Tom Ackerman, KMOX Sports Director

Continuing our look at the 2015 MLB season, here are my predictions for the AL West:

1) Los Angeles Angels

Will this finally be the year for Albert Pujols & Co.?  The former Cardinal went to Anaheim after the 2011 World Championship season and hasn’t had a sniff of playoff success since then.  The Angels had the best record in baseball in the 2014 regular season, only to be swept out of the postseason by the Royals in the ALDS.  Pujols, on the decline in his career but certainly capable of putting up respectable numbers, hasn’t been the top performer on his team for a few years.  That’s because Mike Trout is baseball’s best player, patrolling CF and batting third.  The recent meeting between MLB and RF Josh Hamilton, facing disciplinary action, is a concern.  David Freese, the World Series MVP in 2011, will be among those expected to deliver offensively.  Does he have a comeback season in him?  The rotation figures to improve with the return of hard-throwing righthander Garrett Richards (knee), but the Angels will need a resurgence from lefty C.J. Wilson, who struggled last season.

2) Seattle Mariners

A trendy pick this season, the Mariners have one of baseball’s best pitchers in Felix Hernandez, who struck out 248 batters last season and registered an earned run average of only 2.14.  And this rotation has special potential in a pitcher’s park (Safeco Field), with the additions of lefthanders James Paxton and J.A. Happ.  Hisashi Iwakuma is very talented and the second-best righthanded starter in the state of Washington.  There’s a strong middle of the order with Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager, an All-Star third baseman, providing a powerful 3-4-5 in the lineup.  Can the M’s find the right people to get on base in front of them?  Looks like the Seahawks might not be the only playoff team in Seattle.

3) Texas Rangers

It can’t be that bad again, can it?  The Rangers finished dead last in 2014 with a record of 67-95.  There’s a little to like here, with starters Yu Darvish and Derek Holland providing a tough RHP-LHP, 1-2 punch.  But can the rest of the rotation keep this team afloat?  Yovani Gallardo jumps to the AL to join Ross Detwiler and Colby Lewis…and will be asked to carry a significant load.  It’s a nice-looking lineup, 2 through 5, with Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder swinging the bats.  On paper, that is.  Unfortunately, they play a 162-game season.  If the Rangers can stay healthy, they’ll be interesting.

4) Houston Astros

I was tempted to move the lowly Astros up one spot in the division (but no further), so why the heck not.  Besides, I can hardly recognize the A’s anymore.  And Houston re-signed shortstop Jed Lowrie, a former Athletic, to bring him back to Minute Maid Park.  One of the game’s most exciting players is second baseman Jose Altuve, who led MLB in hitting last season.  But keep an eye on RF George Springer, who cracked 20 home runs in 78 games last season.  Add Colby Rasmus, Evan Gattis, Luis Valbuena…and the Astros have some serious power potential.  The top three starters – Scott Feldman, Dallas Kuechel and Collin McHugh all had their moments last season.  GM Jeff Luhnow did a nice job addressing the bullpen, adding Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek.

5) Oakland A’s

After some good success – but nothing significant in the playoffs – the A’s are pressing the reset button.  The acquisition of DH Billy Butler will help the lineup, but he doesn’t have enough hitters around him to make opposing pitchers squirm.  Brett Lawrie (3B) and Josh Reddick (RF) are nice players, but don’t have the sizzle of Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes.  2B Ben Zobrist is a solid all-around player, I’ll give them that.  Sonny Gray is a very good righthanded starter, but they’re a different team without former aces Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija.  Scott Kazmir joins Gray at the top of the rotation and closer Sean Doolittle has filthy stuff (and an awesome beard).  But it’s going to take time for Billy Beane’s bunch to come back around.  They will, eventually.

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