Sport AL West X-factors: Springer-less Astros frontrunners? Angels, Athletics could use pitching boost
How Jose Altuve Got Thrown Off
As Astros-hate—and all the other pain of 2020—wore on him last season, his play suffered, his throws sailed and he says the game stopped being fun. After every errant throw on a baseball field, there comes a moment, once you have failed to point your front shoulder at your target or misplaced your four-seam grip or neglected to open your hips, when you realize you are doomed. All that is left for you is one excruciating thought.“You’re just hoping something crazy happens and you make an out,” says Jose Altuve.Then ball collides with dirt and hope collides with reality.
The 2021 MLB season is fast approaching, and because there will be no expanded postseason this time around, playoff spots will be at a premium. Three division winners and two wild-card teams in each league, and that's it. The current postseason format creates a significant incentive to win the division. With that in mind, we're going to preview each division race and break down the potential X-factors between now and Opening Day. Let's highlight the American League West.
For three seasons, the AL West belonged to the. That doesn't appear to be the case anymore. In 2020, albeit a 60-game shortened season, the , their first since 2013. The should be doing far better than what their last few division finishes reflect and based on their lineup, which now includes and . The last time L.A. took home the division title was back in 2014, which was the last time they made the playoffs.
Blue Jays: Ross Stripling confronted new teammate George Springer about sign-stealing scandal
Toronto Blue Jays hurler Ross Stripling revealed he spoke with George Springer to discuss the Houston sign-stealing scandal once they officially became teammates. No one has gotten over the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal. With the team winning the World Series in 2017, baseball fans everywh ere still believe they cheated their way to the glory that fall. Well, George Springer was on that team but has since signed his blockbuster deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto hurler Ross Stripling came out and said he spoke with Springer about the scandal, and the two quickly talked things over and have moved forward.
Meanwhile, in the bottom half of the division, there's the rebuildingwho showed promise with their third-place finish in 2020 behind ' performance, and the , who are seemingly back to rebuilding after failing to be competitive last season.
Now, here is one 2021 X-factor for each AL West club, listed alphabetically.
Houston Astros: No Springer
The Astros will enter the 2021 season without longtime outfielderwho left for the in free agency this winter. Houston made some solid otherwise by keeping on a two-year deal, signing reliever and adding right-hander and catcher . Despite Springer's absence, the Astros lineup should be able to keep his production with the return of 2019 AL Rookie of the Year and designated hitter .
Every MLB team’s 2021 Opening Day starter
We’re listing and analyzing all 30 pitchers tabbed to start on April 1One more factor indicates that the regular season is almost here: the declaration of Opening Day starters. Here, we’ll list and analyze every pitcher tabbed to start on April 1.
Alvarez, 23, underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees in August, and has been easing back into action at camp this spring. There's a lot of unknown still, but at the same time, Alvarez's power holds a lot of potential for Houston's offense if he comes back for a true, successful and healthy sophomore campaign.
The AL West is pretty winnable, but it does feel like it's the Astros to lose in 2021. The club's championship core is mostly intact (although probably not for long as, , , , and Jr. will all become free agents after next season), and it seems like that's going to be enough to have them enter the season atop the division as the favorites to win it.
Los Angeles Angels: Pitching
For some of us here at CBS Sports, the. The club brought in a new general manager, but didn't bring in much else to help the club get in a position to contend. When you have Mike Trout on your team and you he's only played in three postseason games and the last was seven years ago, you'd think there would be far more urgency than what's been shown.
MLB On The Record: AL West GMs discuss their competitive windows as Astros again loom
What would it take for you to consider 2021 successful for the Astros? The Angels did add some arms this offseason, but not the ones that would give them a good chance of seizing the opportunity to unseat a mitigated Astros team from atop the division before Trout is forced to abdicate his best-player-in-baseball automatic honorific. Without reinforcements, Angels fans will have no choice but to heap even more expectations on Shohei Ohtani, who is slated to be a regular part of the rotation despite a whopping 1 2/3 innings pitched over the past two years.
For the Angels in 2021, the biggest X-factor is going to be their pitching. Last offseason, the Angels lost out in thesweepstakes, and this year, they couldn't get . Without a true, proven ace in Anaheim, the club really could have used any one of the top free agent starters available this year.
