1. Oakland Athletics
2. Anaheim Angels
3. Texas Rangers
4. Seattle Mariners
If last year's World Series taught me anything, it's God has forsaken us. The Giants can win the title. The Giants won the title. Four months later, the shock still hasn't worn off, as Cody Ross does the Macarena naked around his NLCS MVP trophy and Juan Uribe uses his championship bonus money to clean his guns. Someone in the Bay Area struck a deal with the devil to end one of the most underrated curses of all time.
But if there's something else that last year's World Series taught me, it's that pitching and defense win championships. As currently constituted, this, along with a couple other factors, give the Oakland A's the decided preseason advantage in the AL West. On the defensive side, nearly every Athletic is an above-average fielder, save for Josh Willingham in left. They imported enough players that you may or may not have heard of (Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui) to generate some offense for them. And then there's the pitching.
Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden all had ERAs under 3.50. Anderson and Cahill were born in 1988, Gonzalez in 1985 and the oldest of this foursome at 31, Dallas Braden, threw a perfect game last year. They are young and relatively inexperienced, but talented - just as talented as say, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgardner and Jonathan Sanchez. Behind them, Brad Ziegler, Andrew Bailey, Michael Wuertz, Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour comprise what should be one of, if not the best bullpen in the league. If everything goes right for this young club, they could have a pretty decent run in the fall.
The other advantage the A's have? The division is not very good. The Rangers made a surprise run to the series, but with the subtraction of Cliff Lee, they needed to add pitching - so they went out and got Adrian Beltre. Obviously, I've got a lot of love for the guy. This, with a combination of a World Series hangover will keep them from duplicating the success they had last season. The Angels too needed help - but not in the pitching department (their rotation is underrated as presently constituted, with Ervin Santana, Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, Joel Pineiro and whatever is left of Scott Kazmir's shoulder), but in the hitting department. While Vernon Wells is not Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford (though he has the contract to match), he is still a better than average MLB player, and will help them. They are similarly mediocre to the A's, and I think we will see a division battle unfolding all summer.
The Mariners are in another category by themselves - they have the best pitcher in the league in Felix Hernandez, but conversely one of the worst bullpens and lineups in the majors. I would be surprised if they lost less than 90 games.