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2023 Cubs: Know your enemy, AL West

The Cubs haven’t played these teams in four years. Much has changed.

Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The last time the Cubs played AL West teams was 2019, before COVID and the lockout upended the sport.

The Cubs went 10-6 against the five AL West teams that year, but that’s long before a lot of things have changed in that division. The Mariners have improved. The Rangers have spent a fortune trying to get back to contention and have a new stadium. The A’s are... still the A’s.

The Cubs will get their games against the AL West out of the way early (weather permitting). Of the Cubs’ first 44 games, 15 will be against these five teams.

Houston Astros

Key departures: Yuli Gurriel, Will Smith, Christian Vázquez, Justin Verlander

Key arrivals: José Abreu

The Astros didn’t need to do much for their 106-win team from last year. They’ll have to figure out a way to replace Justin Verlander in the rotation, but seem to have that pretty much under control. José Urquidy, who didn’t start at all for Houston in the 2022 postseason, likely takes over Verlander’s spot.

José Abreu replaces Yuli Gurriel as Houston’s first baseman. He’s got a solid reputation as a good teammate and clubhouse leader, and with the Astros still getting booed because of the cheating scandal from several years ago, that was a good pickup.

I don’t see any reason this team won’t win the AL West again.

The Cubs will face the Astros in a three-game series at Minute Maid Park May 15-16-17.

Los Angeles Angels

Key departures: Archie Bradley, Janson Junk, Michael Lorenzen, Kurt Suzuki

Key arrivals: Chris Devenski, Brandon Drury, Matt Moore, Hunter Renfroe

I don’t get this team. They have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout. They have a unique, fantastic talent in Shohei Ohtani.

And yet, they have not had a winning season since 2015 and haven’t made the postseason since 2014.

Joe Maddon tried really hard with this bunch and got fired when, after a 27-17 start, the Angels went on a 14-game losing streak in late May and early June. That was just bizarre. Seven of the 14 losses were by one run, which suggests a bad bullpen, bad luck or, I dunno, maybe some sort of hex.

The Angels spent a small fortune on Anthony Rendon after the 2019 season. He did all right in the pandemic 2020 season but has played a total of 105 games with a .709 OPS and 11 home runs combined over the last two seasons. They could have gotten better than that from Patrick Wisdom.

Arte Moreno was going to sell the team and could have gotten a lot of cash, but ultimately decided to keep the Angels. That’s where I think this team’s problems stem — from ownership. It’s not gonna change unless Moreno sells.

The Cubs will play the Angels in a three-game series in Anaheim May 6-7-8.

Oakland Athletics

Key departures: Sean Murphy, Stephen Vogt (retired)

Key arrivals: Jesús Aguilar, JJ Bleday, Aledmys Diza, Trevor May, Jace Peterson, Manny Piña

The A’s continue to dump good players (Sean Murphy) before they get expensive. Per Spotrac the A’s will have a total team payroll of about $52 million this year. That’s about $180 million below the first luxury tax level.

You’re all familiar with their stadium situation — I wrote about it here after I attended a game there last September. It’s no closer to being settled now than it was then.

The A’s lost 102 games last year and sold 787,902 tickets, an average of 9,849 per date (they had one scheduled single-admission doubleheader). Those numbers were last in MLB by a large margin. It’s not going to get any better this year.

The Cubs will visit Oakland Coliseum for a three-game series April 17-18-19.

Seattle Mariners

Key departures: Curt Casali, Roenis Elias, Adam Frazier, Mitch Haniger, Abraham Toro, Jesse Winker

Key arrivals: Teoscar Hernández, A.J. Pollock, Tommy La Stella, Kolten Wong

The Mariners won 90 games in 2021 and just barely missed the playoffs. The same 90 wins got them in last year, and they won an interesting wild card series over the Blue Jays before being swept by the Guardians in a division series.

They seem to have filled some of the holes left by the departing free agents, and if Robbie Ray can return to pre-2022 form they’ll have a solid starting rotation.

The Mariners should be in wild-card contention all year.

The Cubs will host the Mariners in a three-game series at Wrigley Field April 10-11-12, one of two series AL West teams will play at Wrigley in April.

Texas Rangers

Key departures: Kole Calhoun, Matt Moore, Martin Pérez, Kevin Plawecki

Key arrivals: Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney, Ian Kennedy, Jake Odorizzi, Yoshi Tsutsugo

In the 2021-22 offseason, the Rangers spent a fortune on guys like Marcus Semien and Corey Seager in an attempt to boost their offense. It worked, to an extent — they scored 82 more runs than they had the previous year.

However, their pitching staff didn’t improve quite as much and they lost 94 games. It should be noted that their 68-94 record was nine games worse than their 77-85 record projected using the Pythagorean method. That hints that they were winning some games by blowout and losing a lot of one-run affairs. That’s true: The Rangers went 15-35 in one-run games last year, and had 30 (!) blown saves.

They’ve tried to address this in part by spending a lot of money on free agent starters. They also picked up Ian Kennedy to close. That should help, but will Jacob deGrom actually be healthy? That remains to be seen.

The Cubs will host the Rangers in a three-game series at Wrigley Field April 7-8-9, the other series played by an AL West team at Wrigley in April. Cross your fingers for good April weather in Chicago this year.