Texas Rangers

March 30, 2014

Baseball preview: American League West

Last year: 96-66 (first, AL West)

Oakland Athletics

Last year: 96-66 (first, AL West)

New faces: LHP Scott Kazmir (Indians), RHP Jim Johnson (Orioles), RHP Luke Gregerson (Padres), LHP Drew Pomeranz (Rockies), OF Craig Gentry (Rangers), INF Nick Punto (Dodgers)

Former faces: RHP Bartolo Colon (Mets), RHP Grant Balfour (Rays), LHP Brett Anderson (Rockies), LHP Jerry Blevins (Nationals), OF Chris Young (Mets), OF Seth Smith (Padres)

Better, worse or same? Same

Why: Despite a limited payroll in a division flush with cash, the A’s have been the best team in the AL West the past two seasons. They are in position for a three-peat behind a strong pitching staff and versatile offense. The rotation features talented young pitchers such as Sonny Gray and A.J. Griffin, and former Orioles closer Jim Johnson fills the void left by Grant Balfour. The A’s suffered a setback this spring when they lost Jarrod Parker to Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery, but they have always had pitching depth. They should be able to withstand that loss to their rotation and remain a front-runner in the division.

Texas Rangers

Last year: 91-72 (second, AL West)

New faces: 1B Prince Fielder (Tigers), OF Shin-Soo Choo (Reds), C J.P. Arencibia (Blue Jays), LHP Joe Saunders (Mariners), OF Michael Choice (Athletics), INF Donnie Murphy (Cubs)

Former faces: 2B Ian Kinsler (Tigers), OF Nelson Cruz (Orioles), RHP Joe Nathan (Tigers), RHP Matt Garza (Brewers), C A.J. Pierzynski (Red Sox), OF David Murphy (Indians), OF Craig Gentry (Athletics), INF/OF Jeff Baker (Marlins)

Better, worse or same? Same

Why: A lot of turnover, new faces and injuries this spring. The offense is improved, but the rotation is a question mark at the back end. So it seems like a wash at this point, maybe even slightly worse considering injuries to Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto. But the Rangers should have a better offense with the Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo additions. The rotation took a major blow when Derek Holland tripped over his dog, which will cost him at least the first half of the season. The Rangers are hoping a rotation that includes Yu Darvish, Martin Perez and relievers-turned-starters Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross can keep them afloat with Holland being an added weapon mid-season. And the closer competition was more open than expected during spring training as Neftali Feliz didn’t regain his velocity and Joakim Soria won the job.

Los Angeles Angels

of Anaheim

Last year: 78-84 (third, AL West)

New faces: LHP Tyler Skaggs (Diamondbacks), LHP Hector Santiago (White Sox), RHP Joe Smith (Indians), OF Raul Ibanez (Mariners), 3B David Freese (Cardinals), RHP Fernando Salas (Cardinals), 1B Carlos Pena (Astros)

Former faces: 1B Mark Trumbo (Diamondbacks), OF Peter Bourjos (Cardinals), LHP Jason Vargas (Royals), RHP Jerome Williams (Astros)

Better, worse or same? Better

Why: Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols can’t struggle in consecutive seasons, can they? The thought here is that Hamilton and Pujols are better, and Mike Trout continues to be among the top players in the game. But that likely won’t be enough to make up for a questionable rotation led by Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. The Mark Mulder experiment was short-lived, and the back end candidates didn’t blow anybody away. If they can get a lead in the ninth, though, Ernesto Frieri has shown to be a reliable closer.

Seattle Mariners

Last year: 71-91 (fourth, AL West)

New faces: 2B Robinson Cano (Yankees), DH/1B Corey Hart (Brewers), OF Logan Morrison (Marlins), RHP Fernando Rodney (Rays), INF Willie Bloomquist (D’backs)

Former faces: DH Kendrys Morales (unsigned), OF Raul Ibanez (Angels), LHP Joe Saunders (Rangers)

Better, worse or same? Better

Why: They broke the bank to sign Robinson Cano, shelling out $240 million. And it’s not too tough to improve on a 71-win season. But they weren’t one player away from becoming true contenders. Yes, the offense is better and the pitching staff is solid behind Felix Hernandez at the front of the rotation and Fernando Rodney at the back of the bullpen. But too many holes, namely No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma missing at least a month to start the season, remain to compete in one of the toughest divisions.

Houston Astros

Last year: 51-111 (fifth, AL West)

New faces: RHP Scott Feldman (Orioles), OF Dexter Fowler (Rockies), RHP Chad Qualls (Marlins), RHP Matt Albers (Indians), RHP Jerome Williams (Angels), RHP Jesse Crain (White Sox)

Former faces: LHP Erik Bedard (unsigned), RHP Jordan Lyles (Rockies), OF Brandon Barnes (Rockies)

Better, worse or same? Better

Why: They have a loaded farm system and brought in established veterans such as starter Scott Feldman and outfielder Dexter Fowler. But, sorry, it’s hard to see Feldman leading a playoff-caliber rotation. But he should be able to stabilize a pitching staff, and they should be at least more competitive to avoid a fourth consecutive 100-loss season.

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