The 2011 MLB season is here and who will challenge the Rangers in the West this year? Lets run down the main contenders and the pretenders in the American League West and the odds and try to find some value.

It was a season to remember for the Texas Rangers in 2010, but as good as they were and should still be, last year's American League champs will be challenged in the AL West by two of the other three clubs in the division.

The Los Angeles Angels would like to regain their hold atop the group and those pesky Oakland Athletics seem to always be in the hunt despite payroll restrictions.

Future MLB betting action is shadowing a three-team race; the Rangers opened as -145 chalk to repeat out west but have been bet down to -120 while the A's and Angels are each -220 to take the flag after opening around -250.

Texas Rangers (-120 to win AL West; 87 wins OVER -115)

Now comes the hard part for the Rangers: repeating.  Texas' rise to the top of the division was not an overnight success story with its 90 regular season wins just three more than 2009's total.  That modest increase was accomplished by a well-balanced team that finished fourth in the AL in scoring and third in ERA.

Texas RangersIn some ways Texas enters 2011 with one loss already, that being the failure to convince lefthander Cliff Lee to re-sign with the club.  Losing out on Lee set off a ripple effect through the pitching staff as GM Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington try to bring together the right mix of 11-12 arms to open the season with.

Southpaw CJ Wilson is at the top of the rotation after going from part-time closer the previous two seasons to one of the top starters in the AL last year.  Texas won 24 of his 33 starts while the 30-year-old compiled a 3.35 ERA.  Right-handers Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter fill in two of the other starting slots, but the rest of the rotation as well as the bullpen order remains a mystery.

The Rangers are giving closer Neftali Feliz a look-see as a starter, along with taking glances at Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando.  Feliz should eventually head back to his closer's role.  The bullpen won't be lacking for depth or talent; veteran southpaws Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes are joined by righthanders Darren O'Day and Mark Lowe, with O'Day and Lowe closer candidates if Feliz does take a starter's slot.

Texas also inked Brandon Webb, and all signs point to the 2006 NL Cy Young winner making a successful return to the mound.  His last trip to the hill in the majors was his first start of 2009.  Webb may not be ready to pitch Opening Day, but could be ready to go by mid-April.

The winter's biggest free agent pick up was third baseman Adrian Beltre who is off a big season with the Red Sox (.321-28 HR-102 RBI).  Beltre has been held out of spring training action so far due to a calf injury, meaning it's less and less likely Texas will deal the versatile Michael Young who expressed a desire to be traded during the winter so he could play the field full-time.

Young gives the Rangers an all star backup all over the diamond that finds Elvis Andrus at short, Ian Kinsler at second and Mitch Moreland at first.  Young will also DH, taking over for Vladimir Guerrero who was a big part of the 2010 offense.

Texas acquired catcher Mike Napoli in a winter three-team swap, the Rangers hoping he settles a spot in their lineup that has seen seven different names over the past two seasons.

The outfield will see reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton sliding from center to left, speedy Julio Borbon taking center with Nelson Cruz in right.  Keeping both Hamilton and Cruz in the lineup will be vital for the club's repeat hopes.  The pair combined to miss about 75 games with assorted injuries last season, Cruz out about 50 himself.

April Update

The Rangers are fulfilling the preseason predictions, as they continue to lead the AL West. In their most recent outtings, the Rangers have gone over in 5 out of 7 games, however loosing 4 of them, as they now sit at 16-11.

This is a team that has been relying heavily on its offense. They currently rank third for average runs per game, and with guys like Adrian Beltre on your side, expect the offense to remain strong. 

At one point, however, the Texas Rangers were ranked 1st in the league in the Power Rankings, but have slipped down the charts further and further each week and now sit at fourth. 

April showers bring may flowers, and while they finished off April with a disimal run, the early May schedule brings around some falmiliar faces, some of which the Rangers swept earlier in the season. 

Texas will need to return to the offensive powerhouse it once was to keep a hold of this division, as the other teams sit closely behind them eagerly waiting to clinch the top spot.

