Wednesday, March 30, 2005

AL West

Next up, the AL West:

NYN: The AL West is arguably the only division where all the teams have a legit shot at the play-offs, why do you think that is?

RSN: It is a strange phenomenon - apart from the last couple of years when the Rangers went from division champ to division chumps, it just seems to be a strong division - I guess they all play in reasonable sized markets, have management that seem committed to putting out competitive teams with reasonable payrolls... maybe it is just the west coast air.... or the fact that there isn't a Yankees / Red Sox monster.... but that wouldn’t explain the AL Central.

NYN: Despite saying that, the Angels are red hot favorites everywhere, what do they have that the others do not?

RSN: I think it is a combination of things - they don't appear to have an obvious weakness - I am not saying there are no weaknesses, but they have a nice rotation, a solid bullpen and enough strong hitting to worry most teams. Did I mention Vlad? He is a genuine hitting superstar, when he hit the Grand Slam against the Sox in the ALDS Game 3, I doubt any true fan of baseball was that shocked, particularly given the pitch that Timlin served up! When key questions surround issues like - will K-Rod be a successful closer? you know your team is in good shape.

NYN: Good enough shape to go all the way to the big show?

RSN: There I am not sure - I wouldn't dismiss the idea, but the way they were swept aside last year does give me doubts. I like the rotation, but in a match up between the Yanks, Sox or Twins with the Angels, I am not putting much money down on Colon against those teams #1.

NYN: When your rotation is headlined by Bartolo Colon you know there might be a problem. Away from the Angels I know you toyed with the idea of the Mariners getting the W/C birth, please explain to me why as I see no love for Seattle fans this year

RSN: It is difficult to explain – oxygen starvation? Do real men apologize for mistakes - I fell into the ‘they added Beltre.... they added Sexson.... Reed looks to have real potential...... the pitching can't be that bad again’..... trap. And then you look at the numbers - the Mariners fell off a cliff last year, and 99 losses is a huge hole to climb out of. Even if they improve at the top end of my expectations they will do well to hit .500 this year.... but they did add Beltre.... and Sexson..... and.... see I did it again!

NYN: Beltre has been extremely hyped up following that breakout season down in LA, how will he cope with switching teams and leagues?

RSN: I think it is largely in his head - I have just finished reading Three Nights in August, and while I disliked an awful lot of what was written, I did like Tony La Russa's insights into a player’s mentality - and JD Drew must just love his role in Bissinger's book . If Beltre wants to prove that last year was not a classic contract year, I really do believe that he has the talent to do so - he shouldn't be significantly hurt by Safeco as Dodger Stadium is no homerun derby park. I think he may regress from last year, but even a moderate decline will stand head and shoulders above the numbers of anyone in the Mariners 2004 lineup.

NYN: Down in Texas, they had a pretty good year last time around after losing the best player in baseball, has this actually helped them?

RSN: You can’t set up a Red Sox fan up with a slow pitch down the middle of the plate like that! I struggle to believe that subtracting the "best player in baseball" from any team helps, but it does appear that way - I think the Yankees should bench him this year to complete the science experiment. I think the Rangers benefited from the continuing maturity of some very impressive young hitters, and pitchers having (by their standards) very good years - I think the big question for the Rangers is, can those pitchers repeat 2004?

NYN: That in my view is their downfall, last up we see the A's who have a great built for the 2007 season and beyond look, 2005 will not be their year, will it?

RSN: I have to agree - I don't think the trades were the disaster that some people are making them out to be, but I think gulping Billy Beane flavored Kool-Aid doesn't hide the fact that the pitchers the A's will have in 2005 do not match up with the pitchers they had in 2005. I acknowledge that Mulder and Hudson finished badly in 2004, but I don't understand how a reasonable argument is constructed that says how they finished in 2004 is the new, established level of performance from these guys going forward.

NYN: Lastly we end with the divisional MVP, Cy Young and Surprise package of the year, who are you going with?

RSN: Ok, this is an interesting battle - on pure talent, I am guessing that last year's AL MVP will be introducing himself again - I know we both didn't particularly like that pick last year, but he did put up incredible numbers last year, with a big surge in the voter impressing months. For the Divisional Cy Young, I will go with Rich Harden - I really do think he will help A's fans forget the loss of Mulder and Hudson. My surprise player - I am torn between Ichiro, who clearly won't be a traditional surprise, but I think his extended run at .400 will be, and the A's #3 through #5 pitchers - they have the ability, can they bring it in their first year in Oakland?

NYN: that is a question that will take a long time to answer.

Tomorrow night we are back in the National League and looking at the Central.

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