AL West prediction: Correa, Astros climb to division summit

The Texas Rangers have been the best of the American League West in back-to-back seasons and four of the last 10.

Over that period, only the Seattle Mariners have been unable to reach the postseason out of the division, though the Houston Astros lone appearance (2015) came in a wild card capacity. And only Texas — 2010 and 2011 — and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — 2009 — have been able to win a postseason series.

In search of their first AL West crown since 2001 the Astros sold out this offseason, bringing back Carlos Beltran — a Houston playoff legend — and reaching deeper into the free agency pool to sign Norichika Aoki, Brian McCann and Josh Reddick. It was money well spent.

The ‘Stros broke for winter already home to a fist full of All-Stars. Now Jose Altuve, a two-time batting champ and three-peat hit king, and 2015 AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa have more than enough support. And the pitching staff, fronted by 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, is more than sufficient to keep what will be an explosive offense in games.

Correa followed up his rookie campaign, in which he slashed .279/.345/.512 with 22 home runs and 14 stolen bases in just 99 games, with a .274/.361/.451 slash, 20 home runs and 13 steals in 153 games.  He suffered something of a “Sophomore Slump,” but if that is a down season for the 22-year-old he will be just fine.

Especially troubling for the rest of the AL West, the youngster combated his down power production by improving his ability to get on base.

Now, led by one superstar who has learned to roll with the punches and another (Altuve) who is the epitome of consistency Houston is ready to stake a claim for Texas supremacy, and with it the division’s top spot.

The Rangers made a huge move in the middle of the 2016 season, trading for All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy, but they did very little to improve in the offseason with the signing of Mike Napoli being their only truly significant move. And, as it is said, if you didn’t get better you got worse.

Another Opening Day means another year in the books for Hall of Fame third baseman and team leader Adrian Beltre, now 37, as well as staff ace Cole Hamels, 33.

But Texans need not be too worried, as the future replacements are already filling time on the Ranger roster. In outfielder Nomar Mazara, 21, second baseman Rougned Odor, 23, third baseman Joey Gallo, 23, and outfielder Delino DeShields Jr., 24, Arlington offers a prime view at the future, and it is bright.

For the current crop of veterans, though, it may be that the World Series window is nearly sealed. While they will never fall far enough out of contention to even consider selling the farm, this will not be a season in which the Rangers claim a position in the postseason.

Much like Texas, the Mariners are good enough to stay in the race but not good enough to break the tape.

Despite seeing continued monster production from Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez Seattle will stay right where it has been for the past three years — looking up to a division leader out of reach.

A team that not 20 years ago set the major league record for wins (116) in a season, will continue its postseason drought since that season ended in ALCS defeat.

Unlike the Rangers, however, the time will come that veterans get dealt. Guys like Yovani GallardoHisashi Iwakuma and Danny Valencia would be the first to be shopped, but if things get really bad the M’s might listen to offers for Cruz.

Over the past three offseasons, since they lost in the 2014 AL Wild Card game, the Oakland Athletics have done an admirable job of shoring up their roster deficiencies. This time around, they went into winter knowing that they finished the season with the AL’s lowest team on-base percentage (.304), second-lowest stolen base total (50) and fourth-worst fielding percentage (.984).

They addressed the offensive issues by signing Rajai Davis, who led the AL in steals (43) a year ago, and Matt Joyce, who boasts a career OBP of .341.

The team defense did not receive the same attention, and that weakness will be enough for five or so potential wins to slip through the cracks leaving Oakland out in the October cold.

Getting back to, or around the .500 mark will lift the green and gold from their spot in the division cellar, that designation will go back to the perennial underachiever Angels.

The game’s top talent Mike Trout. Slugger extraordinaire Albert Pujols. Sneaky stud Kole Calhoun. They have been unable to carry Angels into the postseason since baseball’s best record yielded a series sweep in the 2014 ALDS.

It will be another long season in Anaheim, with a selling spree due for mid-July. Pujols’ contract is far too massive to shed and Trout is going nowhere (ever), but the Angels have a litany of starting pitchers who could be moved in hopes of building a more forceful group around the two-time MVP. Ricky Nolasco, Matt Shoemaker, Garrett Richards, they could all be shopped, so could infielders Yunel Escobar and Danny Espinosa.

Final prediction

Pushing their win total from 84 to 93, the Astros claim their first AL division crown, thanks to another monster year from Altuve and an MVP-type performance (though he won’t unseat Trout) from Correa. Finishing a close second, Texas finds out the hard way that even the slightest stumble can rob you of a wild card bid, while the M’s falter and land at a low-80 win total. The A’s jump to 80 wins, good enough for the four spot, while the Angels continue to find new and exciting ways to disappoint.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.