Once Shohei Ohtani struck out Mike Trout in a spectacular World Classic finale, the Japanese star quickly returned as a teammate in what could be their last attempt together to lead the Los Angeles Angels to the postseason.
For the A’s, this could be their last season in Oakland.
The Seattle Mariners ended their longest postseason drought by making their first playoff appearance since 2001 — and they think they can do it again. Three-time World Series champion manager Bruce Bochy and National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom joined the Texas Rangers, who have won six consecutive losing seasons.
But in the AL West, everyone needs to get past Dusty Baker and his World Series champion Houston Astros.
Even with the injury to Jose Altuve and the departure of Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander in free agency, Houston remains the favorite to win the division title, according to DanDuel Sportsbook.
Their batting leader will likely be out until June after suffering a broken thumb while playing in the World Classic with Venezuela.
The only time the Astros didn’t win their division in the last six years was in the shortened 2020 season due to the pandemic. They have played in every championship series in that span and four World Series, winning two.
HOW DO THEY LOOK?
1. Astros: Altuve will be out until at least June after taking a hit on a pitch, but the Astros added first baseman and former MVP José Abreu in free agency to an otherwise largely intact lineup with the Cuban Yordan Álvarez, third baseman Alex Bregman and reliever Kyle Tucker. All-star lefty Framber Valdez is 28-12 the past two seasons and Cristian Javier pitched 11 1/3 scoreless innings in two postseason starts last year. But the depth of his rotation will be tested as Lance McCullers Jr. (right elbow) will miss the start of the season.
2. Mariners: After playing in their first postseason in nearly two decades, the Mariners believe they have added the necessary pieces to close the gap in the division. They have one of the strongest starting rotations and will surely benefit from having ace Luis Castillo a full season after reaching the midseason last year from Cincinnati. Julio Rodríguez, last Rookie of the Year, is the face of the franchise and will surely be better in his second year. His success will depend on his offense after adding Kolten Wong, AJ Pollock and Teoscar Hernandez.
3. Rangers: General manager Chris Young, who pitched under Bochy, convinced him to end his three-year retirement and rebuild the Rangers’ starting rotation. Pitchers like deGrom ($185 million over five years) and who spent his last two seasons with the Mets plagued by injuries, Nathan Eovaldi and lefty Andrew Heaney signed multiyear deals in free agency. Jake Odorizzi came in a trade. Neither pitched all of last season due to injuries. Ditto for Jon Gray, who signed last year before going on the disabled list three times, although Venezuelan lefty Martin Perez was an All-Star for the first time. With 68 wins, Texas finished with just eight more than in 2021 despite adding infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien.
4. Angels: Ohtani, a star in two ways, has made it clear he wants to play for a winning team. The 2021 MVP and runner-up last year (15-9, 2.33 ERA/.283 batting average, 34 home runs, 95 RBIs) will be in his sixth and final season with the Angels. He hasn’t had a winning season since his arrival from Japan. Trout, a three-time MVP and captain of the United States in the World Classic, has a contract with Los Angeles through 2030 and has played in just one postseason in 12 seasons. Los Angeles lost a sweep in the 2014 Division Series, four years before Ohtani arrived, and their playoff drought is currently the longest in Major League Baseball.
5. A’s: The team is coming off its first 100-loss season since 1979 and the A’s dumped two of their stars trying to free up cap space, sending catcher Sean Murphy to the Braves and lefty Cole Irvin to the Orioles. These decisions came almost a year after they transferred to other figures. Manager Mark Kotsay, who remained calm and in good spirits despite the team losing 102 games in his first year, will have a tougher time. Just two years ago, the A’s won the division in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Oakland acquired Japan right-hander Shintaro Fujinami for one year, $3.25 million.
BET ON LAS VEGAS
The A’s are considering a move to Las Vegas and MLB has said the Oakland Coliseum does not provide a long-term answer to the franchise that has played in this park since 1968 and has the lowest average attendance in baseball, at 9,973 per game. .
BAKER AND BOCHY
Baker, 73, and Bochy, 67, begin their 26th season in charge of a team with at least 2,000 career wins, as the oldest managers currently. Baker captured his first World Series championship last year, his third year with Houston since taking over after the sign-stealing scandal that tainted the team’s title in 2017. The Astros lost the six-game series to Atlanta. in 2021.
Bochy won titles with San Francisco in 2010, 2012 and 2014. The first was against Texas, which played its last World Series in 2011.