They did signstarter , and that's fine. But, Quintana didn't pitch for half of 2020 due to a thumb injury, and the remaining Angels starters aren't the most reliable. There's also a lot of unknowns regarding ability to return as a two-way player in 2021. If Ohtani returns to the mound and struggles or suffers another injury, then the Angels may be forced to decide his future role with the team. , and should be solid, but then you have the concerns of how newcomers Quintana and will perform.
It's not just the starting rotation that is an X-factor for 2021, but the Angels bullpen -- one that blew more save opportunities (14) than any other team last year -- will also be something to watch.will come in as the club's new closer after he was traded from the in December, was also brought in this winter as a left-handed specialist. They'll join returning Angels relief pitchers , and . The 31-year-old Pena is expected to be shut down 2-to-4 weeks after he suffered a Grade 1 right hamstring strain during spring training earlier this week, so it's possible the Angels decide to go out and makes some late-spring additions. Free agent is an option.
Opening day brings memories of a great friend to baseball
Former USA TODAY baseball reporter Mel Antonen died January 30, and it's impossible not to think about him this opening day.Every year, I could count on an email from Mel at the moment of the baseball season’s first pitch.
All of the Angels offseason moves to bolster their pitching appear to be more focused on short-term solutions/low-upsides rather than established improvements, which doesn't boats a whole lot of confidence in the club's status as a contener in 2021, where the postseason is set to revert back to its 10-team format rather than the 16-team from last year's abbreviated campaign.
Oakland Athletics: Bullpen
It would be a huge shock if the Oakland Athletics manage to post the second-best record in the American League again, as they did in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. Oakland possesses talent, but they didn't add any significant pieces to it this winter. In fact, they ended up losing shortstopand closer . There were some additional losses, with several in the bullpen, with the departures of right-hander and left-hander T.J. McFarland via free agency.
For 2021, the A's will need their new closer(signed to a one-year deal) along with the other new relievers, , and , to be enough for the rebuild of this new bullpen. On paper, the club certainly has the makings of a solid bullpen. Still, the additions and overall revamping don't leave a whole lot of margin for error. The bullpen will need to be strong if Oakland is hoping to defend their division title.
2021 MLB expert predictions, award picks: Can Dodgers win another World Series?
No MLB team has won back-to-back World Series titles in 20 years, but the reigning champion Dodgers head into 2021 as the favorite in October.But things won't come easy for the Dodgers. Just two hours down I-5, the San Diego Padres may be baseball's second-best team and primed to challenge their rivals for years to come. Elsewhere in the National League, the Atlanta Braves had the Dodgers on the ropes in a seven-game LCS and their stacked lineup will be out for revenge.
Seattle Mariners: Young core development
The Seattle Mariners have some upside for 2021, but the focus will be on the club's young core as the rebuild continues. This team is not yet a playoff team, but they're on their way to returning to the postseason sooner rather than later. If 2020 is any indication, the future looks good for this young core with unanimous Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis and talented young pitchers,and .
The 2021 season should serve as a good time for continued development forand , who both have yet to play above the Double-A level in the minors. Both Kelenic and Gilbert could win spots on the Opening Day roster with good spring performances. Of note when it comes to how Seattle constructs its roster this year will be watching to see how the Mariners front office responds to the offseason resignation of former president Kevin Mather after he openly spoke about service time manipulation.
Texas Rangers: Offense
Like the Mariners, the Texas Rangers are in the midst of a rebuild. Theirs is just not planned so much as Seattle's. In 2020, the Rangers were expected to be competitive, especially with the 60-game schedule. Instead, Texas finished the shortened season with the second-worst record in the league. The club quickly settled back into rebuild mode after losing more than a third of the games last season, starting with the trade of, which was a clear sign that they were moving forward with a rebuild.
In 2021, the Rangers still have lots of question marks re: their starting rotation, but for their X-factor of choice, we're going with their offense. It's unlikely the Rangers will contend, but if they want to show some signs of promise, or at the very least, keep things interesting in the AL West, they'll need to see improvement from their lineup. In 2020, the Rangers offense ranked for the second-worst in the league when it came to average (.217), on-base percentage (.285) and slugging percentage (.364). So, not great.
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