Preview: The Astros have been World Series contenders for the past few years now. It’s not looking like that is going to change anytime soon. They have added outfielder Michael Brantley (.309 BA and .832 OPS in 2018) to what was already a deadly lineup consisting of all-stars Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, George Springer, and Carlos Correa. Last season, the Astros had the best starting pitching rotation in baseball. While they could potentially have that title again, the rotation is going to look a little different this year. The Stros have already lost Charlie Morton to free agency and Lance McCullers is out for the entire 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery. Also, it is still unclear whether Dallas Keuchel will remain in Houston as he is testing out free agency as well. Even with the changes, Houston looks to have a very solid starting rotation led by right-handers Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, both among the best pitchers in the league. The Astros added lefty Wade Miley to the rotation this offseason. Miley had a solid, but limited, 2018 season in Milwaukee with a 2.57 ERA in only 80.2 innings pitched. The Astros bullpen has improved over the past couple of years; the addition of closer Roberto Osuna late last season being one reason. The Astros are also looking for productive seasons from relievers Chris Devenski, Will Harris, and Ryan Pressly. The Astros remain one of the top contenders in the league and are undoubtedly eyeing a return to the World Series.
Los Angeles Angels
Preview: The Angels roster looks pretty familiar. Returning behind the greatest player of this generation, Mike Trout, are veterans Albert Pujols, Justin Bour, Andrelton Simmons, Zack Cozart, Justin Upton, Kole Calhoun, and 2018’s rookie sensation Shohei Ohtani. The Angels added another veteran in C Jonathan Lucroy this offseason to take on duties behind the plate. Ohtani won’t be seen on the mound this year, but he will still provide a threat at the plate. Last season, he posted a .285 batting average, .925 OPS, and hit 22 HRs. The ‘ace,’ Tyler Skaggs, will look to improve after a disappointing end to the 2018 season. LA will look for 22 year old right-hander, Jaime Barria, to build on his solid rookie year after putting up a 3.41 ERA in 129.1 innings pitched. If newly acquired closer Cody Allen can return to his pre-2018 self, the bullpen shouldn’t be a problem for the Angels. With a veteran team like this led by the best player in the league, the Angels will most definitely be looking to contend. However, in a deep division like the AL West, the chances for the Angels don’t look great.
Preview: The A’s are coming off an exciting 2018 season which landed them in a wild card playoff game. They are hoping to ride that wave into 2019 as most of their team returns. Among those returning players are power hitting LF/DH Khris Davis (48 HRs & 123 RBIs in 2018), RF Stephen Piscotty (27 HRs in 2018), and 25 year old phenom 3B, Matt Chapman (24 HRs and Gold Glove Award in 2018). The middle of the order should be in good hands as Oakland’s lineup provides plenty of power. The A’s will, however, be looking for a breakout season from 24 year old OF Dustin Fowler, who they acquired from the Yankees via trade in 2017. Another young outfielder on the A’s roster is (projected) starting CF Ramon Laureano who hit for a .288 average last season. He will look to build on his success from last season while cutting down on strikeouts as he went down on strikes 50 times in 156 at-bats. The biggest weakness for Oakland appears to be their starting pitching rotation. Mike Fiers and newly-acquired Marco Estrada who will likely be at the top of the rotation are aging; Estrada is already coming off of a disappointing 2018 season where he posted a 5.64 ERA with a 7-14 record. Filling out the rest of the rotation will likely be Daniel Mengden (4.05 ERA in 2018), Paul Blackburn (7.16 ERA in 2018), Chris Bassitt (3.02 ERA in 2018), and Frankie Montas (3.88 ERA in 2018). The pitching will not be a problem when Manager Bob Melvin decides to go to his bullpen which could be among the best in the league again in 2019. This bullpen consists of six pitchers with an ERA below 3.50 including closer Blake Treinen who posted a 0.78 ERA last season with 38 saves out of 43 opportunities. The A’s won’t be the division favorites, but they can absolutely compete for the pennant or a wild card spot.
Preview: The Mariners are looking to improve on their 89-win 2018 season in which they missed the postseason partly because of a very strong American League. Seattle will have plenty of new faces trying to make a postseason push this year. Among those new faces is Edwin Encarnacion who has been one of the best DHs in the league for several years now. Encarnacion is 36 years old, but he still proves to be a huge home run threat every time he steps up to the plate. Last season, he hit 32 HRs; it was his seventh straight season of 30+ homers. This new addition at the DH spot will fill the void in the middle of the order left by the loss of Nelson Cruz to free agency. Seattle will be looking for outfielder Mitch Haniger to build on his 2018 season in which he hit 26 HRs with a .285 average. The Mariners lineup looks average at-best heading into the 2019 season. The starting rotation looks mediocre as well with Marco Gonzalez (4.00 ERA in 2018), Mike Leake (4.36 ERA in 2018), Felix Hernandez (5.55 ERA in 2018), and Wade LeBlanc (3.72 ERA in 2018) returning on the mound. They do have a new arm to look forward to though- Yusei Kikuchi, a LHP from Japan, looking to be a quality starter at the top of the Seattle rotation this year as a rookie. In eight seasons of professional baseball in Japan, Kikuchi maintained a 2.81 career ERA with a 74-48 career W-L record. Seattle will be hoping for Kikuchi’s success to carry over into the MLB for them to be able to compete in the AL West. The Mariners added hard throwing right-hander, Hunter Strickland, to a rather weak bullpen this offseason. Strickland will likely takeover the closer role as he had 14 saves in 18 opportunities last season in San Francisco. It will be difficult for this Mariners team to match last year’s 89 wins, but they are looking to contend for a wild card spot.
Preview: The Texas Rangers are a team that could potentially surprise some people in 2019. Returning to the middle of the Rangers’ order are outfielders Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara who hit for a combined 60 HRs last season. A new addition to the lineup, replacing Adriane Beltre, is infielder Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera hit 23 HRs last season with 75 RBIs. He will also provide some power in the middle of the order. The problem with the Texas offense is that all of their best hitters can hit for power but with a low average. A big year from 2B Rougned Odor and DH Shin-Soo Choo at the top of the order would be huge for Texas this season. The starting pitching rotation looks like it will be a big problem for the Rangers this season. Only three of the projected five starters pitched in 2018 and only two of them pitched more than 20 innings. Without any great pitchers in the rotation, the Rangers will need contributions from everybody, including the bullpen. The back-end of the Rangers bullpen will be strong with Jesse Chavez (2.55 ERA in 2018), Shawn Kelley (2.94 ERA in 2018,) and closer Jose Leclerc (1.56 ERA in 2018.) The rest of the bullpen will have questions to answer, and they will likely get plenty of opportunities as the starting rotation could struggle. The Rangers look like the worst team in the AL West, but if they can improve their starting pitching, they will surprise some people.