It's the end of March, and spring training games are getting more competitive.
Pitchers are pitching more innings, and players are starting to get back into the swing of playing major league baseball everyday.
The transition from spring training to the regular season is beginning to take place.
With that in mind, there have been numerous predictions, division breakdowns, rankings, and lists about who will win, lose, win awards, and so on.
Anyone can pick division winners and losers, but it's time to dig into each division beyond just the order in which teams will finish.
The American League west may have been the least competitive division in baseball last season. The Angels had the best record in the game at 100-62, and easily ran away with the division. In fact, no other team in the AL west was even .500, as the second place Rangers finished 79-83, 21 games out of first place. The division also included the Mariners, who lost 100 games and posted the American League's worst record.
The Angels did loose a lot of talent, as they watched Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez receive big pay days in New York. It has given the other teams in the division hope, but those teams still have a lot of ground to make up.
The All AL West Team
- 1B Chris Davis, TEX
- 2B Ian Kinsler, TEX
- 3B Adrian Beltre, SEA
- SS Orlando Cabrera, OAK
- LF Matt Holiday, OAK
- CF Josh Hamilton, TEX
- RF Ichiro, SEA
- DH Vladimir Guerrero
- C Kurt Suzuki, OAK
- RHP Felix Hernandez, SEA
- LHP Erik Bedard, SEA
- CL Brian Fuentes, LA
Best Starting Rotation: Seattle Mariners
This would go to the Angels, but an injured Ervin Santana really hurts that rotation. The Mariners were picked to be a very good team last season, and mostly due to their pitching. Felix Hernandez is the best pitcher in the division, and prior to a poor 2008, Erik Bedard was considered an ace as well. Carlos Silva and Jarrod Washburn are both quality starters who also badly underachieved last season. Brandon Marrow will round out the rotation. Marrow posted a 3.45 ERA in 45 games last season as a reliever and spot starter. Honorable Mention: LA Angels
Best Lineup: Texas Rangers
The Rangers may not be a good team, but they absolutely are a great offense. Their leadoff, second, and third hitters (Kinsler, Young, and Hamilton) were all all-stars in 2008. Hank Blalock, who is still a quality hitter when on the field, will move to DH in an effort to keep him healthy. The remainder of the Rangers' lineup is chock full of talented young hitter on the rise in Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis, Taylor Teagarden, David Murphy, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The question for the Rangers is not if they'll score runs, but will they be able to score enough to make up for their lack of pitching. Honorable Mention: LA Angels
Best Bullpen: LA Angels
Not many teams could loose Francisco Rodriguez and not miss a beat, but it seems the Angels may be able to do it. LA replaced K-Rod's antics and flamboyance with the solid and steady Brian Fuentes. Scott Sheilds continues to be one of the best set-up guys in the business. He'll share those duties with Jose Arrendondo, who was 10-2 with a 1.62 ERA, and only 42 hits allowed in 61 innings pitched as a rookie in 2008. Darren Oliver will continue to be the Lefty specialist after rescuing his career last season. Honorable Mention: Oakland A's
Best Hitter: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
Hamilton was the feel good story of 2008. He battled demons of drug addiction to return to the game of baseball. That would have been enough, but Hamilton topped that by coming back as arguably the best hitter in the league. There are no holes in Hamilton's game as a hitter. He hits for average (.304 batting average in 2008). He hits for power (32 home runs in 2008). He scores and drives in runs (98 runs scored and 130 RBI in 2008). He has overtaken Vladimir Guerrero as the most complete hitter in the division. Honorable Mention: Matt Holliday, A's
Best All-Around Player: Ichiro, Seattle Mariners
Anyone who knows baseball knows Ichiro is a hitting machine. Eight straight seasons of 200 hits and a .300-plus batting average will earn a guy that reputation. But Ichiro is much more than a potent bat. He is still as speedy as they come, stealing at least 30 bases and scoring 100 runs in every season he's played in the states. He is arguably the best defensive outfielder in baseball. He has the range and speed to play center, and the arm to play right. He's a great all around player, and definitely the best in the AL West. Honorable Mention: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Best Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
Hernandez is only 23 years old and has electric stuff, but he has suffered from bout of inconsistency from time to time (finishing top 10 in walks and wild pitches last season). It can't help Hernandez's development that he has only pitched on one winning team and has three different pitching coaches the last three seasons. Despite only winning nine games in 2008, Hernandez still finished in the top 10 in ERA, strikeouts, complete games and shutouts. King Felix still has plenty of time to develop and improve on his consistency, and should be a dominant force for years to come. Honorable Mention: John Lackey, Angels
Best Closer: Brian Fuentes, LA Angels
It's not easy to step into the shoes of a guy who has been an consistent closer for the past five season, helped his team win the World Series, and broke the single-season saves record. But that will be Fuentes' job in 2009 for the Angels. Fuentes has saved 30 games in three of the last four seasons and has been an all-star three times. He also was a part of a Rockies team that shocked the world by making it to the 2007 World Series. He's not a sexy name, but Fuentes is as steady as they come. Honorable Mention: Frank Francisco, Rangers
Best Rookie: Taylor Teagarden, Texas Rangers
Teagarden was phenomenal at the plate in his limited playing time last September. He crushed major league pitching, posting an OPS of 1.205, but hit only .211 with nine home runs between class AA and AAA. Still Teagarden is an above average defender behind the plate, and if Jarrod Saltalamacchia continues to disappoint, Teagarden could be the Rangers' starting backstop in no time. Honorable Mention: Trevor Cahill, A's
Most Underrated Player: Justin Duchscherer, Oakland A's
The Oakland starting pitching has been like the Star Wars films of late. They have had to different "trilogies" of pitchers, the first set slightly better than the first, but both really good.
Last season, after Oakland traded the last of the "Big 3 part two", Duchscherer stepped in as the new ace. The seven year veteran, and two time All-Star was already a very good relief pitcher before making the transition to starter.
While Joba Chamberlain was doing the same thing amid much greater fanfare, Duchscherer was having the better season, going 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA in 22 starts before hip surgery ended his season.
Since Duchscherer is the only veteran in the A's rotation this year, he will be looked upon to lead Oakland in their playoff push, and people still may not know his name...or be able to pronounce it. Honorable Mention: Mike Napoli, Angels
Most Overrated Player: Gary Matthews, Jr., LA Angels
Gary Matthews, Jr. is a solid bench player and very good defensive player, who turned one pretty good season (2006 with Texas, .313-19-79) in to a huge contract with the LA Angels. Matthews was not as good prior to 2006, and he hasn't been as good since. In fact, Matthews, who mad almost $ 10 million in 2008, will probably be the Angels' fourth outfielder.
And The Winner Is...LA Angels
The Angels will come back to the pack in 2009, and all three other teams in the division will be better than they were last season. Still, the A's are taking a lot of chances on older veterans like Nomar Garciaparra, the Mariners will struggle to score runs (their clean-up hitter is Russell Branyan), and the Rangers pitching is still terrible. LA won't win the division by 21 games again, but they are still the most well balanced team and should still win the division in a close battle with Oakland.
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