Previewing the AL West
Buster Olney [ARCHIVE]
ESPN The Magazine
March 29, 2012
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Editor's note: ESPN.com has teamed with ESPN The Magazine and the SweetSpot Blog Network to produce this year's preview capsules. Buster Olney and Tim Kurkjian examined the American League and the National League, respectively. They ordered the teams based on how they think they'll finish, while also breaking down each team's best- and worst-case scenarios.

The SweetSpot bloggers provided the projected lineups, pitching rotations and bullpens, which are mostly approximations based on the latest information. In most cases they don't include players who will open the season on the disabled list. The lineups reflect the most likely batting order against a right-handed starter and are subject to change.

Texas Rangers

PROJECTED LINEUP

2011: AL runs (3rd)

PLAYER POS

Ian Kinsler 2B

Elvis Andrus SS

Josh Hamilton* LF

Adrian Beltre 3B

Michael Young DH

Mike Napoli C

Nelson Cruz RF

Mitch Moreland* 1B

Craig Gentry CF

BENCH POS

David Murphy* OF

Yorvit Torrealba C

PITCHING

2011: AL ERA (5th)

ROTATION POS

Colby Lewis SP1

Derek Holland* SP2

Yu Darvish SP3

Matt Harrison* SP4

Neftali Feliz SP5

BULLPEN POS

Mike Adams RP

Alexi Ogando RP

Joe Nathan CL

* -- left-handed

# -- switch-hitter

Information courtesy of Baseball Time In Arlington

THE PICK

1st Place Best-case scenario: Somehow, the Rangers put the ghosts of Game 6 behind them, Yu Darvish makes a smooth transition to the majors and replaces C.J. Wilson at the top of the rotation, Josh Hamilton stays sober and productive and Texas cruises to its third straight AL West title, Albert Pujols be damned.

Worst-case scenario: Wilson's leadership is missed badly, and the Rangers fade in the grueling August heat when none of their young starters steps up to replace his production. Hamilton has an unhappy season, which carries over into his negotiations on a long-term deal, and he leaves Texas.

Los Angeles Angels

PROJECTED LINEUP

2011: AL runs (10th)

PLAYER POS

Erick Aybar# SS

Howard Kendrick 2B

Albert Pujols 1B

Kendrys Morales# DH

Torii Hunter RF

Vernon Wells LF

Alberto Callaspo# 3B

Chris Iannetta C

Peter Bourjos CF

BENCH POS

Mark Trumbo 3B

Bobby Abreu* OF

PITCHING

2011: AL ERA (1st)

ROTATION POS

Jered Weaver SP1

Dan Haren SP2

C.J. Wilson* SP3

Ervin Santana SP4

Garrett Richards SP5

BULLPEN POS

Scott Downs* RP

LaTroy Hawkins RP

Jordan Walden CL

* -- left-handed

# -- switch-hitter

Information courtesy of Halos Daily

THE PICK

2nd Place

Best-case scenario: Top prospect Mike Trout wins AL Rookie of the Year, and switch-hitter Kendrys Morales, fully recovered from the ankle injury that cost him almost two seasons, is again a force, balancing out the very right-handed Angels lineup. With free-agent pickup C.J. Wilson, the scary-deep rotation overwhelms the Rangers, and the Halos recapture the division they dominated for much of the last decade.

Worst-case scenario: Albert Pujols, whose OPS has dropped for three straight years, continues his decline in his first season in the AL, and his monster 10-year deal begins to look endless. Morales doesn't recover, and Vernon Wells plays just well enough not to get benched but hurts the team in the process. The Angels' offseason spending spree is all but forgotten as fans realize the Rangers have the division on lockdown.

Seattle Mariners

PROJECTED LINEUP

2011: AL runs (14th)

PLAYER POS

Chone Figgins# LF

Dustin Ackley* 2B

Ichiro Suzuki* RF

Justin Smoak# 1B

Jesus Montero DH

Kyle Seager* 3B

Miguel Olivo C

Michael Saunders* CF

Brendan Ryan SS

BENCH POS

Mike Carp* (DL) LF

Franklin Gutierrez (DL) CF

PITCHING

2011: AL ERA (6th)

ROTATION POS

Felix Hernandez SP1

Jason Vargas* SP2

Hector Noesi SP3

Blake Beavan SP4

Kevin Millwood SP5

BULLPEN POS

Tom Wilhelmsen* RP

Hisashi Iwakuma RP

Brandon League CL

* -- left-handed

# -- switch-hitter

Information courtesy of Pro Ball NW

THE PICK

3rd Place

Best-case scenario: By season's end, the Mariners have the pieces in place for a dynamic rotation going forward, with left-hander Danny Hultzen and flame-throwing righty Taijuan Walker ready to step in behind Felix Hernandez. The young hitters gain from their 2012 experience, with Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley poised to become Seattle's most formidable offensive core in a decade.

Worst-case scenario: At age 38, Ichiro finally sees his production fall off completely, and Chone Figgins is again a nonfactor. A lack of position prospects haunts the Mariners, as Smoak doesn't hit well enough to be the every-day first baseman and C Montero proves he's really a DH. The club finishes last in the AL in runs for the fourth straight year, and the front office has to go back to square one with the lineup.

Oakland Athletics

PROJECTED LINEUP

2011: AL runs (12th)

PLAYER POS

Jemile Weeks# 2B

Cliff Pennington# SS

Coco Crisp# LF

Seth Smith* DH

Kurt Suzuki C

Josh Reddick* RF

Yoenis Cespedes CF

Brandon Allen* 1B

Josh Donaldson 3B

BENCH POS

Jonny Gomes OF

Eric Sogard INF

PITCHING

2011: AL ERA (3rd)

ROTATION POS

Brandon McCarthy SP1

Bartolo Colon SP2

Dallas Braden* SP3

Tommy Milone* SP4

Tyson Ross SP5

BULLPEN POS

Brian Fuentes* RP

Grant Balfour CL

* -- left-handed

# -- switch-hitter

Information courtesy of Beaneball

THE PICK

4th Place

Best-case scenario: Early in the season, Oakland ownership gets word that the move to San Jose is a done deal, and the Athletics funnel all their efforts into building the team for 2015-16. Brandon McCarthy and Kurt Suzuki are traded for prospects, bolstering an already-deep farm system, and fans begin to rally around a promising young rotation of Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray.

Worst-case scenario: McCarthy's 2011 breakout is a fluke, Anderson is slow to recover from Tommy John surgery and Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes turns out to be a...
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