AL West Division Preview

Can someone finally catch the Astros? Probably not.

Another year, another projected division title for the Houston Astros. We could use this tagline for all of the recent past in the AL West, as Houston has won the past six full-season division crowns (Oakland interrupted this streak in the shortened 2020 season), and then has taken a step further by playing in seven straight ALCS, including four pennants and a couple of championships. In that sense, the West has almost been an afterthought or a testing ground for the mighty Astros, who have used the regular season as a glorified tune-up for their high ambitions. However, 2023 showed some cracks in Houston’s foundation and 2024 may be the next logical step in the inevitable downfall.

Despite their ALCS appearance, it is important to remember that Houston won the division via tiebreaker, posting their lowest full-season win total since 2016. Current projections suggest that a similar scenario could play out this season, even as the AL West features some of the weirdest situations around the game. The Mariners remain a competent, yet flawed, contender that feels a few bats short. The Rangers are the defending champions (no, really), but their health status and quiet offseason scream massive regression. The Angels refuse to rebuild in earnest, despite losing a generational talent and having no credible farm system. And finally, the A’s have been very public about their disinterest in playing competent baseball until they move to Las Vegas.

With this outlook in 2024, the ultimate fate of the division may be decided by how the three contenders ultimately fare against the bottom-feeders and how healthy each of them can be. The projections are close enough that this division could give us as many as three playoff teams or only one, considering the better rosters in the East and the enigmatic nature of the Central. Regardless, this season could serve as an important transition year, as the Astros continue to fend off the calls to end their dynasty.


#5 – Oakland Athletics – 2023 Record: 50-113 – 2024 Projection: 72-90


Considering the current state of the franchise, it may seem shocking to think that Oakland made three straight playoff appearances from 2018 to 2020 and was still respectable as recently as 2021. It has all come crashing down since then, with ownership making a mockery of its property and trying to destroy the legacy of this once-proud team. The 2023 version of the A’s was such a train wreck that it became a national topic of discussion regarding civic pride, tanking, and corporate greed. At one point in early June, Oakland stood at a pathetic 12-50 record that threatened to produce all-time futility marks, and even as the end result did not yield 120+ losses, it felt much worse than that for a fan base that is bound to go through another funeral-type season in 2024.

While the team’s relocation is far from a done deal, it is likely that MLB will provide the necessary push to make it happen, thus making 2024 and the next few years exercises in futility for the A’s. The only solace for this season may be that Oakland should improve from historically bad to simply bad, despite running the lowest payroll in the league by a mile. Oakland’s $45 million in salaries seem like the product of a bygone era, as the roster is full of low-impact veterans and only a few intriguing youngsters. Among the limited talent in the team, 2024 will be a testing ground for the potential next wave of Athletics, especially for the likes of Zack Gelof, Brent Rooker, and Shea Langeliers. Regardless, the A’s are likely to struggle offensively for long stretches of the season and could be the worst offense in the AL for the second straight year.

The only signs of hope for a mild Oakland rebound should come from the pitching side, where it is unlikely that the team will come close to allowing 1,000 runs again. San Francisco retreads Ross Stripling and Alex Wood provide at least a level of veteran presence to anchor the staff, even as any kind of success would probably mean that they become trade bait. The rest of the rotation includes JP Sears and Paul Blackburn, who were among the only bright spots in 2023 but are not young enough to be considered part of the team’s Las Vegas future. With a roster so devoid of talent but also pressure-free from a results standpoint, manager Mark Kotsay could delve into unconventional strategies and weird baseball, which could be the only things that make Oakland watchable in 2024.


#4 – Los Angeles Angels – 2023 Record: 73-89 – 2024 Projection: 78-84


The Angels cycle of futility may have reached a new low point now that they no longer employ the most interesting player on the planet, as they are facing another lost season that now includes owner Arte Moreno’s renewed commitment to his franchise. Decades from now, baseball historians will debate how a single team could have employed two of the best players of all time for six seasons and failed to even post a winning season in all of them. The confounding existence of the Angels will begin a new chapter in a world without Ohtani, which makes it highly unlikely that they will snap their streak of 14 seasons without a postseason win and 9 years without even making the playoffs.

