Shohei Ohtani breakout will lift Angels



The Post’s Ken Davidoff previews the AL West.

1. Los Angeles Angels

O/U wins: 83.5

Key player: Shohei Ohtani. Remember him? He surely wants to forget last year, a disaster both at the plate and on the mound. He hasn’t given up on being Babe Ruth’s spiritual successor, however, and he has displayed his proficiency at both of his work locations this spring.

Player who’ll need to step up: Justin Upton experienced just as brutal a 2020 as did his teammate Ohtani, although he at least limited his damage to hitting and fielding. The five-time All-Star will get paid $23 million this season (and $28 million in 2022) and the Angels badly need him to not be cooked.

Name you’ll get to know: Brandon Marsh. The Angels’ second-round draft pick in 2016 out of high school, the 23-year-old outfielder has flashed all five tools and can come in handy if Ohtani and/or Upton don’t rebound offensively, or if last year’s name you got to know, Jo Adell, can’t grind through the struggles that currently place him at the alternate site.

Biggest question mark: This is an organization that has posted five straight losing records despite employing the planet’s best baseball player, Mike Trout, and spending healthily on talent. Is there any cultural shortcoming here? Or did they annually underachieve due simply to poor talent evaluation and misspending?

Shohei Ohtani on March 11, 2021
Shohei Ohtani on March 11, 2021
Getty Images

How it’ll go down: It’s time for Trout to record his first career postseason victory. Rookie general manager Perry Minasian executed some interesting transactions (importing Alex Cobb, Dexter Fowler, Jose Iglesias, Raisel Iglesias and Jose Quintana) that provide veteran manager Joe Maddon with much-needed roster depth. In this relatively weak division, it should be enough to put the Halos back on top here.

2. Oakland Athletics

O/U wins: 87.5

Key player: Trevor Rosenthal. Easily the A’s priciest purchase of the winter ($11 million), the closer will try to replicate the 2020 magic that revitalized his wavering career and put the finishing touch on a bullpen that performed impressively last season. The 30-year-old has been slowed this spring by a groin injury.

Player who’ll need to step up: A tie between RHPs Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas, both of whom scuffled last year yet retain their high ceilings. Still in their 20s and with multiple years before they attain free agency, the pair stand as pillars in the organization’s hopes to stay competitive for a while.

Name you’ll get to know: LHP A.J. Puk’s name has been around for a while, which is what happens when you get popped sixth overall (as Puk did in 2016), and it’s about time for him to start making Oakland look good for that call of five years ago. He threw well in a September 2019 big-league cameo.

Biggest question mark: SS Elvis Andrus, coming over after a long run with the rival Rangers, will be looked upon to succeed Marcus Semien. To do so, the 32-year-old must prove that his awful 2020 can be written off like so many other performances from last year.

How it’ll go down: This group’s window hasn’t closed on the franchise that consistently turns over its roster to keep ahead of the creditors (figuratively speaking). With infield cornerstones Matt Olson at first base and Chapman at third, the A’s should be in the thick of the competition for playoff spots.

3. Houston Astros

Myles Straw is one player to watch on the Astros
Myles Straw is one player to watch on the Astros

O/U wins: 87.5

Key player: Jose Altuve. The 2017 AL Most Valuable Player lost his mojo last year in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal’s disclosure. He hit far better in October, although he also endured a bout with the throwing yips that month. With four more years on his contract, the 30-year-old had best not be done.

Player who’ll need to step up: Myles Straw faces the unenviable task of replacing George Springer, the all-time Astro who left for the Blue Jays, in center field at Minute Maid Park. The 26-year-old Straw has displayed only flashes of everyday playing ability. Another departed outfielder, Josh Reddick in right, will be replaced by Kyle Tucker, who manned left field last year.

Name you’ll get to know: Jeremy Pena. The infield defensive wunderkind can step in if Altuve, Carlos Correa or Alex Bregman suffers an injury. His father, Geronimo Pena, played in the majors from 1990 through 1996.

Biggest question mark: Do they have enough arms? Young guys like Cristian Javier and Framber Valdez came through last year; Valdez already is down with a broken left finger. Veteran Jake Odorizzi, coming off a 2020 replete with freaky injuries, will try to rebuild his brand after joining late as a free agent.

How it’ll go down: Finally facing fans, albeit mostly in sparsely filled ballparks, how will the Astros cope with the wrath of opponents a year after the sign-stealing scandal hit the public? Can beloved manager Dusty Baker continue to guide them to peace? It’s fair to wonder whether they’re due for a reckoning with both their pitching and their karma.

4. Seattle Mariners

O/U wins: 72.5

Key player: Kyle Seager. The career-long Mariner, having represented the franchise with dignity and excellence, found himself as the unlikely target of then-team president Kevin Mather, who told an area Rotary Club that this would probably be Seager’s last year with the club and that he was “overpaid.” How will Seager respond to such a gratuitous diss?

Player who’ll need to step up: James Paxton. Having returned to his original team after two years with the Yankees — joining Justus Sheffield, the guy the Yankees dealt for him, in the starting rotation — can he stay healthy and give the M’s ace-like numbers? He has shown promise in spring training.

Name you’ll get to know: Perhaps you already know a young man named Jarred Kelenic. The outfielder, known as the key piece the Mets gave up in return for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, should arrive in the big leagues this year. Keep in mind, you must play a minimum of 10 seasons before attaining eligibility for the Hall of Fame.

Biggest question mark: Can Evan White’s rough rookie campaign be tossed aside? The first baseman did not immediately reward his employers for the faith they showed in signing him to a six-year, $24 million extension before he recorded a single major league at-bat.

How it’ll go down. The rebuilding enters Year 3 and you can see hope on the horizon. If enough goes right on bets like Paxton, former Met Chris Flexen and Keynan Middleton — and if Kelenic turns Mets fans’ nightmares into reality — they could sneak into the playoff race.

5. Texas Rangers

O/U wins: 67.5

Key player: Joey Gallo. As the Rangers open Globe Life Field to fans in its second season of existence, still building toward another desired run of contention, Gallo stands as their most recognizable entity. He’ll be looking to turn around a terrible 2020 and rejoin the 40-homer club that welcomed him in 2017 and 2018.

Player who’ll need to step up: Kyle Gibson. With the trade of Lance Lynn to the White Sox, Gibson becomes the veteran leader and Opening Day starting pitcher for this ultra-shaky rotation. Gibson put up a poor 5.35 ERA last year, his first with Texas after establishing himself with the Twins.

Name you’ll get to know: Josh Jung. The eighth-overall selection of the 2019 draft, the 23-year-old third baseman might not require much more time in the sticks before joining the big leagues. called him “one of the most advanced hitters in his draft class.”

Biggest question mark: Who will provide the offense? The Rangers ranked last in the AL in runs scored last season and didn’t import any big bats. Unless guys like Gallo, Nick Solak and free-agent signing David Dahl perform closer to their best selves, it’s going to be an awfully long year in Arlington.

How it’ll go down: The Rangers posted the worst record in the AL and traded their best performer, ace Lance Lynn, to the White Sox, continuing a teardown. They’ll take the season to assess what they have, concentrate on the draft and strive toward replicating the sort of run they executed from 2010 through 2016 (only this time with a title).


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