So much red. / James Guillory-US PRESSWIRE

2012 MLB Division Preview: AL West

Sweet goodness, baseball has started, you guys! Sure, it happened across an ocean in the middle of the night and featured two crappy teams, but still! It was the sport of baseball and it was played by professionals and it mattered in the official standings. That’s good enough for me. More baseball will have been played before this is posted on its scheduled time. I will be asleep for both events because I have a real job and am not some kind of crazy person, but if you stayed/woke up to watch it, I respect the hell out of you and your insanity. Man, that sure was crazy when that one Seattle Mariner did that one thing! And then that Oakland Athletic did that other thing? Remember that? Really good stuff. Baseball is awesome. In honor of the two aforementioned crappy teams who played the first meaningful baseball of the season while in Japan, let’s preview the American League West, shall we? I may be a hamfisted amateur whose opinions and predictions are worth next to nothing (hey, thanks for reading!), but I’m happy to write this preview because 1) I’m a Mariners fan (please leave your condolences in the comments section) and 2) There’s still only four teams in the division, so way less work for me. Whoever is writing up the NL Central is a total sucker.

Texas Rangers

He's good. / Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

Best Case Scenario

The offense remains one of the most potent in all of baseball, while the young pitching staff continues to grow and exceed expectations despite their home park. Ian Kinsler finally gets his due as one of the best all-around players in baseball, competing all season for the AL MVP, while Yu Darvish baffles MLB hitters with his full arsenal of pitches, cruising to the AL Rookie of the Year Award. The Rangers hold off the Angels to win the division and make another deep run in the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario

Josh Hamilton gets hurt. Nelson Cruz gets hurt. Ian Kinsler gets hurt. There’s a decent collection of injury prone players on this team. Mike Napoli regresses like crazy and Neftali Feliz‘s conversion to starter is a disaster. Yu Darvish can’t fool anyone. The Angels overtake the Rangers and the stacked AL East proves too formidable in the Wild Card race, keeping the Rangers from advancing to the postseason.

Storyline to Watch

Yu Darvish. Coming to the Rangers with glowing reviews, a ton of hype, and a huge price tag, how well he handles the rigors of a full MLB season and unfriendly home park, all while attempting to replace C.J. Wilson as the Ranger’s staff ace will go a long way towards Texas succeeding or struggling.

Call to the Pen’s 2012 Texas Rangers Season Preview is coming on March 31st

Los Angeles Angels

Good at baseball. / Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Best Case Scenario

Albert Pujols continues on his trajectory as one of the greatest players of all time. C.J. Wilson cements his conversion from reliever to ace starting pitcher, combining with Jered Weaver and Dan Haren as part of the best rotation in baseball. Kendrys Morales overcomes his injury woes and returns to 2009 form. Mike Trout joins the team early in the season and lives up to his potential as one of the best prospects in baseball. Torii Hunter finds the magic for one more season and leads the Angels over the Rangers. Vernon Wells retires.

Worst Case Scenario

Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter, and Bobby Abreu all collectively show their age and underperform, but their bloated contracts (some more than others) prevent the front office from having the courage to promote Mike Trout as he tears AAA to pieces. Albert Pujols stumbles in his transition to a new league and home park. C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver start giving up a lot more home runs. Jordan Walden can’t regain his dominance and blows all sorts of saves. Morales shows a ton of rust and/or gets hurt again. The Angels can’t hang with the Rangers and fall short of the Blue Jays for the final wild card spot.

Storyline to Watch

Pujols and Wilson arriving in the City of Angels (they call it that, right?) is a pretty big deal, but I’ll mix it up slightly and go with Mike Trout. He’s a consensus top three prospect in baseball with MVP potential and he’s only 20 years old. How he progresses, and how the Angels handle his development and service time throughout the season will be a very worthy storyline to watch. Given Trout’s abilities and promise, he could help swing the Angels playoff chances if and when he’s given a spot in the outfield over one of the aging veterans.