There are a few bright spots in this roster, starting with the return of Mike Trout as the franchise’s centerpiece. For all of his recent injury-marred seasons, there is no denying that Trout can still produce at an elite level. His recent Spring Training exploits suggest that he is back and on a mission, as there has been no real traction for him to be traded. Trout’s insistence on winning, but winning as an Angel makes him a throwback and could ultimately mark his career, but he is still young enough to carry an offense. The emergence of youngsters like Zach Neto, Taylor Ward, and Logan O’Hoppe can at least provide support and consistency, and show that the team may finally be committed to a new path. Having Anthony Rendon signed for three more years at $38 million per season is still an albatross, but he has to give the franchise at least one solid season….right?

When it comes to pitching, the Angels will feature an intriguing rotation that may be felled by a truly bad bullpen. Last season’s futile attempt to add talent at the deadline meant that the team is short on depth and likely to rely on its pitching staff as constructed. The team’s top four may not have a true ace, but it includes a number of competent starters, including Reid Detmers, Patrick Sandoval, and Griffin Canning. While the team was sparsely mentioned in free-agent discussions with top starters, it may be a step in the right direction to give a shot to the current group. Over at the bullpen, the lack of a shutdown closer and power arms to hold down leads may make Ron Washington’s return to managing a tough ordeal, especially now that Robert Stephenson is battling shoulder issues.

With a projection around .500, there is a path to contention for the Angels should everything break right, but the most likely scenario is that we can get a throwback to Mike Trout as the team’s spotlight en route to the Hall of Fame and not much else. The team will probably run a top-half payroll to again fail to play in October, but at least we can say that this franchise is finally learning from its mistakes. The hiring of an experienced manager is a step in the right direction, and in the middle of a division in flux, the Angels could find a way to break through sooner rather than later.


#3 – Texas Rangers – 2023 Record: 90-72 – 2024 Projection: 82-80


A year after becoming one of the most improbable World Series champions in baseball history, the Texas Rangers will try to avoid a major title hangover. While the path towards this level of success was started early in 2021 with the signing of prominent free agents Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, it is also important to note that Texas jumped from 68 wins to 90 in a single season and then rampaged through the postseason en route to the first title in franchise history. Entering the offseason, the franchise had to face the departure of key players and being in the middle of the RSN debacle, which limited its ability to spend on free agents. Along with the natural regression of a top-percentile season, the projections suggest that the Rangers may fall back to earth and even struggle to make the postseason.

The biggest concerns around Arlington are in the rotation, where the Rangers have two generational talents in the IL for a significant amount of time. Starting the season without Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom limits Texas’ potential to contend with pitching, even if they still have the underrated Nathan Eovaldi as the team’s clear ace. The drop-off after Eovaldi is steep, with the trio of Jon Gray, Dane Dunning, and Andrew Heaney appearing to be insufficient to carry a playoff contender. Having Bruce Bochy at the helm always provides a high floor for any pitching staff, but the Rangers will need all of his magic to mix and match, considering that their bullpen is bound to depend on many high-variance arms. If the team can weather the initial lack of rotation upside, adding bullpen options mid-season will be essential.

While Corey Seager’s status is uncertain for Opening Day, the offense is still the biggest hope for a Texas-sized title defense. The Rangers were able to infuse enough youth around their veterans to create one of the best offenses in the game, and now they are complementing that young core with Wyatt Langford, who has all the tools to contribute from day one. Along with Langford, the likes of Evan Carter, Josh Jung, and Jonah Heim are essential to sustain the highest-scoring offense in the AL, and we have not even mentioned Adolis García, who was such an important presence in the playoffs.

The Rangers will have a brutal schedule early in the season, and that could dictate how the team approaches the trade deadline and how they handle their ailing starting pitchers. Chasing the Astros and battling with the Mariners and Angels will be tough all year long, not to mention what could be a very tight wild card race, which means that the Rangers are in real danger of missing out on October. Regardless of the outcome, this should still be a very fun team to watch.


#2 – Seattle Mariners – 2023 Record: 88-74 – 2024 Projection: 85-77


The Mariners fielded a top-three team in terms of run prevention and had a top-half offense in 2023…only to miss the playoffs by a single game. That end result was certainly disappointing following their playoff appearance in 2022, but it served as confirmation that Seattle has become a solid contender with plenty to offer for the present and future. Despite a passive offseason that has frustrated most Mariners fans, there is no denying that this team has a solid foundation and represents the best option to dethrone the Astros.

