There has probably been more changeover in the American League West than in any other division. The powerhouse Angels are looking vulnerable for the first time in awhile and every single team has a real shot this year. The Mariners have made a huge turnaround, Texas has some pitching for a change and some of Oakland's prospects are coming through. With the American League East expected to send two teams into the playoffs as usual, it should be an old school race for the division title and lone birth into the playoffs.
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 87-75
It is really rare that you are in the minority when picking a team to repeat but that seems to be the case with the Angels this year. The departure of ace John Lackey, leadoff hitter Chone Figgins and DH Vladimir Guerrero have gotten all the headlines but I do not believe that will be enough to sink this team. They already had Maicer Izturis or Howie Kendrick to fill at third, not to mention Brandon Wood and signed Hideki Matsui, who was better than Guerrero last year, to DH. Torii Hunter also missed some time last season, a rarity for him. Combine all those things and their offense should still be very good. Their rotation is a bit weaker than in the past but if Scott Kazmir turns it around the difference will be nominal. I think this team is still in the driver's seat.
2. Texas Rangers 84-78
Texas might have been the favorites for this division if they did not curiously trade away Kevin Millwood. Millwood is far from great but he ate up a lot of innings and will now have to be replaced by unproven youngsters. Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz have enormous potential but haven't produced as starters yet, and Tommy Hunter's success came amid plenty of red flags. Two other rotation spots belong to Rich Harden (always impossible to count on because of injuries) and Scott Feldman, who was excellent last year, but sort of came out of nowhere. The lineup is adequate but could be better than that if Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero hit like they did in 2008. This is a strong team but I don't think they are quite ready to take over the division crown.
3. Seattle Mariners 82-80
The Mariners won 85 games last year but their underlying performance says they should have won only 75. Even though I am predicting fewer wins than last season, I think they are a better team now. The lineup is still a little light with the lumber but off the charts defensively, even with Milton Bradley expected to play LF. In Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee they have an excellent one-two punch at the top of the rotation as well. Their biggest flaw appears to be pitching depth, because their starters behind the top two are very unimpressive and their bullpen played well over their heads last year. Seattle has done so many things right lately that projecting fewer wins for them may seem like a surprise, but they were very lucky to win 85 last year, and I don't think that is likely to repeat itself.
4. Oakland Athletics 80-82
Last year Oakland went with one of the youngest rotations ever seen in the major leagues and while some thrived (Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden and Josh Outman) several struggled (Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro, Gio Gonzalez and Dana Eveland). With a year of seasoning under their belts, combined with acquiring Ben Sheets and the return of Justin Duchscherer, they should improve collectively from last year. The bullpen will remain fairly strong as well. The problem lies in the lineup, where they have zero dangerous hitters. If there is a silver lining, it is the fact that they have a ton of depth and should be able to cobble together an at least adequate lineup every day. With a couple of big hitting prospects knocking on the door of the majors, Oakland should be making a run at division titles soon.