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AL West Review: The Astros might not have it that easy this time

The AL West Division got better this year, which makes it a little bit of a tougher challenge for the Astros.

Houston Astros vs Philadelphia Phillies, 2022 World Series Set Number: X164229 TK1

The 2023 MLB season is officially around the corner, beginning on Thursday. All eyes will be on the reigning World Series champions Houston Astros and how they will perform in a reinforced American League West Division, which we’ll try to break down in this article.

The Astros are set to defend their championship but will do so in a more hostile environment, as three of their strongest direct rivals got better this year or are completely healthy.

Let’s begin with the champs…

Houston Astros

Notable acquisitions:

1B José Abreu (free agency)

OF Michael Brantley (re-signed)

RHP Rafael Montero (re-signed)

Notable goodbyes:

RHP Justin Verlander (Mets)

1B Yuli Gurriel (Marlins)

C Christian Vázquez (Twins)

IF Aledmys Díaz (Athletics)

1B/OF Trey Mancini (Cubs)

LHP Will Smith (Rangers)

Projections (according to FanGraphs):

89 wins, 73 losses, .551 w%

The Astros will have a different lineup from the one they used in most of the last campaign. They’re set to begin the season with a new first baseman, with Michael Brantley in the lineup again, with another backup catcher, and a reassembled bench.

Their offense still looks great even though they’ll play without José Altuve until at least June due to injury – they just added a man that can hit for both power and average, besides being named the 2020 AL MVP. The bullpen is in excellent shape and kept its most essential pitchers from last year.

But what will be the key factor for them this time is to prove they can be more than just okay with their current rotation after losing Justin Verlander. Health and youngster righty Hunter Brown will be huge for the Astros down the road. Also, how healthy Yordan Álvarez turns out to be will also be a turning point for the team’s success in a harder division.

Texas Rangers

Notable acquisitions:

RHP Jacob deGrom (free agency)

RHP Nathan Eovaldi (free agency)

LHP Andrew Heaney (free agency)

OF Robbie Grossman (free agency)

LHP Will Smith (free agency)

LHP Martín Pérez (re-signed)

RHP Jake Odorizzi (trade)

Notable goodbyes:

LHP Matt Moore (Angels)

LHP Kolby Allard (Braves)

OF Kole Calhoun (Mariners)

Projections (according to FanGraphs):

83 wins, 79 losses, .514 w%

After registering the sixth-worst starter ERA in the Majors in 2022, the Rangers addressed one of their most notorious needs well. They brought stars Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, and Andrew Heaney aboard while also re-signing lefty Martín Pérez after a career year. All of them will join Jon Gray in a formidable starting staff that looks pretty promising should it stays healthy.

The Rangers look forward to another good year from their good-hitting quartet: Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Nathaniel Lowe, and Adolis García. They’ll still need some help from the lower part of their lineup if they want to be productive and deep enough, offensively speaking.

They look so much better this year than the 2022 version, which won only 68 games and lost 94 times. However, keeping an eye on the bench and their middle relief should be a good idea throughout the season.

Anaheim Angels

Notable acquisitions:

RF Hunter Renfroe (trade)

LHP Tyler Anderson (free agency)

IF Brandon Drury (free agency)

LHP Matt Moore (free agency)

RHP Carlos Estévez (free agency)

SS Gio Urshela (trade)

Notable goodbyes:

RHP Michael Lorenzen (Tigers)

RHP Archie Bradley (free agent)

IF Matt Duffy (Royals)

Projections (according to FanGraphs):

84 wins, 78 losses, .521 w%

If there’s a team that will absolutely love being healthy, that’s the Angels, who should be dreaming of having the powerful trio formed by Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and Anthony Rendón in the lineup night after night. So far, that’s about to become real, as the three are good to go.

I like the fact that the Angels made some small but important moves to fix their infield by bringing in Gio Urshela and Brandon Drury. Also, it seems they’re giving up on Jo Adell and brought slugger Hunter Renfroe, who seriously looks exactly like Trout. They should be better both offensively and defensively.

Finally, the Halos realized that pitching is a big part of the game and acquired a guy that could be a huge piece moving forward: Tyler Anderson, who was stellar pitching for the Dodgers last year. He’ll join three other lefties in the rotation, which will be led by Ohtani. Also, they brought two late-inning pieces in Matt Moore and Carlos Estévez. The Halos should be exciting to watch this year.

Seattle Mariners

Notable acquisitions:

RF Teoscar Hernández (trade)

2B Kolten Wong (trade)

DH AJ Pollock (free agency)

RHP Trevor Gott (free agency)

Notable goodbyes:

2B Adam Frazier (Orioles)

1B Carlos Santana (Pirates)

OF Mitch Haniger (Giants)

LHP Matthew Boyd (Tigers)

IF Abraham Toro (Brewers)

OF Jesse Winker (Brewers)

RHP Erik Swanson (Blue Jays)

Projections (according to FanGraphs):

83 wins, 79 losses, .515 w%

Entering the 2023 season, the Mariners’ biggest weapon is their rotation and their pitching depth in terms of starters. They’ve been building up a rotation that can be named among the best ones in the American League, formed by Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, Robbie Ray, Marco Gonzales, and George Kirby. Chris Flexen is ready to step up as an emergency starter if something wrong happens.

They added a dangerous bat with 35-homer potential in Teoscar Hernández to their lineup, which already features ROY Julio Rodríguez, Ty France, and Eugenio Suárez. Besides, the Mariners hope outfielder Jarred Kelenic can live up to the hype he once generated, especially after a strong showing during spring training.

Offensively, the Mariners feature what could be a dynamic duo in recently acquired Kolten Wong and Rodríguez. They both have power, and speed and can get on base. Below them, Seattle has tons of run-producing bats with France, Hernández, and Suárez. At least on paper, they look strong.

Oakland Athletics

Notable acquisitions:

IF Aledmys Díaz (free agency)

1B Jesús Aguilar (free agency)

RHP Shintaro Fujinami (purchased from Japan)

CF Esteury Ruiz (trade)

C Manny Piña (trade)

RHP Trevor May (free agency)

Notable goodbyes:

C Sean Murphy (Braves)

UT Chad Pinder (Reds)

OF Stephen Piscotty (Giants)

Projections (according to FanGraphs):

71 wins, 91 losses, .436 w%

Even though the Athletics will be competing for not finishing with the worst record in the American League once again, they added decent, affordable players to avoid being as bad as they were last year. The most interesting or exciting player is righty starter Shintaro Fujinami, who will be making his MLB debut after ten successful seasons in Japan.

Looking to lower their payroll even more, they let star catcher Sean Murphy go by trading him to the Braves, who immediately extended his contract. Without Murphy, it’s hard to find extraordinary hitters in the A’s lineup.

Their brightest area is expected to be the starting pitching. Rookie Kyle Muller, acquired in the Murphy trade, is expected to serve as their ace. Fujinami and James Kaprielian will also be interesting to watch, while Ken Waldichuk and JP Sears will have a chance in the final spots. Don’t expect too much from Oakland.