OAKLAND -- They are the defending AL West champs, and the Oakland A's are still being overlooked. As the now famous line in 'Moneyball' goes, "Welcome to Oakland."
The 2013 A's look very similar to the 2012 version of the team that won 94 games and the division. Meanwhile, the Angels, Rangers and Mariners have undergone some hefty changes. There's also a very new wrinkle in the division this season with the addition of the Houston Astros.
"It's going to be a grind out there," Josh Donaldson said. "It's going to be a war every game when we are playing Anaheim and Texas. They are both great teams, and Seattle has added so much this year."
The Angels are being touted as the preseason favorites for the second year in a row. They finished third in the division last year, but made the biggest splash when they added Josh Hamilton to a lineup that already includes Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. They lost pitchers Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, though.
"It's great if we aren't talked about," A's general manager Billy Beane said. "It makes Bob's life easier and my life easier."
Texas takes a massive hit by losing Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Michael Young, and Ryan Dempster. This after losing the 162nd game of the season to the A's, halting their run of back-to-back division titles.
"Texas got a little bit weaker losing that guy and Anaheim got a little bit stronger by gaining him," said Josh Reddick of Hamilton. "Seattle is making some interesting moves, but the way I look at it with Anaheim, everyone is predicting them to be so much better, but our pitching staff handled Albert and Josh last year by keeping them contained."
He is somewhat correct. Last season Pujols hit .278 (22 for 79) with two home runs and six RBI in 19 games against the A's, and Hamilton hit .247 (18 for 73) with three homers and 12 RBI against them.
As long as Hamilton is in the division, Jerry Blevins will be a valuable commodity. The newest Angels slugger is 0 for 7 with five strikeouts and just one walk in his career against the lanky lefty pitcher.
Blevins isn't the only player on the A's that is happy Hamilton is still in the division.
"I love playing against some of the best players in the world," Coco Crisp said. "I am a fan of the game too. I'm glad he's still here."
Oakland lost veteran leaders Jonny Gomes, Brandon Inge, and Brandon McCarthy. They also let Stephen Drew get away, choosing to instead sign Japanese import Hiro Nakajima. Chris Young replaces Gomes on the roster, and the core of their team is still very much intact. The A's front office also expects improvement from the talented group of rookies - Yoenis Cespedes, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle - that led the team last season.
"I know it's going to be something a little bit special this year," Reddick said. "We still believe we can do it again."
"If people perceive us as underdogs, I don't think anyone in the clubhouse is going to see themselves as an underdog," Straily added.
Speaking of underdogs, the Houston Astros could very well decide who wins the American League West. With each club facing the 107-loss Astros 19 times apiece in 2013, the team that for some reason doesn't match up well with them could sink in the standings. That being said, Houston's arrival does have some players salivating for various reason.
"I definitely love that the Astros are coming in because it brings another hitter's ballpark into play," Donaldson said. "Now you have five teams and to me the AL West is the best division in baseball by far."
Only time will tell what is in store for the new edition of the A.L. West. I'm going to tab the reigning division champion A's as the favorites to win it again. They had the best record in Major League Baseball after June 1 (72-38), and hit more home runs (112), and scored more runs (394), after the All-Star break than any other MLB team.
Last season it took the A's a while to find their identity, but if they can pick up where they left off it won't take an insane run like last year, when they became the first team in MLB history to win their division while trailing by five games with nine to play, to cement their status as division champs.
The A's have 22 of the 25 players on their active postseason roster returning.