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American League preview: West division full of changes

March 28, 2010

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Everybody knows it’s status quo in the AL East: Yankees and Red Sox, with the Rays hoping they can reprise their run from two years ago. The Central also features the regular figures — Detroit, Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox — fighting for the division.

It’s the AL West that has a whole new look.

The West is hands down the most changed division in baseball with all kinds of switcheroos for 2010. Seattle reloaded and is trying to contend for its first playoff berth since Ichiro Suzuki’s sensational rookie season of 2001, when the Mariners won an AL-record 116 games.

Texas plans to be right in the mix, too.

“I think that the AL West is going to beat up on itself,” Rangers team president Nolan Ryan said.

Speedster Chone Figgins left the three-time champion Los Angeles Angels for Seattle. Slugger Vladimir Guerrero departed the Angels for Texas. The Oakland Athletics took a big risk and signed $10 million ace Ben Sheets after he didn’t pitch last year, plus they added Coco Crisp in center field. The A’s also have two-time All-Star Justin Duchscherer, who didn’t pitch in ’09.

World Series MVP Hideki Matsui has brought a Japanese following, and the large media contingent that comes with it, to the Angels. A look at the AL in predicted order of finish:

EAST

New York Yankees

Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, Mariano Rivera, Nick Swisher — the heart of this defending champion team is still intact, even if Matsui is now with the Angels and Johnny Damon is in Detroit.

Boston Red Sox

Boston reloaded and added one of the most coveted pitchers on the market in right-hander John Lackey, who spent his first eight major league seasons at the front of the Angels’ rotation.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays are determined to get back to the playoffs after missing last season, a year after their improbable World Series run.

Toronto Blue Jays

This is a rebuilding year for the Blue Jays and everyone is curious how they will do without former ace Roy Halladay. He went to the Phillies following December’s big four-team, nine-player swap that also sent Cliff Lee to Seattle.

Baltimore Orioles

Dave Trembley believes his younger players now have more experience, and the club has made some key acquisitions to help boost the starting rotation — namely Kevin Millwood — bullpen and offense.

CENTRAL

Minnesota Twins

It’s been a spring of highs and lows for Minnesota. The Twins were devastated to learn All-Star closer Joe Nathan needs reconstructive elbow surgery that will cost him the entire season. Manager Ron Gardenhire will look to other options, but it won’t be easy to fill the shoes of the reliable Nathan with the game on the line in the ninth inning.

Chicago White Sox

Perhaps the biggest question for the White Sox is where will they get their power after losing Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome? Expect skipper Ozzie Guillen to regularly give his guys the green light to push games with speed and hit-and-runs.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers need another big year from Justin Verlander, who led the majors in strikeouts last season with 269 and went 19-9. Same goes for new closer Jose Valverde. Manager Jim Leyland will be thrilled if flame-throwing reliever Joel Zumaya returns to the dominant form he showed in 2006, the team’s AL championship season.

Cleveland Indians

First-year skipper Manny Acta moves to the AL after being fired as manager of the Washington Nationals.

The Indians were relatively quiet during the offseason. Contending is probably going to be tough for a club moving forward without Lee, Victor Martinez, Mark DeRosa, and Carl Pavano to name just a few of the departed.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals led the Central early last season thanks to strong starting pitching and a reliable bullpen. Back to lead the way is 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke, but the rotation is thin behind him.

The team hopes starter Gil Meche will be at full strength despite a stiff right shoulder.

WEST

Seattle Mariners

Beloved slugger Ken Griffey Jr. is back for a 22nd major league season and his second since rejoining his first major league club. The Mariners are counting on his production at designated hitter even if he is now 40 and not the same guy he was in leading the team to the playoffs in a magical ’95 run.

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels have the pieces — despite a handful of new faces — in place to win their fourth straight division crown and sixth in seven years.

Texas Rangers

Perhaps the biggest thing the Rangers will have to deal with in April is any fallout or potential distraction in the wake of fourth-year manager Ron Washington’s admission he failed a drug test last season after using cocaine.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s know they will have to start well to stay in the division mix — none of this coming-from-behind stuff they were often known for earlier in the decade.

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