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M's could compete with AL West big guns

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Kendrys Morales, shown here batting in a spring training game, is one of the reasons the Mariners could compete with the AL West's three other top teams this season. (AP)

By Brent Stecker

The prevailing feeling about the AL West is that the loaded Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the proven Texas Rangers and the improving Oakland Athletics are the only contenders to win the division. But as ESPN baseball analyst Jayson Stark told Brock Huard and Chris Egan on 710 ESPN Seattle Wednesday, the Seattle Mariners will have a shot because of weaknesses in those teams.

The Angels, a World Series front-runner, may boast superstar sluggers Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Mike Trout, but that hasn't translated in spring training.

"All these teams have issues," Stark said. "The Angels have me confused [...] My scout friends who have watched them on the field this spring don't like what they see. They don't like the pitching, and the rotation looks like it may have taken a big step back. Albert Pujols has not looked good -- he hasn't been able to run or move, and he finally got on the field for the first time I think yesterday. Josh Hamilton has looked different. I don't know what to think of them right now.

"If you're just going to look at the Angels and the way they played this spring, it would talk you out of picking them to win the World Series. I know it's caused me to think about it."

Pitching is also a sore spot for the Rangers.

"We're used to the Rangers being the deepest team in the American League," Stark said. "You wouldn't think that an injury to somebody like Martin Perez could throw the Rangers into disarray, but they're looking hard for another starting pitcher. They don't think they've got enough starting pitching."
As for the youthful Athletics, who surprised the MLB by winning the West with a 94-68 record last season, Stark is unsure Oakland can sustain its success.

"Oakland, you really do have to buy into what you saw last year as being real," he said. "But is that really what Josh Reddick is? There's a lot of guys on that roster, the Brandon Mosses of the world, who did things (last season) that they hadn't done before [...] On the other hand they really do have a lot of depth and versatility over that roster, and a lot of arms.

"I think it's probably a division that's going to be decided by health."

As for the Mariners, Stark doesn't put too much stock in their Cactus League-leading home run total, but does believe they can be a dark horse in the division race.

"I do like the look of the Mariners, I really do," he said. "I think Michael Morse in his free-agent year is a good gamble, I think Kendrys Morales in a free-agent year is a good sign. I don't mind taking a chance on guys like Jason Bay. There's a lot of pitching and more to come.

"The good news is I know they're not gonna finish last because the Astros are going to lose like 110, maybe more, and you get to play them 19 times. The bad news is you've got three other teams in the AL West in Oakland, the Angels and Texas that can win in the 90s."

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