May Update

Texas still sits at the top with 3 more wins than second place Seattle. The Rangers have held on this lead thanks to their offense, who rank 6th in the league in runs scored. 

Week six of their season saw the rangers fall in six out of seven of their series, and lose 16 of 25 games. They fell as far down as 13th place in the majors. While that is a decent position for most teams, it is not acceptable of a team who had not fallen out of the top 5 positions through the first 5 weeks (not to mention last year's World Series contender).

The Rangers have now sprung back to life with the return of Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. They now find themselves atop of their division, and 4th in the power rankings thanks to a five game winning streak that helped them rise seven positions.

June Update

The Rangers struggled throught the mid part of June, with tough series losses to the tigers, Twins, Mets, and were swept by the Yankees. This all came in the a strenuous 20 game stretch, where they played 17 matches on the road. The Rangers are ready to put this behind them, and now look to take advantage of a legnthy home stay, as they begin July with 10 games on their own turf. 

The return of Josh Hamilton has helped to spark the return of offence, as the Rangers now rank 3rd in runs scored (400) and 4th with a batting average of .265.

Look for texas to take advantage of July's schedule, and their home fiels advantage to help increase theri lead over the LA Angels in the AL West.

Oakland Athletics (+220 to win AL West; 84 wins OVER -115)

The 2010 MLB season became known as the Year of the Pitcher.  No team in the American League epitomized that more than the A's.  The scary thing is as this was one of MLB's best all-around pitching staffs while ranking as the youngest arms to take a mound, the 23 hurlers used in '10 averaging 26.0 years of age.

Dallas BradenTalk all you want about the rotation in Philadelphia, but GMs across the league drool over the potential of Oakland's front four - Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden.  Oakland pitching stats are always helped a bit by playing half the time in the spacious Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, but the young starting quartet was outstanding no matter where they hurled.  Cahill, Gonzalez, Anderson and Braden combined to make 55 road starts in 2010, recording a 3.58 ERA in those games.  Oakland staff's season ERA was also 3.58 ERA to lead the American League.

The fifth and final spot in the rotation is a spring battle between lefty Josh Outman and righthanders Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden, the oft-injured vet looking to make a return splash in Oakland.  McCarthy is the leading candidate to have the job out of camp.

Closer Andrew Bailey's fine season was lost behind the starting foursome's numbers, but he is coming off some minor elbow surgery that saw him shut down in September.  Manager Bob Geren, entering his second season, does have some extra relievers to fall back on if Bailey has extended issues.  Oakland inked both Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes during the winter. They will either be excellent setup for Bailey, or complete a deep bullpen that also includes Joey Devine (coming back from two surgeries), Brad Ziegler and Michael Wuertz.

Where Geren will need to see some big improvement if this club is to be an AL postseason threat is at the plate.  The A's added outfielders Josh Willingham and David DeJesus plus DH Hideki Matsui in hopes of improving on a paltry 109 home runs (13th in the AL) and 4.09 RPG (11th).  Kevin Kouzmanoff making the next step to the 25+ HR plateau is also being counted on.

Daric Barton at first and Kurt Suzuki behind the plate are likeable players, each capable of providing support on offense.  But there's still a ton of pressure on the three new sticks plus Kouzmanoff's development to carry the load.

April Update

The Oakland A's sit just under a .500 record at 13-14 after an embarrassing 11-2 loss to division leading Texas Rangers. Another sour note for Oakland is that their leading hitter, Coco Crisp, is on the injury list but expects a quick return. This injusr couldnt come at a worse time as they are in the midst of a 3 game series with the Rangers, which could allow the rangers to increase the gap that seperates them from the 3rd place Oakland.

The A's currently sit below the league average in nearly every stat imaginable, yet they hold the best ERA with 2.79. This is credited to all of the focus the A's put into their pitching staff, who while young, have shown alot of promise. Pitcher Dallas Braden remains on the injury list as he recovers from a shoulder injury, but with Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Brett Anderson all putting together decent stats, Braden will not be hugely missed.

