AL West preview: predictions and projections

Ichiro Suzuki is the West's best hitter.
Ichiro Suzuki is the West’s best hitter.

The Angels have won three consecutive AL West titles and five of the past six. However, the improved Mariners figure to tighten up the race, and the Rangers should build upon their 87-win season in 2009. With Ben Sheets anchoring a young and impressive rotation, the A’s also could pick up some momentum.

SN’s predicted order of finish in the AL West:
1. Los Angeles Angels
2. Seattle Mariners
3. Texas Rangers
4. Oakland Athletics

BUT LOOK OUT FOR …
Sporting News contributor Todd Jones, a former major league closer, picks one team that could prove SN wrong:
Mariners. Defensively, this team is loaded with guys who can pick it. The rotation, led by King Felix and Cliff Lee, will keep Seattle in games all season, and David Aardsma can slam the door.

THE ALL-DIVISION TEAM
By MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds
Former Mariners second baseman

Ian Kinsler hit 31 homers in 2009.
Ian Kinsler hit 31 homers in 2009.

LINEUP
C: Kurt Suzuki, A’s
1B: Kendry Morales, Angels
2B: Ian Kinsler, Rangers
3B: Chone Figgins, Mariners
SS: Erick Aybar, Angels
OF: Milton Bradley, Mariners
OF: Torii Hunter, Angels
OF: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
DH: Hideki Matsui, Angels

ROTATION
RHP: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
LHP: Cliff Lee, Mariners
RHP: Scott Feldman, Rangers
RHP: Jered Weaver, Angels
LHP: Joe Saunders, Angels

CLOSER
RHP: Frank Francisco, Rangers

MANAGER
Mike Scioscia, Angels
— As told to Jeff D’Alessio

THREE THINGS I THINK ABOUT THE AL WEST
By TBS analyst Dennis Eckersley
Former A’s pitcher

1. The Angels will win the division. They’ve got a nice lineup—they’re going to score some runs. But that pitching, it’s legit, especially in that division.
2. Rangers righthander Neftali Feliz will be a bullpen anchor. What’s more important: a guy who can win 12 games or a guy who can pitch the seventh and eighth innings three times a week?
3. Cliff Lee will be the Mariners’ best offseason acquisition. You’ve got one of the best lefthanders in the game, and he’s coming into a pitchers park.
— As told to Ryan Fagan

SN SAYS
Sporting News’ Ryan Fagan makes three predictions for each team in the AL West:

ANGELS
1. Hitting in the No. 2 spot all season, Bobby Abreu’s streak of consecutive 100-RBI seasons will end at seven.
2. Scott Kazmir won’t be as good as he was with the Angels (1.73 ERA) or as bad as he was with the Rays (5.92 ERA) in 2009.
3. Howie Kendrick, a career .302 hitter entering his fifth season, will finish in the AL’s top 10 in batting average.

MARINERS
1. Ichiro Suzuki will lead the AL in hits, but Chone Figgins will lead the Mariners in on-base percentage.
2. Milton Bradley won’t be a troublemaker, but he won’t repeat his 2008 performance with the Rangers (career-best 22 homers, AL-best .436 on-base percentage).
3. Franklin Gutierrez, the best defensive center fielder in the AL, will win his first Gold Glove.

RANGERS
1. Oft-injured Rich Harden will fail to reach 27 starts and 150 innings for the sixth consecutive season.
2. C.J. Wilson, whose six starts as a major leaguer came in 2005, will make a successful transition from the bullpen to the rotation.
3. At 21, Elvis Andrus will produce an All-Star-caliber first half in his second season in the majors.

ATHLETICS
1. Rookie first baseman Chris Carter will be in the A’s cleanup spot by August—at the latest.
2. Brett Anderson will be Oakland’s lone representative at the All-Star Game.
3. Rajai Davis, who had 41 stolen bases in 2009, will finish in the top five in the AL in steals for the second consecutive season.

BESTS OF THE AL WEST
Rookie hitter: Michael Taylor, A’s
Rookie pitcher: Neftali Feliz, Rangers
Trade bait: Ben Sheets, A’s
Double-play combination: Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler, Rangers
Offseason pickup: Cliff Lee, Mariners
Hitter: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
Bet to win 20 games: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Unit: Angels rotation
Bounce-back candidate: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Fifth starter: Joel Pineiro, Angels
Outfield arm: Ichiro
1-2 rotation punch: Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, Mariners
Executive: Jack Zduriencik, Mariners
Bullpen: Angels
— Ryan Fagan

GUEST BEST
Basestealer
Rangers 2B Ian Kinsler picks: Chone Figgins, Mariners. "If he has a full green light in Seattle, there is no telling how many bases he will steal."

This content first appeared in Sporting News magazine. If you are not receiving the magazine, subscribe today, or pick up a copy, available at most Barnes & Noble, Borders and Hudson Retail outlets.

