Such wisdom I provide and at no charge to you is about to increase: here's the AL West Preview. Click here for the AL Central and here for the AL East.
The sick thing is that I see this division going a lot like it did last year, with maybe an A's/Rangers switch for second and third.
Nonetheless, the newly re-badged Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim; heck, the Giants and Jets are a lot closer to New York and the Cowboys closer to Dallas than the Angels are to LA) are the team to beat. Think about how they finished the regular season last year and try transcribing that performance over a whole year: Escobar was among the top pitchers in the league in the second half, Colon was finally able to extend his arm past his stomach, and now they've added Paul Byrd to a solid Escobar-Colon-Washburn-Lackey mix. The Halos lost Troy Percival, but he was about to be eclipsed by Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez anyway. With Brendan Donnelly and Kevin Gregg setting K-Rod up, the Angels still have a nice bullpen. And they retained enough offense while picking up the ageless Steve Finley to not be hurt by the loss of Troy Glaus -- after all, Vlady Guerrero and eight stiffs makes an acceptable lineup. Now add Garret Anderson, Finley, Salmon, Figgins, Erstad and the rumored potential of Casey Kotchman, and that's a formidable team.
Meanwhile, the Rangers are an enigma or a miracle or a freak show. They have tremendous batting talent: Blalock, Texeira, Soriano, Young, Mench and possibly Nix; they have some solid veterans like Hidalgo, Sandy Alomar and Dellucci; they have a fine bullpen, held together by Kiki Cordero who developed into the closer they expected when they landed him in the Juan Gonzalez trade with the Tigers; and they have a pitching rotation that is mediocre at best that they didn't upgrade in the offseason. But they might not have needed the upgrade: Chris Young, who pitched well down the stretch, will be a full-time starter; Ryan Drese is in year two of "now I know how to pitch" mode; Kenny Rogers is still somehow effective and if either Chan Ho Park or R.A. Dickey can suck less, this team can win 90+ and contend for the wild card.
If Joe Blanton is as good as his hype, if Danny Haren can become a solid full-time starter, if Barry Zito can regain 2002 form, if Octavio Dotel can get his stuff together and stop blowing saves, if Kiko Calero can shore up an otherwise underwhelming set-up staff, if Eric Chavez returns to 2003 form, if Jason Kendall is healthy and productive . . . then the A's could win 90-94. But if all those are not a lot of ifs, what would be? In reality, the A's start 2005 with great prospects for 2006.
In 2001, the Mariners won an AL-record 116 games with a team that included Paul Abbott as the fourth starter, Aaron Sele as the #3 starter, Arthur Rhodes as the set-up specialist and a plethora of guys having career years. In 2002, they won 93 games but faded down the stretch to fast-charging Anaheim. In 2003, they won another 93 games, but lost the wild card to Boston. In 2004, they stank: 63-99. They were old, tired, couldn't hit, couldn't pitch and the fielding was lacking. Do Adrian Beltre, Pokey Reese and a healthy Eddie Guardado make enough of a difference for this team to compete? No. Not when Gil Meche gives up a HR every 6 innings or Ryan Franklin and Jamie Moyer allow more than 30 dingers despite pitching in the best pitcher's park in the AL and those three are 60% of the rotation (and the # 2-3-4 if Pineiro is healthy). Not when the team will rely on Randy Winn and Dan Wilson to play large roles. And not until the mystery that is Richie Sexson becomes a full-time player.