As a part of our MLB betting previews for the 2010 season, Cappers Info poses ten questions that should be on the minds of all baseball fans in the AL West as they prepare to make their MLB picks for the year.
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1: Will Cliff Lee be able to work his magic back in the American League? The biggest splash of the offseason came when the Mariners swung a three-way deal with Toronto and Philadelphia and ultimately landed LHP Cliff Lee in the exchange. Lee was only a .500 pitcher during the regular season, but he lit the world on fire in the playoffs. Now that he's back in the AL though, things could be considerably different. He won't be asked to be an ace though, as RHP Felix Hernandez already has that role in Seattle already locked down.
2: Can someone step up for the Halos and take command as the ace of the staff? The biggest question here is who has the ability to do it? RHP Jered Weaver and LHP Joe Saunders both won 16 games last year, but the leader of this staff was RHP John Lackey. Now, Lackey is playing in Beantown, which could leave a gaping hole in this rotation. If Weaver can't prove to be an ace in every sense of the word, Manager Mike Scioscia is going to be begging his front office to make a move to keep pace in this division.
3: Will CF Josh Hamilton returning to his slugging form in 2010? It's hard to realize that Texas won 87 games last year in spite of the fact that its best slugger only popped ten home runs for the entire season. Still, the Rangers blasted the third most home runs in the MLB last year, and getting some more power from the middle of their lineup will only help boost the cause in 2010. You'd better believe that Hamilton is ready to turn back into a 30+ home run hitter in the launching pad in Arlington.
4: What was GM Billy Beane doing when he signed RHP Ben Sheets to a $10M deal? Ultimately, this risk isn't as big as everyone has made it out to be. If Sheets ultimately fails to produce off of his surgery-filled 2009, the A's are going to be out $10 million in a year in which they probably weren't competing for a playoff spot anyway. If Sheets does get off to a good start though, Beane has either found himself an ace to keep for the duration of the year, or is could just be used as another pawn to bring some more prospects to Oakland.
5: Chone Figgins: Is he the difference-maker to either Seattle? Putting Figgins up right beyond RF Ichiro Suzuki in the lineup really just doesn't seem fair. Now, we're talking about two guys who make a ton of contact and put balls in play, can hit for power, and can run like the wind. For a team that hovered under four runs per game for a good chunk of the season and finished at just 3.95 runs per game, expect to see plenty of games led off by Ichiro with a single, a steal of second, and Figgins either pushing him to third with a sacrifice or knocking him home with another single.
6: What about the Angels? What does losing Figgins do to them? Anaheim now has a huge hole in the left side of its infield that could've been filled by Matt Sweeney this year, but he was traded to Tampa Bay in the Scott Kazmir deal of last season. Now, Macier Izturis is going to have to take over at the hot corner, which will take away an option off of Scoscia's bench as well. If there are any injuries in this infield, there just isn't enough depth to take the Halos afloat.
7: Does Scott Feldman have another great season in him? After winning just seven games in his previous four seasons in the majors, Feldman finally stepped up and had the year of his life in 2009, going 17-8 with a 4.08 ERA to lead the Rangers. Now that RHP Kevin Millwood has left for Baltimore, that will heap even more pressure on the 27-year old to perform as the undisputed ace and leader of this pitching staff.
8: Will DH Vladimir Guerrero provide Texas will some bulk in the heart of the order? Last season, the Rangers took a chance on the thought-to-be washed up Andruw Jones, who turned around and blasted 17 homers. It's pretty clear that Vladdy can't play in the field much anymore, but he still has one of the most powerful swings in baseball, and he'll still be an incredibly tough out. Look for Guerrero to provide a great level of protection for guys like 3B Michael Young and RF Nelson Cruz.
9: Can CF Ken Griffey Jr. be the calming influence necessary to keep OF Milton Bradley in check? Seattle had better hope so, or Bradley may tear apart this entire locker room just like he did in Chicago. There just had to be some better options out there for the Mariners in the outfield, but hopefully for the Mariners' sake, Bradley can focus in more on improving his lousy .257 batting average from last season instead of trying to avoid being a clubhouse cancer with Griffey standing by his side.
10: Bottom Line: How will the standings look in the AL West when the season is said and done… This is the question that we will pose for all six divisions and is the one of most importance. As we discussed last week, if Nolan Ryan's edict comes true, the Rangers are going to be the team to beat in a very competitive division. There are just too many flaws on both Seattle and Anaheim for this to pan out properly for either squad… Rangers, Mariners, Angels, Athletics.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim +1600
Texas Rangers +2000
Seattle Mariners +3000
Oakland Athletics +7000
Texas Rangers +2500
Seattle Mariners +2600
Oakland Athletics +8000