BRENT STECKER

Taking a look at a tough AL West after FanGraphs projects Mariners to finish 3rd in division

Feb 7, 2017, 6:30 AM | Updated: 10:44 am
FanGraphs projects the Angels, led by Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, to finish ahead of the M's in 2...
FanGraphs projects the Angels, led by Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, to finish ahead of the M's in 2017. (AP)
(AP)

The Mariners found themselves in a dog fight trying to make the playoffs in 2016, remaining in the mix for the postseason up until a loss on the second-to-last day of the regular season. If FanGraphs’ annual MLB projections are any indication, Seattle could be in a similar situation in 2017.

The Mariners are projected to tie for third in a strong American League West division in 2017 with an 83-79 record, with the Houston Astros (90-72) and a resurgent Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim team (84-78) ahead of them. The Texas Rangers, last year’s AL West champs, are projected to have 83 wins like the Mariners.

The predictions have Seattle narrowly missing out on the American League’s two Wild Card spots again, this time by just a game behind the Angels and Toronto Blue Jays, both of which are projected to win 84 games.

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So, just how accurate are these projections? Last year, FanGraphs penciled the Mariners in for 84 wins – pretty close to their 86-win total – but had Houston finishing atop the AL West with an 86-76 mark. The Astros actually finished third with 84 wins, and Texas (projected 83 wins in 2017) won with a 95-67 record.

The Mariners have made plenty of moves this offseason and look more solid on paper coming into the 2017 season than they did last year at this point, but it’s not as if the rest of the AL West has been standing pat. So with that in mind, here’s a look at what the four other teams in the division look like going into spring training.

Los Angeles Angels

FanGraphs 2017 projection: 84-78, second in AL West
• 2016 finish:
74-88, fourth in AL West
• Key additions:
Cameron Maybin, OF; Danny Espinosa, 2B; Ben Revere, OF; Luis Valbuena, 3B.

Overview: The Angels still have baseball’s best player in center fielder Mike Trout, who is coming off his second (and arguably what should have been his third) MVP season. DH Albert Pujols showed he still has 30-homer, 100-RBI ability last year, and with Maybin (left field) and Revere (fourth option) joining Trout and Kole Calhoun in the outfield, there’s reason to believe Los Angeles has a potential offensive juggernaut on its hands. The big question is whether the Angels’ starting rotation, which was decimated by injuries last year, can perform well enough to keep them from competing in too many slugfests.

My take: I know the Angels have been a trendy pick to rebound this season, but I’m not buying it to this level. They’ll be better, but with that starting rotation, they’re asking too much out of Trout. He can’t hit two home runs and bring back another on defense every game. The Mariners will be better than Los Angeles, which will probably finish somewhere around 80 wins.

Houston Astros

FanGraphs 2017 projection: 90-72, first in AL West
• 2016 finish:
84-78, third in AL West
Key additions: Carlos Beltran, DH/OF; Brian McCann, C; Josh Reddick, OF; Nori Aoki, OF.

Overview: Blessed with young talent in Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, it’s no longer a surprise to see Houston picked to make the playoffs. The thing to watch with the Astros in 2017 is how the influx of proven veteran hitters like Beltran, McCann and Reddick will impact them, especially considering that the volatile Carlos Gomez was slotted in one of those spots last year. The Astros had to climb out of a pretty big hole last year, going 21-29 through April and May, and they still worked their way back into the postseason conversation for September.

My take: It’s hard to think they Astros will get off to a similarly rough start again this season, and if Keuchel gets back on track after posting a 4.55 ERA last year, watch out. I expect Houston’s offense to score plenty of runs and benefit immensely from the presence of Beltran and McCann both in the lineup and in the clubhouse. Just keep Aoki as far away from center field as possible (yes, those words have incredulously been uttered in the same sentence this offseason) and I think Houston’s a legitimate World Series contender.

Texas Rangers

FanGraphs 2017 projection: 83-79, tied for third in AL West
• 2016 finish:
95-67, first in AL West
Key additions: Andrew Cashner, RHP; Tyson Ross, RHP.

Overview: Here’s why the Rangers are especially scary – even with as much young talent as the Astros have, they’re still second in their own state in that category to their neighbors from Arlington. If Rougned Odor, who just turned 23, follows up his breakout 2016 season with another big year, he’s suddenly joining Altuve and Seattle’s Robinson Cano in the upper echelon of MLB second basemen. In addition to Odor, Texas boasts Nomar Mazara, Delino DeShields, Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo and Ryan Rua. There’s so many promising young players that Profar, once thought to be the prized jewel of the Rangers’ system, had difficulty staying in the lineup in 2016 despite being one of the hottest players in baseball during the first half of the season. Oh, and by the way, they still have Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, and they’ve retained last-season additions Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez.

My take: The Mariners will go as far as their pitching will take them in 2017, and I see the Rangers as a similar case with a higher ceiling but a more problematic bullpen. I’m interested to see how Cashner and Ross impact the rotation, as Texas was 13th in the AL in ERA last year. The Rangers didn’t do much to address a disaster of a bullpen (only Minnesota’s was worse in the AL in 2016) that was their biggest issue, though, so even if they beat out Seattle for a playoff spot, they won’t go far without some big midseason moves to shore that up.

Oakland Athletics

FanGraphs 2017 projection: 77-85, fifth in AL West
• 2016 finish:
69-93, fifth in AL West
Key additions: Rajai Davis, CF; Trevor Plouffe, 3B; Santiago Casilla, RHP; Matt Joyce, OF.

Overview: The only team from the AL West projected by FanGraphs to finish with a losing record, the Athletics seem to be biding their time while rebuilding their system. They have some marquee players like slugger Khris Davis (42 homers, 102 RBIs in 2016) and two-time All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt, but a rotation headed by the injury-plagued Sonny Gray and a lineup littered with castoffs is unlikely to make much noise a year after winning just 69 games. That being said, every season is one that a team run by Billy Beane can rise from the ashes and surprise everybody.

My take: The Billy Beane Clause that I just invoked, absolving sportswriters from shame for counting out the A’s with one sentence acknowledging that you can never count out the A’s, will cease to be after this season. They’ll be among the worst teams in the AL for the third straight year, meaning the memory of Oakland’s myriad of “seriously, these guys are in the playoffs?” teams will finally be old enough to be considered a bygone era. But until then, Billy Beane Clause all day, every day.

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