03/19/2023 5:00 AM
Article By: Michael Lane
Our MLB preview series continues, wrapping up the American League with the AL West!
Since 2017, the Astros have been the team to beat in MLB. They’ve won two World Series titles, four American League pennants, and have reached the ALCS every season. They’ve said goodbye to star players like George Springer and Carlos Correa, but instantly replaced them with new homegrown talent like Kyle Tucker and Jeremy Pena (Chatham ‘17).
Houston’s lineup is remarkable, featuring star player after star player, including: Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Jose Abreu, Michael Brantley, and Jeremy Pena. Last October Pena became a nationally recognized name, winning ALCS and World Series MVP. In addition to his postseason heroics, he finished fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting and won a Gold Glove.
Houston’s pitching is somehow just as impressive as their lineup. Their rotation is so strong, despite the departure of Justin Verlander, that Hunter Brown (Cotuit ‘18) will likely begin the season in the bullpen. The Astros bullpen features an abundance of weapons, including Ryne Stanek (Bourne ‘11). There is no valid reason to pick against the Astros in 2023, I believe they’ll reach their fifth World Series in seven years.
Cape League alumni: Jeremy Pena (Chatham ‘17), Hunter Brown (Cotuit ‘18), Ryne Stanek (Bourne ‘11), Brandon Bielak (Orleans ‘16), and J.J. Matijevic (Falmouth ‘15/’16)
2. Seattle Mariners: 90-72 in 2022, lost to the Astros in the ALDS
The Mariners were one of the most exciting storylines in baseball last year, reaching the postseason for the first time since 2001. Led by last year’s AL Rookie of the Year, Julio Rodriguez, the Mariners expect to be back in the playoffs in 2023.
The Mariners made a handful of moves this offseason to retool a lineup that was good, but not great in 2022. In the outfield, Teoscar Hernandez and AJ Pollock (Falmouth ‘10) will take over the corner positions. Kolten Wong (Orleans ‘10) will provide excellent defense at second base. Cal Raleigh (Harwich ‘16) returns as the starting catcher, hoping to provide more dramatics after hitting a walk-off home run that clinched the Mariners playoff berth in 2022.
Seattle’s rotation should be a strength as well, with established arms Luis Castillo and Robbie Ray joined by rising stars Logan Gilbert (Orleans ‘17) and George Kirby (Harwich ‘18). Kirby received some AL Rookie of the Year votes last year, finishing the season with a 2.99 FIP over 130 innings. Gilbert pitched 185.2 innings for Seattle last year and enters his third season with a 3.56 career FIP. The AL West will be more difficult this season, but the Mariners team is talented enough to make the playoffs again.
Cape League alumni: Cal Raleigh (Harwich ‘16), Kolten Wong (Orleans ‘10), AJ Pollock (Falmouth ‘08), Sam Haggerty (Hyannis ‘14), Tommy La Stella (Bourne ‘10), Logan Gilbert (Orleans ‘17), George Kirby (Harwich ‘18), and Trevor Gott (Orleans ‘11/’12)
3. Los Angeles Angels: 73-89 in 2022
The headline for the Angels this season will be Shohei Ohtani’s contract negotiations, or the lack of negotiations which may lead to a mid-season trade. Fangraphs currently has the Angels projected to win 84 games, one shy of the AL Wild Card cutoff. I don’t believe it will happen, but let’s lay out the path for the Angels first playoff appearance since 2014.
For starters, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani will need to avoid any significant injuries. They’re two of the best players in baseball, but injuries have been an issue for Trout the past few years. Taylor Ward (Orleans ‘14) was a pleasant surprise for the Angels in 2022, producing 3.7 WAR. For comparison, over his first four seasons Ward produced -0.5 WAR. Jared Walsh (Cotuit ‘13) appeared to be a rising star, with a .971 OPS in 2020 and a .850 OPS in 2021, before regressing significantly last season. Bounce back seasons from both Ward and Anthony Rendon would go a long way to solidify the heart of the Angels lineup.
