Will anyone catch the Houston Astros for the American League West crown?
Probably not, the Astros have built themselves a juggernaut of a team. However, this does not stop the other teams in the division to fight for a playoff berth in another way.
Here is a look at how the AL West could shake up in 2018.
Houston Astros (103-59)
The Astros not only won the AL West title for the first-time last season, they won their first World Series title in franchise history. In 2018, they could possibly do it again.
The pitching rotation will definitely be the most talented group of pitchers assembled in all of baseball. Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel were a great one-two punch in 2017, combining for a 19-5 record with a 1.98 ERA, striking out 168 batters faced. The rotation became even stronger with the off-season acquisition of Gerrit Cole. This spring, the number five spot in the rotation may be up for grabs between Brad Peacock, Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh.
Offensively, pitchers will have to slow down maybe the best lineup in Major League Baseball. The Astros lead the majors in average (.282), hits (1,581) and runs batted in (854) while finishing second in the league in home runs (238). With most of the original cast returning from last season, expect similar offensive production from the team to beat in the AL West.
Los Angeles Angels (89-73)
The Angels are the most improved team in the West. Zack Cozart was brought in to fill the need at third base while Ian Kinsler fills the void at second base. Re-signing Justin Upton keeps a power bat in the middle of their lineup. The Angels finally gave Mike Trout the help he needed.
Their biggest off-season splash was the signing of Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani is currently ranked the No.1 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB.com. The 23-year-old won 42 games in five seasons with the Japan Pacific League, batting .286 with 48 home runs and 166 runs batted in. If Ohtani can live up to the hype and starters Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker and Tyler Skaggs remain healthy, the pitching rotation vastly improved.
The first base position might need to be addressed in the future. Luis Valbuena played first base 48 games last season. Although a serviceable player, they should consider finding someone else to play the position. Guys like Ike Davis and Tyler Moore remain available in free agency. If they chose to go within the organization Matt Thaiss could make his debut in the majors at some point this season.
Texas Rangers (77-85)
The Rangers will attempt a six-man rotation this season. Cole Hamels, Martin Perez, Doug Fister, and Matt Moore will definitely benefit from the extra day off. It could also prevent injury to the rotation.
Rougned Odor, Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Willie Calhoun are the young nucleus that the Rangers will want to build around. Adrian Beltre is returning for another season, giving the Rangers veteran leadership the young guys need.
Youngsters Yohander Mendez, Kyle Cody and Ronald Guzman could receive a call up at some point during the season and give the Rangers an added boost.
Oakland Athletics (75-87)
The Athletics are not a team that should be slept on. They could surprise many people and challenge for a Wild Card spot. Oakland has a good collection of young talent in which they could take a big step forward in 2018.
Kendall Graveman, Matt Olson, Khris Davis and Sean Manaea are solid pieces. With a strong farm system, there are players that could provide the Athletics with reinforcements when needed.
Seattle Mariners (71-91)
The Mariners are the team in the division that wins that off-season and has high hopes to start the season. This season appears to be no exception.
Speedster Dee Gordan (brought in via a trade with the Miami Marlins) will leadoff for the Mariners in the lineup. Behind him will be Jean Segura, another player that could fly around the bases. Ryon Healy (brought in via a trade with the Oakland A’s) adds another bat in the lineup that includes Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.
Something to keep an eye on will be the health of Felix Hernandez. During the first week of Spring Training, Hernandez was struck by a line drive at his right forearm. Last season in an injury plagued season, Hernandez pitched in only 16 games.
James Paxton, Marco Gonzalez, Mike Leake and Erasmo Ramirez make for a formidable rotation. With a pretty decent bullpen, the Mariners will be competitive throughout the season. However, it won’t be enough to end the longest playoff drought in baseball.