Though their quest to repeat as World Series champions went unfulfilled in 2018, the Astros assembled their greatest starting rotation in franchise history and set a club record for regular-season wins.
In 2019, Houston’s proverbial window remains wide open, even after losing three starting pitchers. Offensive regression from a historic 2017 pace was offset by the incredible pitching the Astros received. Getting the heart of their once-potent lineup back to full health, while relying on their plethora of pitching prospects to fill a noticeable void, will key their quest for a third straight American League West title.
Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels are entering a new era: After 19 seasons, Mike Scioscia will no longer be the manager. In 39 years before Scioscia became their manager, the Angels averaged 76.6 wins per full season, had only 12 winning seasons and made the playoffs three times (without winning a series). In 19 seasons under Scioscia, the Angels averaged 86.8 wins, had 12 winning seasons, made the playoffs seven times and won the franchise’s only World Series title (2002). The challenge now shifts to new manager Brad Ausmus to make the most out of a roster that includes baseball’s best player (Mike Trout) and its most unique (Shohei Ohtani) but probably not enough pitching to be more than a fringe contender.
A year ago at this time, the A’s were just another rebuilding team. And then the games were played in earnest, and the team showed muscle and perseverance. A 97-win season and a strong second-place finish got them a Wild Card berth. And now, with the 2019 season upon us, Oakland is a team that still factors strongly in the American League West.
The A’s are going to have to get their starting rotation together, or maybe not. Manager Bob Melvin looked positively adroit at using an “opener.” Last year it was done because of injuries that crippled the rotation, but in 2019 it will be no surprise if the A’s stay with the opener concept simply because they’ve shown they can make it work. And, yes, many of the same players who were injured last year are injured still, including some of the organization’s best arms.
The A’s will continue to lean on their power and defense. In the cases of third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson, they have both qualities. In Khris Davis, they have a year-in, year-out contender for the homer title, and they have depth in power — eight players in double figures for homers last year and five with 20 or more bombs.
Three-quarters of the infield — shortstop Marcus Semien in addition to Chapman and Olson — were in Gold Glove range last year, and the outfield is in good shape, too, with Ramon Laureano and Stephen Piscotty. But there is no answer yet as to a real replacement for catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
The Mariners’ postseason drought, which dates back to 2001 — the longest active streak without a playoff appearance for any of the four major sports in North America — will likely continue for another season. It’s an outcome they are willing to accept in hopes of more sustained success in the years to come.
As part of a rebuild — GM Jerry Dipoto is calling it a “stepback” — the Mariners culled the roster of several players in their 30s who had expensive contracts or were in their final years of arbitration and headed for free agency. Beginning in early November, Dipoto made nine trades that removed nine contributing players from the Mariners’ 25-man roster, including top pitcher James Paxton, closer Edwin Diaz, shortstop Jean Segura, catcher Mike Zunino and second baseman Robinson Cano. Dipoto admits the team likely won’t match the 89 wins of last season, but will the Mariners even win 70 games in 2019?
Two years of going for it and another with the best intentions — if not the all-in financial expenditures — led the Texas Rangers to a point of no return last season. By June, the decision was made that the Rangers would be rebuilding, and 2019 will be more of the same from the team that won back-to-back American League West titles in 2015-16.
And the Rangers get to do it without Adrian Beltre.