Pitching wise, the Angels rotation appears to be the best they’ve had in a long time. Ohtani leads a group that also features Tyler Anderson, Patrick Sandoval, and Reid Detmers (Brewster ‘18). Detmers was fairly reliable last season, finishing with a 3.77 ERA over 129 innings. The highlight of his season came on May 10th when he threw a no-hitter against the Rays. The Angels bullpen doesn’t feature a clear closer, but has a handful of solid relievers including: Aaron Loup (Bourne ‘08), Jimmy Herget (Bourne ‘14), Andrew Wants (Bourne ‘16), and Carlos Estevez.
It would be great for baseball fans to watch Mike Trout back in the postseason, but the Angels will face an uphill battle to get there.
Cape League alumni: Taylor Ward (Orleans ‘14), Jared Walsh (Cotuit ‘13), David Fletcher (Orleans ‘14), Matt Thaiss (Hyannis ‘15), Reid Detmers (Brewster ‘18), Jimmy Herget (Bourne ‘14), Aaron Loup (Bourne ‘08), Andrew Wants (Bourne ‘16), and Zack Weiss (Y-D ‘11)
4. Texas Rangers: 68-94 in 2022
Last offseason the Rangers invested in a pair of bats, Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, to improve their lineup. This offseason they focused on pitching, bringing in a trio of new arms: Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, and Andrew Heaney (Falmouth ‘11). Combined the past two offseasons they’ve committed over 800 million dollars in free agency. It will be difficult to compete with their interstate rival, but you have to give their ownership and front office credit for trying to turn it around.
The Rangers lineup was more talented in 2022 than their 68-94 record may indicate. Slow starts by Seager and Semien didn’t help, but this lineup should produce enough to support their star-studded rotation. Mitch Garver (Hyannis ‘12) isn’t the best defensively, but he’s a very good offensive catcher. In Garver’s career he’s hit .248 with a .702 OPS and 63 home runs. Josh Smith (Harwich ‘17) could be a valuable bat for the Rangers off the bench and filling in at DH. If the pitchers stay healthy, specifically deGrom, the Rangers might be the second best team in the AL West.
Cape League alumni: Mitch Garver (Hyannis ‘12), Josh Smith (Harwich ‘17), Andrew Heaney (Falmouth ‘11), Josh Sborz (Orleans ‘13/’14), and Dominic Leone (Chatham ‘11)
5. Oakland Athletics: 60-102 in 2022
The Oakland A’s are going to be a very, very bad baseball team in 2023. Almost the entire core that led the A’s to three straight playoff appearances between 2018 and 2020 has been traded away. Despite that they only have two prospects inside MLB’s Top 100 rankings, which doesn’t exactly inspire optimism about the future. They do have one of the youngest teams in baseball, so maybe a few players will establish themselves as part of the long-term solution in Oakland.
Shea Langeliers (Chatham ‘17) headlined the package the Braves sent to Oakland in exchange for Matt Olson last offseason. The A’s have a lot of faith in Langeliers as their future catcher, as they traded Sean Murphy to Atlanta this offseason. JJ Bleday (Orleans ‘18) was acquired in exchange for A.J. Puk from Miami. Bleday hasn’t lived up to expectations since being selected in the first round of the 2019 draft, but maybe a change of scenery will help. Ken Waldichuk (Wareham ‘18) was acquired from the Yankees in exchange for Frankie Montas last August. Waldichuk should spend the entire season at the major league level, continuing his young development.
Cape League alumni: Shea Langeliers (Chatham ‘17), JJ Bleday (Orleans ‘18), James Kaprielian (Y-D ‘13), Ken Waldichuk (Wareham ‘18), Kevin Smith (Y-D ‘16), Tony Kemp (Cotuit ‘12), Ryan Noda (Y-D ‘15/Brewster ‘16), Brent Rooker (Brewster ‘16), Chad Smith (Brewster ‘10), Adam Oller (Falmouth ‘15), and Sam Moll (Brewster ‘12)