To help Let's Go Tribe readers get a better sense of the World Cup, I decided to compare each American League team with one of the national teams competing in this year's tournament. Here's part one, covering the AL Central.
Today, the AL West...
Oakland Athletics - Germany
The A's and Germany possess very strong rosters, with unrivaled depth at every position. Oakland can rely on stars like Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes but their entire team can come up big when it matters. Germany's 23 man squad contains a host of midfield superstars like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil, and Thomas Muller among others, all of them good enough to start for any of the other nations competing. The Athletics and the Nationalmannschaft also share a common interest in tactics, particularly when it comes to versatility. The A's specialize in doing things their own way, whether it's through the infamous Moneyball system or the effective use of platooning hitters in the lineup. Germany like to shake things up too, and nobody exemplifies that quite like captain Philip Lahm, playing in his third World Cup: Lahm can be deployed at right back as he was in 2010, left back like in 2006, or in central midfield where he has featured recently with Bayern Munich. It's not just Lahm who can be moved around, as Germany's entire midfield group could be rotated in and out of their natural positions and still be used to great effect.
Both teams share a pedigree for victory stretching back a long way. Oakland are the holders of nine World Series championships, including a very triumphant stretch in the early 70s when they won three World Series in a row (1972,1973, and 1974). Germany have lifted the World Cup three times (1954, 1974, and 1990), good enough for the third highest tally in the tournament's history, and have finished in the top four more often than any other nation (12). Yet both teams have come so close in recent times, only to have fallen short: The A's have made the playoffs on seven occasions since 2000 and were eliminated in the AL Division Series six out of those seven times. Since they last won it all in 1990, Germany have come agonizingly close ever since, finishing as runners-up in 2002, and coming third in 2006 and 2010. This year could witness both of these teams finally take that extra step and win it all.
Seattle Mariners - Chile
Fans of the Mariners and Chile share a common bond: Both groups have never experienced the elation that comes with ultimate victory and have never seen their teams lift their respective championship trophies. The Mariners are yet to even appear in a World Series and are still in search of their first AL Pennant. The closest Seattle have ever come to glory is three division titles in 1995, 1997 and 2001. Chile have an inconsistent history in the World Cup, often failing to qualify, or being disqualified and banned like they were in 1990 and 1994. Chile's most successful tournament appearance was as the host nation in 1962, when they won four games on their way to an impressive third place finish overall. They have failed to make it past the first round of 16 ever since however.
2014 paints a very different picture though. Both Seattle and Chile have their strongest teams in many years and look like potential contenders. The Mariners can boast superstars Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, along with a host of young talent like Taijuan Walker and Kyle Seager. Chile also possess some superstars of their own in the shape of Juventus's Arturo Vidal and Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez, to go along with an exciting attack-minded squad. Consider the Mariners and Chile dark horses to win it all if everything can break right for them.
Los Angeles Angels - Portugal
This pairing share similarities to the Detroit - Argentina comparison from yesterday's part one. Many fans feel that the Angels' phenomenal outfielder Mike Trout, and not Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, should have been the league's MVP the past two seasons, and claim ownership of the title as the "best player in the game". Similarly, there are many supporters who feel Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid icon and reigning Ballon d'Or winner, has supplanted Argentina's Lionel Messi as the greatest footballer in the world. Whichever player you prefer, both Anaheim and Portugal are blessed to have such talented individuals in their side.
Unlike Detroit and Argentina however, the Angels and Portugal do not possess the same level of talent throughout each team's entire roster. Despite Anaheim having stars like Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton on their team, the Angels have significantly underperformed in recent years and the rest of the team are made up of replacement level players like Brennan Boesch, Ian Stewart and Raul Ibanez. Not exactly world beaters. Portugal share the same problem; Ronaldo is their leader and can beat teams single-handedly when he's in the mood (like he did in the playoffs against Sweden). But the captain lacks support, and has to hope players like the misfiring Nani and the aging Helder Postiga can back him up. The Angels and Portugal both contain some outstanding players but likely lack the overall ability to take them to the promised land in 2014. Even Trout and Ronaldo will struggle to do it all by themselves.
Texas Rangers - Italy
The Rangers and the Italian mens national side both rely on experienced veterans to lead them to victory. Texas contains a host of elder players on their roster, like Shin-Soo Choo (31), Alex Rios (33), and Adrian Beltre (35), all of whom still perform at a high level despite being on the wrong side of 30. Similarly, the Azzurri depend on a core of mature men like Andrea Barzagli (33), the suave Andrea Pirlo (35), and the steadfast captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (36).
Yet both teams also have bright futures, and are looking to a new generation to build upon their experienced foundations. The Rangers have an exciting young core in their infield, with Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar hoping to solidify the Texas defense for the next decade. Combine that with young pitchers like Yu Darvish and Neftali Feliz, and the Rangers should remain contenders for many more years to come. Italy also have some exciting footballers coming through the system, such as Lorenzo Insigne, Marco Veratti, and Mattia De Sciglio, all 23 and under. Even Italian striker and national talisman Mario Balotelli is still only 23 years old, despite playing at the highest levels of the game for what feel like many years. Texas and Italy share another similarity in that they both play in the color blue, just one more reason to compare these two great teams, who can never be ruled out of contention and could emerge victorious in 2014.
Houston Astros - Honduras
Because they both begin with the letter H and they both have no chance.
Wait a minute, that's not fair. Let's try that again...
Houston Astros - Russia
Considering their size and the wealth of talent they could call upon, both Houston and Russia should be performing much better than they have done in years past. Houston is currently the fourth largest city in the United States, and despite playing in a big-market city, they often perform like a small-market club without a penny to their name. Russia, the largest country on the planet, haven't qualified for a World Cup since 2002, and even their history as the Soviet Union isn't as impressive as perhaps it should have been (fourth place in 1966 was their best result).
However, the future is promising, with both teams on the verge of competing in the coming years. The Astros are regarded as owning the finest minor league system in baseball, with a crop of promising youngsters on the farm waiting for a callup. Budding superstars like George Springer, Carlos Correa, Mark Appel and Jon Singleton are the Astro's golden generation, and the fans in Houston cannot wait for them to graduate to the big club. Russia also possess some intriguing prospects set to cause a stir on the international stage: Aleksandr Kokorin, Oleg Shatov and Alan Dzagoev are all promising players, and Russia will be pinning their hopes on these young guns breaking out when it matters most. Realistically however, it will still be a couple of years before Houston and Russia can compete properly, once their prospects have matured.
That's the AL West wrapped up. Tomorrow we look at the AL East in our third and final part.