Defending World Series champion Astros remain favorites in AL West

Who says rebuilding lasts forever? It only seems to be the case.

The Astros, who had 100-loss seasons each year from 2011 to 2013, won their first World Series last season. This season, they are the favorite to win the American League West. And they could be the first team since the 1999-2000 New York Yankees to win consecutive World Series.

In the rest of the AL West, the stories are the same. The Mariners, Angels, Athletics and Rangers have potent lineups, but rotation questions.

The predicted finish: Astros, Angels, Rangers, Athletics, Mariners.

Here's what you need to know about the AL West:

HOUSTON: The Astros added right-hander Gerrit Cole to their rotation, acquiring him in a trade with the Pirates. Cole, 27, was 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA, the highest of his career, for the Pirates last season, but was part of playoff teams in Pittsburgh from 2013-2015. He had 196 strikeouts and 55 walks last season and joins a rotation that's led by former Cy Young Award winners left-hander Dallas Keuchel and right-hander Justin Verlander, who was 9-1 with a 1.65 for Houston after a trade from Detroit. The Astros finished third in the AL in rotation ERA (4.03), and their pitching depth has right-handers Lance McCullers Jr. (a strong starter who had injuries last season), Charlie Morton (14 wins) and Brad Peacock (13 wins). ... The Astros added right-handers Joe Smith and Héctor Rondón to a bullpen that will have closer right-hander Kevin Giles, who pitched badly in the postseason, but had 11 strikeouts per nine innings during the regular season with a 2.30 ERA and 34 saves. ... Third baseman Alex Bregman hit 19 home runs last season and came into camp stronger, thanks to a new offseason diet that eliminated soda, pizza and hamburgers. ... The infield's middle - shortstop Carlos Correa and AL MVP Jose Altuve - is as good as ever. Correa hit .315 with a .391 on-base percentage last season. ... Altuve is the team leader and won the 2017 batting title (.346) while leading the AL in hits (204). He also hit 24 home runs and 32 stolen bases. ... George Springer, the World Series MVP, hit 34 home runs last season.

LOS ANGELES: The Angels are coming off two consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1993-94, but they're trying to build a postseason team around their franchise player, center fielder Mike Trout, who has been in the postseason only once (2014 loss to the Royals) since coming up with the Angels in 2011. ... The Angels, who finished five games behind Minnesota for the second wild card playoff spot in 2017, have a beefed-up offense and an air-tight defense. ... The Angels' question is rotation health: Ace right-hander Garrett Richards was solid in 2015, but injuries have limited him to 12 starts combined in the last two seasons. The others that will make starts are Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, JC Ramírez, Matt Shoemaker and Parker Bridwell. ... The Angels retained left fielder Justin Upton to be with Trout and right-fielder Kole Calhoun. ... They added Zack Cozart, a former Cincinnati shortstop, to play third. ... Ian Kinsler, formerly of Detroit, will play second base. ... The Angels have arguably the best defensive shortstop in the AL, Andrelton Simmons, one of five players that have won Gold Glove Awards in the lineup. The others are catcher Martín Maldonado, Calhoun, designated hitter Albert Pujols and Kinsler. ... Pujols is on the downside of his career, but he's still a power threat. ... The big story will be how manager Mike Scioscia works Japanese right-hander Shohei Ohtani into the lineup as a two-way player, given he's had a trying spring training. Ohtani has an upper-90s fastball and a powerful left-handed swing. The Angels need him more in the rotation than in the lineup, but he might be spending time at Triple-A Salt Lake City to get more experience.

OAKLAND: After two consecutive seasons of 90-plus losses, the Athletics showed improvement in the second half of 2016, going 36-37 to finish 75-87. ... Oakland has budding stars at the corners in first baseman Matt Olson and third baseman Matt Chapman. And Khris Davis, who will DH and play the outfield, hit .273 with 43 home runs and 110 RBIs last season. Olson hit 24 home runs in 59 games last season. Chapman, called up in June, had 14 home runs in 84 games. ... The Athletics rotation is deep with talented young pitchers. They are led by right-hander Kendall Graveman, 27, and left-hander Sean Manaea, who had 140 strikeouts and 55 walks last season. Each spent time on the disabled list because of shoulder issues. ... Former Nationals closer, right-hander Blake Treinen, found a comfort zone in Oakland. Last year, after a trade from Washington, Treinen saved 13 of 16 with a 2.13 ERA. ... The Athletics' new catcher is Jonathan Lucroy, who played for Texas last season and was traded to Colorado for the stretch run, helping the Rockies make the postseason. ... The new right fielder is Stephen Piscotty, acquired in a trade from St. Louis. His average dropped to .235 last season with the Cardinals, but he had hamstring and groin injuries.

SEATTLE: The Mariners, who haven't been to the postseason since 2001, had two major acquisitions, Dee Gordon and Ryon Healy. ... Gordon will play center after he was a two-time National League All-Star at second base for Miami. Gordon's speed is legendary with 212 steals in 530 games. ... Healy will play first. He hit 25 home runs for Oakland last season. ... Nelson Cruz is the DH. He's 37, but still hit 39 home runs, not easy to do in pitcher-friendly Safeco. ... The Mariners need rotation stability: Last season, they used 17 different starters. ... The bullpen also needs to settle down after blowing 26 saves in 2017, tied for most with the Blue Jays and Marlins. ... Healy joins an infield that has second baseman Robinson Canó, shortstop Jean Segura and third baseman Kyle Seager. Canó has $144 million and six years left on his contract. Canó hit .280 with 23 home runs and 97 RBIs last season while Seager is a threat to hit 35 home runs. ... Left-hander James Paxton, who had 2.98 ERA last season and was one of the best 10 pitchers in the league, leads the rotation that also needs health and a bounceback from right-hander Félix Hernández, who had a 4.36 ERA in 86 2/3 innings last season. ... The Mariners are also counting on right-hander Mike Leake, who was traded to Seattle at the end of last season after he gave up 169 hits in 154 innings for the Cardinals. ... The catcher is Mike Zunino, who, after a strong second half, hit 25 home runs last season. ... The Mariners brought back legendary outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, 44, who played 11 1/2 seasons with the Mariners, going to 10 All-Star Games. Suzuki was the AL MVP and AL Rookie of the Year with the Mariners in 2001, hitting .350 with a .381 on-base percentage. In 2004, he set a single-season record with 262 hits. He has 3,080 career hits.

TEXAS: The Rangers go into the season with the potential for a high-powered offense, thanks to a mix of experienced players and on-the-rise youth. ... The future of the Rangers belongs to right-fielder Nomar Mazara (20 home runs in 2017) and first baseman Joey Gallo (41 home runs). ... Delino DeShields is developing in center field after coming on as a rookie in 2015. ... The Rangers are banking on a comeback from second baseman Rougned Odor, who hit 30 home runs but only .204 last season. ... The experienced players include third baseman Adrián Beltré, shortstop Elvis Andrus and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. Beltre, 38, has 3,048 career hits and batted .312 in 94 games last season. Andrus hit .297 with 20 home runs and 88 RBIs and Choo .261 with 22 homers and 78 RBIs. ... The key will be the new pitchers joining the rotation behind left-hander Cole Hamels and right-hander Martin Pérez, who starts the season on the disabled list with an elbow injury, but should be back in May. ... The Rangers signed right-hander Doug Fister and lefties Mike Minor and Matt Moore. The Rangers hope Moore and Fister can return to their 2014 former, when Fister had a 2.41 ERA for the Nationals and while Moore was at 2.70 for Tampa Bay. Both Fister and Moore, who is only 28 years old even though it seems he's been around forever, have struggled since then.

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