Call to the Pen’s 2012 Los Angeles Angels Season Preview

Seattle Mariners

The King. / Rick Scuteri-US PRESSWIRE

Best Case Scenario

The Mariners ride the momentum generated by their first win of the season and go 162-0. No, that’s not right. Let’s try that again. Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero all make good on their top prospect pedigree and begin their evolution into perennial All-Stars, forming a solid core for the organization to build around. Felix Hernandez puts up another Cy Young caliber season. The young arms of Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker all take steps forward and continue to tantalize eager Mariner’s fans. One or two prospect-ish players emerge from the Mariner’s pile of outfielders and prove themselves as MLB regulars. Ichiro remains ageless. Franklin Gutierrez overcomes his injury problems and returns to All-Star form. The Mariners see a realistic scenario for contention in 2013.

Worst Case Scenario

Ichiro can’t bounce back from last season’s disappointing performance and disproves the theory that he’s a superhuman. Justin Smoak just can’t put it together and gets stuck in former-top-prospect limbo. Jesus Montero can’t hit enough in his first full season to justify the value penalty of the DH position. One or two or all three of the Mariner’s vaunted pitching prospects get hurt or underperform (TINSTAAPP, ya’ll). The offense puts up some more historically awful numbers and Felix Hernandez asks to be traded to the F-ing Yankees.

Storyline to Watch

I’ll cheat a little and say it’s the development of the Mariner’s collection of top prospects and former top prospects. Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Nick Franklin, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker—all these players as a whole represent the future of the Mariners organization. Continued improvement from many (or hell, how about all?) of them would instill a lot of hope in Seattle.

Call to the Pen’s 2012 Seattle Mariners Season Preview

Oakland Athletics

So what's this guy up to? / Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Best Case Scenario

Brandon McCarthy continues to conquer both Twitter and Major League batters, proving his extremely valuable 2011 was not a fluke. Yoenis Cespedes makes good on the large sum of money the Athletics paid to acquire his services, producing at the plate as well as the field. Manny Ramirez returns from his 50-game suspension and rakes. Billy Beane manages to swing a mid-season trade or two that nets the A’s some more prospects to add to the pile of promising talent they acquired in their semi-firesale this offseason. Whatever the heck they’re all arguing about in San Jose gets settled and the A’s start breaking ground on a new stadium.

Worst Case Scenario

McCarthy regresses, Cespedes busts, and Manny’s reduced bat speed proves fatal. The A’s can’t secure a new stadium and continue to lose baseball games as fans begin to pull their support of the team. Many prospects don’t pan out. Billy Beane leaves baseball to star in movies or run some soccer team or something.

Storyline to Watch

Yoenis Cespedes. If he proves he can hit Major League pitching and flashes an above average glove in the outfield, the A’s will have a blossoming star at a bargain price who could still be producing at a high level near the end of his contract when the team might have dreams of making a run at a playoff spot. He could also become a valuable trade chip. If things don’t work out, the cash strapped organization will have dumped a good chunk of change into a flawed player they can’t get rid of and can’t really afford. The A’s would like him to be good, please.

Call to the Pen’s 2012 Oakland Athletics Season Preview

AL West Team Predictions

Most Improved: Los Angeles Angels

Least Improved: Oakland Athletics

Most Likely to Surprise: Seattle Mariners

Most Likely to Disappoint: Los Angeles Angels

Division Winner: Texas Rangers

AL West Player Predictions

Best Hitter: Albert Pujols

Best Pitcher: Felix Hernandez

Top Rookie: Yu Darvish

Comeback Player: Ichiro Suzuki

Top Newcomer: Albert Pujols

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Kyle writes baseball nonsense at The Trance of Waiting. You can follow him on Twitter @AgainstKyle.

Tags: Albert Pujols Brandon McCarthy Felix Hernandez Ian Kinsler Los Angeles Angles Mike Trout Oakland A's Seattle Mariners Texas Rangers Yoenis Cespedes

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