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The AL West is the best

For years, the American League East owned the title of best division in baseball. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were constantly battling for top billing, playing a game of can-you-top-this every other minute. Currently, Boston and New York are potential playoff teams with holes, falling far short of the teams out on the other coast.

In the AL West, there is a four-team race for the division title in 2015. The Houston Astros are the lone participant not expected to make a serious run, although the once-laughable franchise added some serious pieces with Evan Gattis, Jed Lowrie, Luke Gregorson, Colby Rasmus and Luis Valbuena.

The other four, the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics, are all in a fight for supremacy. For the three which fall short, there could be a nice door prize for two with the AL Wild Card game awaiting. Considering the mediocrity of the AL East and the top-heavy nature of the AL Central, it would not be surprising to see a trio of Western teams playing into October.

Los Angeles is the odds-on favorite to win the West after taking it last year with a league-high 98 wins. The Angels have a different look to start this season, though. Howie Kendrick was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Josh Hamilton is recovering from surgery on the AC joint in his right shoulder. It’s unclear if he will be ready for Opening Day. Garrett Richards is also expected to miss at least the first two months with a torn patellar tendon, leaving question marks in the starting rotation. Jered Weaver is 32 years old and C.J. Wilson is average, while Matt Shoemaker tries to duplicate an excellent 2014. The lineup and bullpen are very strong, easily good enough provided the pitching is adequate.

Seattle is a trendy pick to reach the World Series and has the pitching to make it happen. The Mariners have a true stud in Felix Hernandez and a viable No. 2 in Hisashi Iwakuma. The questions here are the young pitching (Taijuan Walker, James Paxton) and a revamped lineup. A full season of Austin Jackson and the additions of Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith will absolutely help, but is it enough?

No team dealt with more injuries than the Rangers last season. Coming into Spring Training, Texas has Prince Fielder back along with Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, and Shin-Shoo Choo. This might be the most talented group in the division on paper, especially after the acquisition of Yovani Gallardo. The main sticking point here is can Texas stay healthy and close out games consistently with a shaky bullpen.

Oakland is the most curious case. The A’s tore down the team after falling apart down the stretch last season before a brutal loss against the Kansas City Royals in the Wild Card game. General manager Billy Beane dealt away Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Jeff Samardzija and Derek Norris while letting Jon Lester and Jason Hammel leave via free agency. However, Beane rebuilt on the fly, bringing in Billy Butler, Ben Zobrist, Marcus Semien, Ike Davis, Jesse Hahn and others. On the surface, the group is not at the talent level of the other three teams. Yet, with Bob Melvin’s ability to platoon and use players in high-leverage situations, Oakland will be a contender again.

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