There is still a lot of off season to go, but as it stands right now the AL West division might be a tougher battle than most would think given how it shaped up this past season.
The key to understanding that is to go back to the season in reviews that I did earlier, which ranked teams based on their BaseRuns Pythagorean record. According to those, here is the revised 2008 AL West Standings:
1. Anaheim 83-79
2. Texas 82-80
3. Oakland 78-84
4. Seattle 66-94
The Angels will get some players back from injuries in 2009 but they have also lost their 1B combo of Casey Kotchman and Mark Teixeira and their closer in Francisco Rodriguez, who although he had an over-rated season because of his saves total, was still an asset. Vladimir Guerrero and the rest of the Angels’ outfield being a year older doesn’t bode too well either. All in all, the Angels profile around a 83-88 win team by talent at the moment.
The Rangers are likely losing Milton Bradley, but should be looking at some regression from their starting rotation and more at bats to Chris Davis. Other than that, they’ll remain close to intact from their 2008 squad, so them holding around the .500 mark seems likely, in the 80-85 win range.
The Athletics benefit from the extra year as that goes to development rather than aging as is the primary case for Anaheim. They lose the innings from Harden and Blanton, but also should have a more robust offense this time around rather than the one that many were hard pressed to pick out of collegiate lineup. Along with Texas, 80-85 wins is about where they look right now. If they can pick up a Jason Giambi on the cheap you could add another win or two to that spread.
Those three alone wouldn’t make for much of a story, but the Mariners are now no longer fit to be completely left out of the question. Due for some pretty massive positive regression in both the lineup and starting rotation, new General Manager Jack Zduriencik also did a makeover on the defense. They are likely not finished dealing, but as it stands now, they appear to be in the 75-80 win range.
What we have is all four teams being within about a 10-win spread of each other heading in to the new year. Whether that gap stands when Spring Training rolls around is obviously yet to be determined, but for a division that the Angels won by 21 games last season, there is merit to paying attention again.
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