Now mannning the outfield for the Los Angeles Angels is Josh Hamilton, the former Texas Rangers slugger. His switching teams affects the balance of power in the American League West. Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Has Window Closed On Texas?

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We’re going to see the Texas Rangers first this season since they open on March 31 against that new American League acquisition the Houston Astros. But unlike several recent years the Rangers won’t be the overwhelming favorite in the American League West Division. They won’t be the favorite at all.

The Rangers reached the World Series two years in a row in 2010 and 2011, and a lot of people, including many in Arlington, Texas, believe they should have last year, too. But after fielding the best team in the AL for a couple of years the Rangers went through some upheaval in the off-season. Josh Hamilton, the team’s A-1 slugger is gone. So is long-time regular Michael Young. It’s not certain that the Rangers did an adequate job of replacing them. Infielder Jurickson Profar, a man with a name hard to pronounce seeking to become a household name, is supposed to be a rising star.

Texas pitching has more questions than Alex Trebek. Reliver Alexi Ogando is supposed to become a starter. Matt Harrison won 18 games last year, but was that a fluke or a trend? The back end of the bullpen could be great, but that depends on the bionic arms of Joe Nathan and Joakim Soria, both of whom had surgical repairs.

I think the Rangers will still be pretty good. Yu Darvish will be better on the mound and they still can hit, but I don’t see them winning the division crown. However, if they make the playoffs, and they should, as we have all seen, the Wild Card does make for some wild post-season action.

The new king of the division should be the Los Angeles Angels. They were underachievers last year, but this is a team built to go all of the way, and there is a pretty good chance the Angels will be the AL rep in the Series. If not, something is wrong on the Left Coast.

Lots of money has been invested and big names have been recruited. As long as the warm bodies don’t go cold with injuries the Angels are the team to beat. They’ve got Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout to swing bats and Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Tommy Hanson to throw strikes.  The Angels are also counting on Ryan Madson regaining top form in the bullpen after a wasted year in the Cincinnati Reds organization where he could never pitch because of injury.

This time around I don’t think the Angels have to worry about winning the regular-season title and gaining a first-round playoff bye under the new rules.

Last year we were all shocked at the run put together by the Oakland A’s, particularly at season’s end when they caught the Rangers from behind in the standings on the season’s last day. It seemed as if Billy Beane was bucking for a sequel to the “Moneyball” movie. The low-budget franchise does it again. I find it offensive that despite Bartolo Colon‘s drug sins when he left the A’s in the lurch during the pennant race that he was re-signed, so maybe that will spoil Oakland’s good karma. But there are young arms on the roster and some of those guys like Jarrod Parker, Sean Doolittle, and Ryan Cook figure to get better.

Another team in the division trying very hard to improve is Seattle. The Mariners have spent some money, invested in new faces, should improve their won-loss record, yet may not move up in the standings even one spot. There’s too much depth in the AL West. On the other hand the Mariners might not be last again, either. That’s because the Astros have been placed in the division. Houston is the one team that all of the others in the division will beat up on all season long. The Astros are doomed to last place.

Up until last year the American League was pretty much defined by what was going on in the East Division. Right now it seems the West is the best with much more competition likely than in the East or Central divisions.

This is how I am going to call the 2013 AL West division standings: 1) Angels; 2) Rangers; 3) Athletics; 4) Mariners; 5). Astros.

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Tags: Houston Astros Los Angeles Angels Oakland Athletics Seattle Mariners Texas Rangers

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