If you're an American League West team other than the Houston Astros, what's the plan for 2018? Who makes up a 21-game deficit in one offseason? Even in the land of competitive balance, that kind of thing almost never happens.Or maybe not.The Minnesota Twins improved by 26 games in 2017.
If you're an American League West team other than the Houston Astros, what's the plan for 2018? Who makes up a 21-game deficit in one offseason? Even in the land of competitive balance, that kind of thing almost never happens.
Or maybe not.
The Minnesota Twins improved by 26 games in 2017. The Arizona Diamondbacks notched a 24-game improvement.
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Here's the other part of the deal. Stuff happens. Strange stuff. Unpredictable stuff. As the late Paul Owens would tell his Philadelphia front-office staffers, "Do something to get better every single day."
His point was that no team can make up a 21-game deficit with one move or even two or three of them. But teams can make dramatic improvement when they focus on the things they can control. So here now is a handy guide on how the rest of the AL West can close the gap on the Astros:
Angels (80-82, -21 games)
1. Get the best player in baseball healthy
Michael Trout missed 48 games and didn't finish first or second in American League Most Valuable Player Award voting for the first time in his career. Only four AL teams scored fewer runs than the Angels.
2. Ditto the rotation
To stay competitive in a season in which Garrett Richards and Matthew Shoemaker combined for 20 starts is a remarkable accomplishment and one of manager Mike Scioscia's finest hours.
Besides that, Tyler Skaggs missed three months in the middle of season, and Andrew Heaney didn't make a start until Aug. 18. If those four combine for, say, 100 starts in 2018, the Angels could make a huge leap from 80 victories.
General manager Billy Eppler strengthened his lineup by re-signing outfielder Justin Upton, who was acquired Aug. 31, and added veteran Jim Johnson to his bullpen. The Angels are a finalist for Shohei Ohtani, which could create all kinds of possibilities.
Rangers (78-84, -23 games)
1. Pitching, pitching, pitching
General manager Jon Daniels has added veterans Doug Fister and Mike Minor to a rotation that began the offseason with Cole Hamels, Martin Perez and a long list of question marks.
Former closer Matt Bush will be given an opportunity to compete for a spot, and if he can maintain his 98-mph fastball -- or close to it -- over six or seven innings, he could have a dramatic impact.
But the real impact addition would be the signing of Ohtani, who could transform a potentially respectable rotation into a postseason-caliber group.
2. And then more pitching
Texas' bullpen had a 4.64 ERA, second-worst in the AL. Alex Claudio opens Spring Training as the closer, and the Rangers have confidence in Keone Kela, Jake Diekman and Jose Leclerc. If Minor and Bush both sick in the rotation, Daniels will need to add bullpen depth.
3. Center field
Carlos Gomez and Delino DeShields split the position in 2017, and Texas center fielders led the AL with 199 strikeouts. Gomez is a free agent, and DeShields is likely to enter Spring Training as the starter. With so much focus on upgrading the pitching staff, center field is unlikely to get a dramatic upgrade.
Mariners (78-84, -23 games)
Manager Scott Servais did an amazing job keeping the Mariners afloat for five months despite using 17 starting pitchers, including a Triple-A rotation for a chunk of the season.
In James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez and Mike Leake, Seattle has a potentially decent front four. General manager Jerry Dipoto is going hard for Ohtani, but so are the Angels and Rangers.
If Ohtani goes elsewhere, Dipoto could make a play for a big-time free-agent starter, possibly Yu Darvish. With another productive season from King Felix, the Mariners would take a huge step toward making up some ground with the Astros.
2. First base
Dipoto checked that box off his shopping list by acquiring Ryon Healy from the Athletics. With Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Healy in the middle of Seattle's lineup, offense shouldn't be a problem.
Athletics (75-87, -26 games)
1. Hope springs eternal
The Athletics won 31 of 59 over the final two-plus months as third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson established themselves as middle-of-the order sluggers. Only the Twins hit more home runs in this stretch, and when the season ended, the A's could see light at the end of the tunnel.
Oakland's strong finish was even more impressive considering its starters had a 5.29 ERA, third worst in the Majors. How much ground the A's make up in the AL West will depend on the progress of youngsters Andrew Triggs, Jharel Cotton and Paul Blackburn to shore up the rotation spots behind Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman. Also, left-hander A.J. Puk, MLBPipeline.com's No. 34 prospect, likely will pitch in the Majors at some point in 2018.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.