Last season saw a possible changing of the guard in the AL West. Seattle had won two straight AL West championships and two straight pennants, but failed to make it three in a row in both categories. Las Vegas (since moved to Cheyenne) beat out the Killer Whales by 2 games, but fell to Seattle in the playoffs, intensifying this budding rivalry. In addition to the two playoff teams, this division also sports quality teams in Anaheim and Boise, making this possibly the league's deepest division. So who wins this time?
Last season: 79-83 (3rd in AL West)
Offense: 10th in AL
Pitching: 7th in AL
Summary: 3B James Dixon may be the most well-known name to the casual fan, but the offense doesn't revolve around him anymore. He's still quite good and plays an important role, but the middle of the lineup now consists of thumpers RF Dweezil Milligan, 2B Bob Stewart, and LF Pedro Candelaria. Dixon, Milligan, and CF Kyle Ramirez are all threats to steal. If they can get contributions from SS Vic Mercado and IF Gerald Stargell, this could be a dangerous lineup.
The rotation is pretty good, especially at the top. Former Cy Young winner Mateo Batista is the real deal, and young pitchers Peaches Thompson, Gaylord Masterson, and Victor DeLeon have the potential to be pretty good. 21-year-old Mike Lowery may have potentially the best stuff out of everyone on the staff, but he's injured. L.J. Jordan is shaky as the closer- Greg Neiman could take over for him if he continues to struggle. The bullpen was already somewhat thin before losing Steve Clay for the entire season with an aneurysm.
Outlook: This is a good team, but I'm not sure if they're deep enough in the lineup or bullpen to be able to keep up and contend for a playoff spot. If they make a deal or two to get some help, that could change.
BOISE SHADOW WOLVES
Last season: 75-87 (Last in AL West)
Offense: T-6th in AL
Defense: 12th in AL
Summary: The offense will be fine. They have LF Barry McEnroe, who will be an MVP candidate for the next 5-8 seasons or so. McEnroe, RF Damaso Brogna, IF Ryan Hamill, and 1B Michael Lee all hit at least 30 homers, so they'll slug their way to wins at times- they and DH Santiago Martin are threats to go deep at any time in any park. They added veteran 3B David Rushford from Fargo to add even more power. They're hoping rookie INF Dennis Huang can add some speed and get on base.
The pitching staff was, and still is, a mess. They're going to go with a rotation of youngsters in Victor Soto, Pedro Limon, Hector Manto, Mitch Foster, and Bruce Stairs. Limon, Manto, and Stairs in particular have some talent, but they're a season or two away from being good. Word is AAA Einar Crespo could join the big league squad later in the season, but I don't see that tipping the scales all that much. Alex Cornejo was outstanding as the closer last season, and Don Wang is a very good setup guy for the money he's being paid.
Outlook: If they had more pitching I would like this squad a lot. As it stands, I'm not sure I can pick them to beat out anyone in the division, which for the second straight season would make them the most talented basement dweller.
CHEYENNE WAR CATS
Last season: 91-71 (1st in AL West, 4th in AL)
Offense: 13th in AL
Pitching: 1st in AL
Summary: It's tough to win a division by being in the bottom fourth in the league in offense, but that's just what Cheyenne did. They do have some talent, in particular the "Four W's" (CF Will Weston, DH Willie Sierra, RF Wally Harvey, and LF William Bolling) and IF Kevin Kim. They could use some depth after that.
They had the best pitching staff by the numbers last season. Louie Martin and Wilfredo Redondo were outstanding (Redondo will at least start the season in the pen), and Anthony Hall and Glen Bush both pitched to an ERA under 4. Felipe Cela won 10 games. They added veteran Charlie White from San Juan in the offseason. Closer Coco Hines had a season for the ages (59 of 61 saves) and Adrian Hendrickson and Octavio Calles aren't bad setting up.
Outlook: They've contended with this crew before, so I won't necessarily count them out. However, I don't think they can repeat. The offense is just OK and pretty much all of their pitchers had career seasons, leading me to believe that at least some of them should come back down to earth a little this season. If that happens, I'm not sure they grab a playoff spot this season.
SEATTLE KILLER WHALES
Last season: 89-73 (2nd in AL West, 5th in AL)
Offense: 11th in AL
Pitching: 2nd in AL
Summary: This is not quite the offense it once was. They still have the star power in LF Jacque Puffer, 2B Jack Hunt, and 1B Osvaldo Johnson. But the supporting cast isn't nearly as good as it used to be. The Orcas are still waiting for RF Candy Kreuter to come around and are hoping that C Kris Olson trend of hitting well in even-numbered seasons continues.
The pitching staff is still quite good. They have Marty Lane, Junior Bennett, Kane Grahe, and Slash Ruffin as the top 4. Former ace Miguel Benitez isn't what he once was as the #5 starter. The bullpen is headlined by Quilvio Sanchez, and Larry Carasone and converted starter Rico Mangual lead a pretty solid middle relief corps.
Outlook: They could end up winning the division by default. While all 4 teams in the division are good, all have warts. This could be a wide-open race- I'd install Seattle as a slight favorite right now.