This is the third piece in a week-long series in which the staff of Rising Apple makes their predictions for each of the six divisions for the 2013 MLB season.
In 2012, the AL West may have been baseball’s most exciting division. With the back-back-to-back AL pennant winner (Texas) and the AL’s consensus offseason champion (Los Angeles), it was expected that the Rangers and Angels would battle for the division while the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners muddled in the distance.
That made it all the more exciting when the A’s stormed back in the last four months, going 67-33 in their last 100 games culminating in a 12-5 win over Texas in game 162 to win the division. The Rangers lost to the Orioles in the wildcard game, and Oakland took the Detroit Tigers to five games before ultimately being eliminated.
Now, with the addition of the Houston Astros to the division ledger and the offseason trades made by the Seattle Mariners, it’s possible that any team outside of Houston wins 80 games, and Oakland, Texas, and Los Angeles could each win 90.
So, without further ado:
(Teams listed in order of 2012 finish)
Oakland Athletics (94-68)
The 2012 Oakland A’s channeled their Moneyball predecessors. They followed up a disappointing season by trading away what many considered the bulk of their major league talent. 2012 seemed to follow expectations as the A’s started out 27-35 in their first 162 games and sitting in last place, a full 9 games behind Texas and only two ahead of Kansas City and Minnesota for the AL’s worst record. Their fortunes changed dramatically at that point; Oakland’s 67 wins after June 12th were the most in the Major Leagues.
Oakland also happens to possess an excellent pitching staff (second in the AL in ERA) and one of the youngest offenses in baseball. Playing against them is that they play in the same division as the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels, both of whom figure to feature prominently in the AL pennant race. Oakland won the division last year, and with a roster filled with youth and talent (and baseball’s most manipulative and cunning GM, Billy Beane), there’s little reason to count them out of the race until October.
Rookie To Watch: Michael Choice
Choice may not make the majors in 2012, but doesn’t seem far off. The center fielder is hitting a pretty .371/.378/.571 in 37 spring training plate appearances, and has shown great power in the minor leagues, hitting 30 home runs in 2011 and posting a career .219 ISO in 239 minor league games. Given Oakland’s current outfield crunch, it’s tough to see Choice making the majors out of camp, or early in the season. Should he post strong numbers in AAA Sacramento, it would be more than fair to see Beane flip one of his outfielders for an impact player and slot Choice into the Coliseum outfield.