If you can't beat them, try to be like them.
Why not? The Seattle Mariners appear headed in that direction, choosing to chart a course similar to that of the perennial division champion Los Angeles Angels. While the Angels are still favored to win the AL West this year, the Mariners took a big chunk out of their lead over the rest of the West last year, and Seattle looks primed for a run at the playoffs this year.
Following the Angels' way, they're going to do it with less power and more speed and defense than they have had in the past. Manager Don Wakamatsu and general manager Jack Zduriencik are a hard-working group, with Wakamatsu having experience in the Angels organization and looking like the type of manager who wants to be aggressive and play a similar style.
Now, they're starting to build up the personnel to contend. Should be a neat year in the Pacific Northwest.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
1. Los Angeles Angels
The consistent. The Angels have eight winning seasons and six trips to the playoffs under manager Mike Scioscia. That's not changing anytime soon. This team is built to contend again, thanks to a lineup that can hit, get on base, and has enough power. Last year's team was first in batting average, third in on-base percentage, and fifth in slugging percentage. They struggled a little bit on the mound, and that's where they need to improve this year. Losing John Lackey to Boston won't help at all, but the Angels still believe they have a solid rotation, led by Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, and Scott Kazmir, who appeared to find himself again after being traded by Tampa Bay. As long as the Angels have Bobby Abreu, Kendry Morales, and Torii Hunter in the lineup, they'll hit. They hope to get a good year out of Hideki Matsui, who will DH and hopefully keep his knees healthy by staying away from the outfield. The bullpen got Fernando Rodney to help set up Brian Fuentes, but the latter needs to work on keeping people off the bases to reach maximum efficiency.
The rising. We already mentioned Seattle, which stole Chone Figgins from the Angels and will use him with Ichiro at the top of the order. The Mariners also added Cliff Lee from Philadelphia and have a strong one-two punch atop their rotation with Lee and Felix Hernandez. That's a strong team, one that should contend for the playoffs. Texas could be right there if they can get more consistent offensive play. The Rangers are improved along the pitching staff, thanks to 17-game winner Scott Feldman and the addition of former A's and Cubs star Rich Harden. While Harden's health is always a question, his ability is not. If he can keep the arm intact, Harden will be a big part of this staff. The Rangers also need a bounceback year from Josh Hamilton, who struggled with injuries a year ago, while guys like Nelson Cruz and David Murphy will continue to grow as major-league hitters.
The youthful. No question that Oakland is not in a contending position, at least on paper. While the A's have some real nice pieces on their pitching staff, they don't appear to have much offense. Ben Sheets leads a rotation that should include the likes of Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson, and the bullpen is strong with closer Andrew Bailey and guys like Michael Wuertz and Craig Breslow in front of him. However, the bats have to produce. That means big years for the likes of Mark Ellis and Ryan Sweeney, while veteran Coco Crisp sets the table effectively and Eric Chavez finds some health. Probably too much to ask for in one season, and that's why Oakland is destined to sit far behind the rest of the West.