1st Place, Los Angeles Angels Lineup: 3B Chone Figgens 2B Howie Kendrick CF Torii Hunter RF Vladimer Guerrero DH Garret Anderson LF Gary Matthews Jr. 1B Casey Kotchman C Mike Napolie SS Erick Aybar
Rotation: RHP John Lackey (out till May) RHP Jared Weaver RHP Kelvim Escobar (out till May) RHP Jon Garland RHP Ervin Santana SU: Scott Shields CL: Francisco Rodriguez
The Angels went out and added another outfielder to an already deep outfield this winter. Torri Hunter gives them a great defensive presence in the center and another quality, middle of the order bat. There lineup is the best it's been since the Vlad era began. Not only do they have a ton of power throughout the lineup, they also have 4 guys who could easily steal 30 bases with Mike Scoscia pushing the buttons. I also like the mixture of youth and veterans they have going on in their everyday lineup. However, their pitching isn't sitting as pretty at the moment. Their top two starters, John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, aren't expected back until mid-May at the earliest and it could be longer for Escobar. A lot of weight will be put on the shoulders of the staff's youngsters to hold down the fort until the vets come back but I think they should be OK. Their bullpen is always solid and should be a strength again this season. If Lackey and Escobar come back strong, in that division, the Angels could have the best record of any major league team in 2008.
2nd Place, Seattle Mariners Lineup: RF Ichiro DH Jose Vidro 3B Adrian Beltre LF Raul Ibanez 1B Richie Sexson CF Brad Wilkerson C Kenji Johjima SS Yuneski Betancourt 2B Jose Lopez
Rotation: LHP Erik Bedard RHP Felix Hernandez RHP Miguel Bautista LHP Jarrod Washburn RHP Carlos Silva SU: Brandon Morrow CL: J.J. Putz
I really like the Mariners coming into this year. Anytime you have a fifth starter that won 13 games the previous season (Silva), you know you got some pitching. They made the Erik Bedard deal thinking that this is their time to win and they should be right. I don't think they can overtake the current Angels' squad to win the division, but playing in a weak AL West will only boost their wild card chances. I'm just not sold on their overall lineup yet. Richie Sexson has to be more of the 30 hr-100 rbi type than the 20-60 type he was last year. Also they would love to see Brad Wilkerson and Jose Vidro to revert back to their Montreal Expo form. Young outfielder Wladimer Balentin is waiting in the wings and he's shown this spring that he's ready to play. The M's should certainly be better than average, but they're another solid hitter away from being serious contenders.
3rd Place, Texas Rangers Lineup: DH Frank Catalanotto 2B Ian Kinsler SS Micahel Young 3B Hank Blalock CF Josh Hamilton RF Milton Bradely LF Marlon Byrd 1B Ben Broussard C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Rotation: RHP Kevin Millwood RHP Vicente Padilla RHP Jason Jennings LHP Kevin Gabbard RHP Luis Mendoza SU: Kazuo Fukumori CL: C.J. Wilson
The Rangers look a lot different heading into this season than they did heading into last year. They have a young lineup that isn't built around power as much as in the past. They still need a leadoff hitter and another bat in the middle of their order, but I like some of the young pieces they have in place. Their pitching is always a big question mark and this year is no different. Their top 2 starters (Millwood and Padilla) had good yeas in '06 but then fell off badly in '07. Both will need to pitch up to their capability to even make this rotation halfway decent. If they don't rebound, Texas will be in bad shape. Their bullpen is still un-settled but it looks like C.J. Wilson will start off closing with Kazuo Fukumori (who has surprised this spring) setting him up. Keep an eye out for Terrance Metcalf, their top hitting prospect who's bat may be needed right away. Overall though, too many things would have to go right for them to be in the mix come September.
4th Place, Oakland Athletics Lineup: RF Travis Buck 2B Mark Ellis SS Bobby Crosby DH Jack Cust 3B Eric Chavez 1B Dan Johnson/Daric Barton LF Emil Brown CF Ryan Sweeney C Kurt Suzuki
Rotation: RHP Rich Harden RHP Joe Blanton RHP Chad Gaudin RHP Justin Duchsherer LHP Dana Eveland SU: Alan Embree CL: Huston Street
Billy Beane dealt away the A's best pitcher and best hitter this winter and it's going to show this season. Although the A's could be down this year, it wouldn't surprise me to see a few of those players they acquired start paying dividends right away. Their lineup will struggle to keep up with the teams in the American League. Out of their starting nine, only Mark Ellis and Jack Cust are coming off respectable seasons in '07. Outside of those 2, things could be changing daily in the Oakland lineup as injuries (Chavez, Crosby) and ineffectiveness have bitten the A's hard in recent years. Huston Street and Rich Harden, if healthy, give fans a glimmer of hope, but a 100 loss season looks like it could be on the horizon in Oakland.
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