Year two of Julio Rodríguez started slowly, but he has established himself as the star he is supposed to become, and will now lead an offense that needs all the star power it can get. Seattle’s offense is full of role players and serviceable bats, which could be tough to overcome despite their top-flight pitching staff. Losing Teoscar Hernández and Eugenio Suárez was supposed to be the chance to infuse new life into the offense, but instead, the team is relying on the likes of Luis Urías and the return of Mitch Haniger, which is not ideal, to say the least. Cal Raleigh and JP Crawford took a step forward in 2023, and they could represent the balance in a lineup that depends too much on Julio’s power and speed.

Seattle’s rotation features three dark-horse Cy Young candidates, which may be a tough feat to replicate around the league. Luis Castillo leads this group with filthy stuff and durability, but George Kirby and Logan Gilbert are not far behind in terms of quality. While this group could represent a major challenge in any short playoff series, the Mariners need to figure out a way to get there. Having Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo complete the rotation should be enough to give the team a chance every day, but health will be a major factor for a team with not much pitching depth behind them. The bullpen will benefit with a full-time stud closer in Andres Muñoz, but protecting leads could be an issue if Gregory Santos and Matt Brash continue to struggle to stay on the field. For a team with such a thin margin in terms of offense, getting the right bullpen mix could be huge.

Knowing Jerry Dipoto and the front office, the current version of the Seattle Mariners will not be the same in July or in September, and the aggressiveness they adopt will mostly depend on how they perform. Seattle will not face any current division champ until April 29, and that early schedule may be the jolt this team needs to establish themselves as true contenders. While we may get a bunch of 3-2 and 2-1 games, the Mariners should quietly be one of the best teams in the AL.


#1 – Houston Astros – 2023 Record: 90-72 – 2024 Projection: 91-71


Despite looking vulnerable for many stretches of their title defense, the Astros somehow were able to fend off the rest of the AL West and earn another division title. As they are wont to do, they summoned their usual October magic to come within one win of another pennant, but the overall season result served as proof that the Astros have enough cracks to question if their incredible run is coming to an end. The recent Jose Altuve extension indicates that the franchise still prides itself in continuity, but the inevitable Alex Bregman free agency along with Dusty Baker’s retirement are also part of the next version of Astros baseball. With all this in mind, the team is still favored to repeat as division champ, albeit with a tougher road than usual ahead.

The case for Houston as the best team in the West starts and ends with an unmatched offensive core, headlined by the superstar bat of Yordan Alvarez, the all-around awesomeness of Kyle Tucker, and the continued mastery of Altuve, who is now primed to retire as one of the all-time top second basemen as an Astro. The biggest X factor that could ascend Houston to the best offense in the AL falls on Bregman, who heads into his walk year following a couple of down seasons. If the third baseman can approach his 2019-20 apex, suddenly this offense could reach a new level, in which the supporting bats like Jeremy Peña and Yainer Diaz no longer need to carry much of the burden. The Astros have relied on a top-10 offense for all their run of dominance, and 2024 should not be an exception.

As Justin Verlander, Luis Garcia, and Lance McCullers Jr. are bound to start the season on the IL, the Houston rotation will face a number of issues in the early going. The question then becomes just how much of these injuries the team can withstand, especially as the Astros are unlikely to add a premier free agent at this stage. The underrated Framber Valdez would probably remain the team’s ace even with a healthy Verlander at his side, but now he becomes a much more important part of the staff, with Cristian Javier and Hunter Brown trying to elevate their game. The seemingly eternal José Urquidy, who will enter his sixth season in Houston, will also represent a key element to start the season, as Houston will need all the innings it can get from their starters. The late addition of Josh Hader in free agency represents a major boost for the bullpen, as he and Ryan Pressly are bound to be a luxury duo to close down and shorten games. Rookie manager Joe Espada will get a true trial of fire to start the year and cement his status in the majors.

In the end, how can anyone bet against the Astros at this point? Their formula has shifted from year to year, and yet they always appear ready to turn up the engine when it’s needed most. This season’s pitching concerns are real, while having a new manager is always a question mark, but ultimately this is a veteran team that will probably figure it out, with the burden to match their level falling on the likes of Texas and Seattle. At the same time, for baseball fans who still wish to see some comeuppance for Houston’s 2017 shenanigans, this just might be the season for it.

Pablo Figueroa

Pablo Figueroa is a Baseball Writer here at Pitcher List, with experience as a writer since 2013. He lives in Aguascalientes, Mexico - proud home of Los Rieleros. When he´s not thinking about baseball , he's a husband, owns two dogs, watches random episodes of The Sopranos , plays padel, and works on his day job to pay the bills.

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