Friday, March 6

Go West, My Son

Wins aren't going to be easy to come by in the AL East this season. That means that out-of-division performance will be a key factor in determining who amongst the beasts of the east can give themselves a little separation. It's the mark of professionalism---a team that doesn't just get up for the big games, but plugs away night in and night out, no matter who the opponent.

Last season, the AL East relied heavily on the poor quality of the AL West to pile up wins. The Rays, Sox, Yanks, and Jays were able to compile 97, 95, 89, and 86 wins, respectively, in large part because the Rangers, A's, and Mariners finished at 79, 75, and 61. But mark it down, ITM readers, you're hearing it here: the West will no longer be bullied.

Now let's not go nuts. I'm not saying we're flashing back to the early naughties, like in 2001 when the Mariner's and A's each had over 100 wins and the Angels were on the make. But teams in the AL West made some strong, efficient moves this offseason, and are poised to bounce back from some major injuries.

Exhibit A: the Oakland Athletics. Their outfield got a much needed bat in Matt Holliday, and their infield added a Jason Giambi with something to prove and feeling right back at home. Chavez is finally healed and if Jack Cust can limit the strikeouts just a little, he's a solid power option in that lineup. Add to that the fact that the A's have some of the best young pitching in all of baseball. Not only is Duchscherer's starting to establish himself as an ace, but the rest of the rotation is going to get a shot in the arm this year when two of Baseball America's top 15 prospects get their call up: neatly enough, one righty, one lefty, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill. Add it all up and the A's could make a solid push this year.

The Mariner's made a high profile move in bringing Junior back home, but even more important is the development of Eric Bedard. The Mariner's are not going to out-score the AL East too often. But on good nights, they can outpitch even the most stacked rotations. Maturity has been an issue with Felix Hernandez, but not talent. And Bedard has got some of the nastiest stuff in the league when he's on. If the Mariner's catch a good stretch, watch out. (Also, I'll just note as an aside that if given the choice to watch any major league hitter for 24 hours straight, at-bat after at-bat, I'd choose Ichiro. The man is an artist.)

The Rangers...the Rangers. What can you say? Proof of the adage that pitching wins crowns. What an offense, what a waste.

The Angels might have lost out in the Texeira sweepstakes, but don't expect a let down. If a couple of their heavy bats prove to have a season or two left in them, their lineup is as good as almost any, and their pitching is always solid. That, and Bobby Abreu was one of the smartest moves by any team this offseason. What the Angels needed more than anything was a sure bat in the middle of the lineup and Abreu is a consummate hitter and can be counted on for his usual 90-100 rbis.

So watch carefully when the Sox make their first swing up the West coast. Time zone and travel already make that journey hard enough. Talent on the rise is going to make it even harder this year, when the Sox need every game outside the East they can get.

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