The Texas Rangers ended up winning the American League West last season, but they certainly weren't the team that made the most headlines, as the Houston Astros showed off their big-shot prospects on their way to a playoff berth.
Now, with the target firmly on their backs (Sports Illustrated did pick them to win the World Series), can the Astros fend off the Rangers and Los Angeles Angels?
1 Houston Astros
The Astros have taken on a similar rebuilding program to what the Chicago Cubs have done, and both systems are bearing fruit at the same time. The Astros are absolutely loaded in both their starting rotation and in their lineup, with players from Carlos Correa to Dallas Keuchel helping make the team into one of the favorites to win the American League this season.
In order for the Astros to be competitive, they will have to avoid some of the pitfalls that sometimes entangle young teams. Can they deal with expectations now that they’ve been picked by several publications to win the World Series? Can they maintain their health in their lineup and rotation?
Those are questions that need answering, but we’re confident the Astros will be able to figure things out and win the AL West.
2 Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have been one of the most disappointing teams in baseball in recent memory, consistently underperforming despite having a player who has already put together a Hall of Fame career in their lineup on a daily basis.
That player is Mike Trout, and in just four full seasons, he has been worth nearly 38 wins above replacement (WAR) to the Angels during that stretch. That is a mind-boggling number, and with a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP award (and three runner-up finishes), it’s crazy to think that he has only made the postseason once.
That could change this year after the Angels added Andrelton Simmons to their lineup, but it all comes down to their pitching staff. Jered Weaver has got to get his command issues figured out, and guys like Andrew Heaney and Matt Shoemaker have to step up as well.
3 Texas Rangers
The Rangers won the AL West last season, but things could be a bit tougher this time around. Their pitching staff is still solid, with Cole Hamels serving as their ace, but will the team be able to mix their young studs with the veteran mainstays in their lineup?
That is a big question, and specific players will play a key role. Guys like Prince Fielder will need to stay healthy. Ian Desmond will have to prove that he fits in a left field role for the Rangers. Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor will have to lock down the middle of the infield.
That’s a lot of “if’s” and “needs,” so it will be interesting to see if Texas can replicate their 2015 magic this season.
4 Seattle Mariners
The Mariners made some under-the-radar moves this offseason, acquiring Wade Miley to bolster their starting rotation and bringing aboard veterans Adam Lind and Chris Iannetta to give some heft to the bottom portion of their lineup.
The questions for Seattle are simple: do they have enough to overtake teams like the Angels and Astros in the standings? Can they finally get Felix Hernandez into the postseason for the first time in his storied career? Will their lineup have enough pop to win tightly contested games?
5 Oakland A’s
The Athletics are always a team that loves to to defy low expectations, and they’re hoping that a group of new acquisitions will help them to do that again this season.
Bringing Khris Davis aboard should add some pop to their lineup, and the team also acquired Yonder Alonso and Jed Lowrie to give the team a more veteran flavor.
The pitching staff outside of Sonny Gray is a massive question mark for this team, with Rich Hill looking to prove his resurgence isn’t a fluke and guys like Chris Bassitt attempting to make an impact every fifth day.