Ichiro Suzuki is the West's best hitter.
Ichiro Suzuki is the West’s best hitter.

The Angels have won three consecutive AL West titles and five of the past six. However, the improved Mariners figure to tighten up the race, and the Rangers should build upon their 87-win season in 2009. With Ben Sheets anchoring a young and impressive rotation, the A’s also could pick up some momentum.

SN’s predicted order of finish in the AL West:
1. Los Angeles Angels
2. Seattle Mariners
3. Texas Rangers
4. Oakland Athletics

BUT LOOK OUT FOR …
Sporting News contributor Todd Jones, a former major league closer, picks one team that could prove SN wrong:
Mariners. Defensively, this team is loaded with guys who can pick it. The rotation, led by King Felix and Cliff Lee, will keep Seattle in games all season, and David Aardsma can slam the door.

THE ALL-DIVISION TEAM
By MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds
Former Mariners second baseman

Ian Kinsler hit 31 homers in 2009.
Ian Kinsler hit 31 homers in 2009.

LINEUP
C: Kurt Suzuki, A’s
1B: Kendry Morales, Angels
2B: Ian Kinsler, Rangers
3B: Chone Figgins, Mariners
SS: Erick Aybar, Angels
OF: Milton Bradley, Mariners
OF: Torii Hunter, Angels
OF: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
DH: Hideki Matsui, Angels

ROTATION
RHP: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
LHP: Cliff Lee, Mariners
RHP: Scott Feldman, Rangers
RHP: Jered Weaver, Angels
LHP: Joe Saunders, Angels

CLOSER
RHP: Frank Francisco, Rangers

MANAGER
Mike Scioscia, Angels
— As told to Jeff D’Alessio

THREE THINGS I THINK ABOUT THE AL WEST
By TBS analyst Dennis Eckersley
Former A’s pitcher

1. The Angels will win the division. They’ve got a nice lineup—they’re going to score some runs. But that pitching, it’s legit, especially in that division.
2. Rangers righthander Neftali Feliz will be a bullpen anchor. What’s more important: a guy who can win 12 games or a guy who can pitch the seventh and eighth innings three times a week?
3. Cliff Lee will be the Mariners’ best offseason acquisition. You’ve got one of the best lefthanders in the game, and he’s coming into a pitchers park.
— As told to Ryan Fagan

SN SAYS
Sporting News’ Ryan Fagan makes three predictions for each team in the AL West:

ANGELS
1. Hitting in the No. 2 spot all season, Bobby Abreu’s streak of consecutive 100-RBI seasons will end at seven.
2. Scott Kazmir won’t be as good as he was with the Angels (1.73 ERA) or as bad as he was with the Rays (5.92 ERA) in 2009.
3. Howie Kendrick, a career .302 hitter entering his fifth season, will finish in the AL’s top 10 in batting average.

MARINERS
1. Ichiro Suzuki will lead the AL in hits, but Chone Figgins will lead the Mariners in on-base percentage.
2. Milton Bradley won’t be a troublemaker, but he won’t repeat his 2008 performance with the Rangers (career-best 22 homers, AL-best .436 on-base percentage).
3. Franklin Gutierrez, the best defensive center fielder in the AL, will win his first Gold Glove.

RANGERS
1. Oft-injured Rich Harden will fail to reach 27 starts and 150 innings for the sixth consecutive season.
2. C.J. Wilson, whose six starts as a major leaguer came in 2005, will make a successful transition from the bullpen to the rotation.
3. At 21, Elvis Andrus will produce an All-Star-caliber first half in his second season in the majors.

ATHLETICS
1. Rookie first baseman Chris Carter will be in the A’s cleanup spot by August—at the latest.
2. Brett Anderson will be Oakland’s lone representative at the All-Star Game.
3. Rajai Davis, who had 41 stolen bases in 2009, will finish in the top five in the AL in steals for the second consecutive season.

BESTS OF THE AL WEST
Rookie hitter: Michael Taylor, A’s
Rookie pitcher: Neftali Feliz, Rangers
Trade bait: Ben Sheets, A’s
Double-play combination: Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler, Rangers
Offseason pickup: Cliff Lee, Mariners
Hitter: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
Bet to win 20 games: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Unit: Angels rotation
Bounce-back candidate: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Fifth starter: Joel Pineiro, Angels
Outfield arm: Ichiro
1-2 rotation punch: Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, Mariners
Executive: Jack Zduriencik, Mariners
Bullpen: Angels
— Ryan Fagan

GUEST BEST
Basestealer
Rangers 2B Ian Kinsler picks: Chone Figgins, Mariners. "If he has a full green light in Seattle, there is no telling how many bases he will steal."

This content first appeared in Sporting News magazine. If you are not receiving the magazine, subscribe today, or pick up a copy, available at most Barnes & Noble, Borders and Hudson Retail outlets.

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