May Update

The A's still can't connect at the plate, as they rank near the bottom in every batting statistic. Coco Crisp has returned to the lineup, and leads the team with a batting average of .262, but has failed to create an offensive spark for his team.

Oakland had risen as high as 13th in the power rankings, but has since fallen back to the 21 position after falling six in a row to against the Yankees and the Red Sox.

June Update

June's update looks much like the May update, with the A's remaining at the bottom of the division. After hitting only .224 as a team in June, their season average continues to drop to a dismal .237, placing them 27th in the league.

This is a team that we had expected to finish the year with a record slightly over .500, but at 37-47 we are going to have to see someone other than Coco Crisp swinging the bat.

Early July will also hand the A's a four game set with the division leading Rangers. They have beaten the Rangers 4 of 6 meetings this season, and a victory over the AL West's top dogs might help jump start this dying club.

Los Angeles Angels (+220 to win AL West; 83 wins OVER -115)

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat came less than a minute apart for the Halos last season.  Tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth versus the Mariners last May 29, Kendry Morales busted a walk-off slam to bring a packed Anaheim crowd to its feet in jubilation.

Howie KendrickMorales rounded third and came home to meet the throng of teammates awaiting him.  But a leaping last step to reach the plate ended in Morales breaking his leg, his season lost to the surgery that followed.  It would be more than the already fragile Angels offense could bear.

As he continues to rehab from that surgery, the prognosis is Morales should be ready to go by Opening Day, if not in the field at least at DH.  Along with winter acquisition Vernon Wells, Morales' return to Mike Scioscia's lineup will be a welcome sight and critical for a club that was middling at best AL offensive rankings, lower tier in on-base and slugging.

The five-headed core of the lineup card - Morales at first, Wells in left, Torii Hunter in right, Howie Kendrick at second and Bobby Abreu at DH/OF - has to hit expectations.  There is a very likely black hole at catcher in terms of offense, with Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson manning the backstop.  Erick Aybar at short, whoever eventually mans third between Alberto Callaspo, Maicer Izturis and Brandon Wood at third, along with Peter Bourjos in center are iffy positions right now.

So iffy that the Angels are shopping for a bat to possibly use at 3B or DH which would send the fledgling glove of Abreu's back to the outfield.

The good news for Scioscia is that even a slight increase on offense could be enough to propel this team back to the top of the division where it finished 2007-09.  That's due to a very deep starting rotation headlined by Jered Weaver and Dan Haren.  Both could be 18-20 game winners if the Anaheim lumber supports them just a tad.

Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro should be joined by Scott Kazmir to round out the rotation.  Kazmir's ability to finally realize some of his potential will be doubly important as the only lefty in the mix, not to mention there isn't much to plug in should Kazmir or any of the other starters go down or flame out.

Scioscia dropped the "closer by committee" phrase more than once during the offseason, though past experience suggests that will eventually turn into one primary ninth-inning guy.  Fernando Rodney is the most likely name to get the bulk of the save ops, at least early on.  Scott Downs and Kevin Jepsen are two more candidates to either close or set things up for Rodney.  A name to watch is beefy righthander Jordan Walden who posted a nifty 23:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15-1/3 September innings for the Angels.

April Update

The Los Angles Angels hold the 2nd position in the division, with only one loss win than the leading Rangers. This being said, they did beat Texas twice in a three game series, and will have another chance to do so mid-May as they meet again.

While their offensive front isn't lacking much, it has been their defense that has been winning games. They rank 2nd in the ERA stats, only behind the Oakland A's. 

While the Texas Rangers have been slipping in the Power Rankings each week, the Angels are climbing fast, having started at 21st in the first week to now hold the 7th position. 

Another developing story for this team is the long awaited return of Kendrys Morales, who broke his foot last season. He had hoped to be ready to start on opening day, and after his last medical exam on April 28th shows that even a return in June seems unlikely at this point. When ever he is cleared to return let's just hope he doesn't "leap for joy".

