First, the good news. Top to bottom, the American League West has never been stronger. Four teams—California, Oakland, Kansas City and Chicago—could win 95 games. Then there's Seattle, the last team anyone will want to see in a three-game series.
Now, the bad news. Someone must finish sixth. The Texas Rangers will be the best team in the history of division play to finish that low. And someone must finish last. That honor will go to the Minnesota Twins, despite their near-.500 finish.
In this race, an injury here and an off-year there could mean the difference between first and fifth. One thing that's certain is that Oakland, the three-time defending American League champ, is vulnerable. Of course, that's not how A's manager Tony La Russa sees it. "We'll be better because we have to be better because the division is better," he says. It's tough to bet against him. But we will.
1. CALIFORNIA ANGELS
California manager Doug Rader refused to predict the order of finish in the division, saying the only lists that count "are David Letterman's Top 10 lists." So, here are 10 reasons why the Angels will win the West:
10. Jim Abbott, California's one-handed pitcher, hit a triple this spring.
9. Dave Winfield will be an Angel all year.
8. Rader, Winfield and Dave Parker will teach new centerfielder Junior Felix the proper way to play and act. Felix brings a reputation from Toronto for being un-coachable and incompetent defensively. "Here people try to help you," says Felix. "They don't talk behind your back like [in Toronto]." Rader, Winfield and Parker won't talk behind Felix's back. If he dogs it, they'll tell him to his face.
7. Dave Gallagher could become the first outfielder in history to play 162 games in a season without starting any of them. A defensive standout, he will replace Felix or leftfielder Luis Polonia in late innings.
6. Rader is rid of three guys he absolutely hated to play: centerfielder Devon White, rightfielder Dante Bichette and second baseman Johnny Ray.