with a 14-7 record and 2.73 ERA in 31 starts. After him, the potential of the staff has some question marks and will rely on Kendall Graveman, Jesse Hahn, Chris Bassitt, and Hill, who is coming off of an incredible finish in his return to a Major League rotation with the Red Sox late last year.
Additions: OF Nori Aoki (Giants), RP Joaquin Benoit (Padres), C Rob Brantly (White Sox), RP Steve Cishek (Cardinals), C Steve Clevenger (Orioles), C Chris Iannetta (Angels), SP Nate Karns (Rays), 1B Dae-Ho Lee (Japan), 1B Adam Lind (Brewers), OF Leonys Martin (Rangers), SP Wade Miley (Red Sox), 2B Luis Sardinas (Brewers), RP Evan Scribner (Athletics), RP Joe Wieland (Dodgers)
Subtractions: P Roenis Elias (Red Sox), P Danny Farquhar (Rays), SS Brad Miller (Rays), 1B Logan Morrison (Rays), RP Tyler Olson (Dodgers), RP Carson Smith (Red Sox), DH Mark Trumbo (Orioles), RP Tom Wilhelmsen (Rangers)
Nelson Cruz is coming off of a career year leading the club with 44 homers, 93 RBI, and a .302 average. Kyle Seager has emerged as a top third baseman in the league and had his fourth straight 20+ homer season. He has missed just 13 games over the last four seasons since becoming an everyday starter in Seattle. Robinson Cano drove in his fewest runs in seven years, despite hitting .287 with 21 homers and 34 doubles on the season. Former Indians outfielder Franklin Gutierrez returns after an impressive .292 average, eleven doubles, 15 homers, and 35 RBI in just 59 games last season.
The Mariners spent a lot of time on rebooting their bullpen, bringing in Benoit and Cishek to secure the late innings. They also brought back Hisashi Iwakuma, after it appeared he was lost to the Dodgers, and return him with perennial Cy Young chaser Felix Hernandez (who was 18-9 with two shutouts and a 3.53 ERA last season) and 23-year-old right-hander Taijuan Walker (who was 11-8 in 29 starts in his first full season in the Majors). Miley adds another veteran arm to that depth.
The West was won with a strong September from the Rangers, who went 38-22 from the beginning of August to erase a 7-14 April and a 10-14 July to finish 88-74. The key may have been their dominance over their in state rival Astros, who they defeated 13 times in 19 attempts and outscored by 28 runs. They had losing records against the other three West teams.
Second-year manager Jeff Banister will look to benefit from the eventual return of Yu Darvish to the rotation after Tommy John surgery to pair with last season’s deadline acquisition, Cole Hamels, who went 7-1 with a 3.66 ERA in 12 games after coming over from the Phillies. Martin Perez, Colby Lewis, and Derek Holland round out a stronger rotation, when healthy. Shawn Tolleson seemed to come out of nowhere to save 35 of 37 games for the club while logging 73 appearances and a 2.99 ERA.
The Rangers appear intimidating offensively, especially with the notion of the advantage of the summer heat deep in the heart of Texas. Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland, Adrian Beltre, and Shin-Soo Choo were each good for 50 or more extra base hits for the club last season. Fielder and Moreland were tops on the club with 23 homers each, while Prince was just two RBI short of a seventh 100+ ribbie season in his strong return from an injury-shortened 2014 season. Desmond will try to make the conversion to left field, with Elvis Andrus locked in already at short.
Young second baseman Rougned Odor impressed with 16 homers, 21 doubles, and 61 RBI in 120 games in his rookie season, and the club has several big prospects (Joey Gallo, Jurickson Profar, Chi Chi Gonzalez) waiting for their calls at Triple-A Round Rock. The present and future may be bright for the Rangers.
Photo: Associated Press