June Update

The LA Angels are another pitching orientated team, placing in the top 10 for nearly ever category on the mound. Unlike the pitching strong Mariners, the Angels have some power at the plate to provide support where needed. As AL West standings show, this help from the batter's box has been the difference between 2nd and 3rd position in the division. They will get the chance to test this theory the second week in July when the Mariners come to town for a 4 game set.

This past week saw the Angels rise from 20th to 14th in the Power Rankings, and this could be a sign for things to come, as they sit only one game behing the leading Texas Rangers.

Seattle Mariners (+2100 to win AL West; 70 wins OVER -115)

Staff ace Felix Hernandez and outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, despite playing in the twilight of his career, are both worth the price of admission.  The problem for Seattle Mariners fans and bettors is those two are only together on the field every fifth game or so.

Seattle Mariners Safeco FieldHernandez actually has some decent company on the staff in Seattle, a group that finished tied for fourth in the AL last season with a 3.95 ERA, third in WHIP and among the league leaders in several other mound categories.  Lefty Jason Vargas and righty Doug Fister should slot into the rotation behind King Felix; the pair combined for a sub-4.00 ERA in 2010 despite the club only winning 21 of their 59 assignments.

The last two starting spots could go to a pair of southpaws, Luke French and Erik Bedard, the latter trying to work his way back following a shoulder injury that sidelined him all of 2010.

Brandon League will close, at least until David Aardsma can make it back from hip surgery.  That probably won't be until June, leaving the Mariners bullpen short as they also deal with middle reliever Shawn Kelley on the shelf due to offseason elbow surgery.  Garrett Olson, Justin Miller, Dan Cortes and Aaron Laffey are bullpen candidates along with veterans Nate Robertson and Jamey Wright.

Whoever shakes out on the M's mound is going to have to deal with an impotent offense.  Seattle's bats ranked dead last in the majors by nearly a half-run in scoring last season, plating just 3.17 runs per game.  Even with a couple of breakout seasons or rebound campaigns, there isn't going to be much offense again this season.

Ichiro will be joined in the outfield by Franklin Gutierrez in center and Michael Saunders in left; there's little to no depth behind that trio.

The infield does have some depth up the middle where Brendan Ryan, Jack Wilson, Josh Wilson and Adam Kennedy will fight for the SS-2B jobs this spring.  Whoever plays second to begin with is ultimately just keeping the spot warm for prize prospect Dustin Ackley, assuming the second overall pick in the 2009 draft doesn't win the job outright this spring.

Infield corner jobs are set with Chone Figgins at first and Justin Smoak, acquired from Texas in last July's Cliff Lee trade, at first.  Miguel Olivo, hampered by a groin injury presently, inked a free agent contract to provide the catching chores.

April Update

The Seattle Mariners sit in last place at the moment, but fortunately enough for them they are in the division with the smallest gap between first and last place. They remain three wins behing the leading Texas Rangers, and the fact that they have won their past 5 games shows hope for improvement. 

After winning only three of their first 10 games, Mariners have made begun to straighten out the kinks and get this team back into the winning column.

They sit 13-15 as they are on the eve of a series against the Rangers, who already swept them in the midst of their poor start. Has Seattle found the cure for their early season plague, or will the Rangers use this series as means to increase their division lead?

June Update

When looking at the Mariners stats, it is easy to see where they sepnt all of their money. They currently rank 30th in runs scored, team Batting Average, On Base Percentage, and 29th in Slugging Percentage. Sounds bad right?

Yet the Mariners have the 4th best ERA, 3rd most Quality Starts and Batting Average Against, and have the best WHIP in the Majors at 1.17. Most of this can be credited to rising star Felix "The King" Hernandez and Jason Vargas.

This is the most one sided team in Baseball, and if they can find a way to jumpstart their offence, this team has the pitching rotation that could take them deep into the post season. Now the batters just have to get them there.

AL West Projected Order of Finish???????????

1. Texas (88-74)

2. LA Angels (84-78)

3. Oakland (82-80)

4. Seattle (68-94)