Surveying the Landscape of the AL West
Half of the Major League Baseball season is finished. It’s the halfway point in Major League Baseball. In the American League West, things have settled in, and here is the mid-season summary of each team.
Oakland Athletics (21-10): An amazing season so far!
The Oakland Athletics have quietly made their way in the AL West, behind a strong, dominant bullpen and an offense that has no weaknesses. Unlike other teams who have relied on superstars to power the team, the Oakland A’s have astounding offensive depth that can see anybody step up and be a hero on a given night. Mark Canha, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Ramon Laureano, Stephen Piscotty and the list continues with people who have led the A’s offense on any given night. The A’s bullpen has also been immaculate, among the best in the Major Leagues.
Starting Pitching: Mike Fiers and Sean Manaea have been struggling this season, and the respective pitchers that threw no-hitters in 2019 and 2018 have been relatively non-existent. Sean Manaea struggles to even hit 90 miles per hour on many of his pitches and hasn’t been able to get out the fourth and fifth innings in any of his starts. For Fiers, the struggles continue, with decreased velocity and poor placement of his secondary positions it seems to all be spiraling downhill. Add in the fact that his age might be starting to settle in (at 35 years old), and it doesn’t look good for him. The A’s offense can only do so much, but if these starting pitching can’t hold it down, the A’s will struggle down the stretch mightily when they play teams in the playoffs that have top-tier pitching and defense, like the Tampa Bay Rays, the Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees.
Houston Astros (17-14): A season of Ups and Downs
Before getting the trounced by the white-hot San Diego Padres, the Houston Astros seemed to have turned a corner. Their offense slowly is starting to get back to the 2019 levels, and after starting the season 6-9 they caught fire and went 9-1. Despite their injuries, their starting pitching has relatively remained consistent, with rookies like Christian Javier stepping in big roles to anchor the starting staff for the Astros.
Concerns: Injuries, Stupid Decisions, and Jose Altuve
The Astros have gotten a hard hand dealt to them in the form of injuries. Justin Verlander, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Roberto Osuna have all gone down due to injuries, and as some of the superstars of that team, it has hurt their offensive and defensive production. While the Rookies and other players have done a good job of minimizing the damage of the loss of these players during the season, it hasn’t diminished the fact that they need these players to successfully compete among the league. Also, Houston has yet to show up against top-tier competition, going 0-8 against teams with a record over .500,
Stupid, selfish decisions:
The Astros were already villains heading in the season, and given the public pressure (and resistance of the MLB) to punish the players involved in the cheating scandals, anything the Astros did was certain to be criticized. Thus, it was a horrible decision by the Astros hitting coach Alex Cintrón to goad the Oakland Athletics center fielder Ramon Laureano into a verbal altercation that resulted not only in a social distancing nightmare for Major League Baseball, but it also resulted in a 20-game suspension for Cintrón. To have the players lose their hitting coach for a third of a season is not only a self-centered, foolish decision, but it’s also a decision that could hurt the Astros offensive production for the remainder of the suspension.
It’s unclear whether Altuve is struggling due to his lack of cheating this season or is just plain in a slump but frankly, he looks horrible. He knows it too, remarking that he told his manager Dusty Baker that if he wanted to drop him in the lineup, he completely understood why. It’s unfortunate how the former MVP is struggling, but then again, hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to be done in sports. In must be even harder when he doesn’t know what pitch is coming. Luckily for Altuve, recently he may have turned a corner, recording his fourth multi-hit game against the Padres over the past weekends. Does it erase Altuve’s past three months of struggling? No. But is it something that the Astros and their fans will greatly take. Only time will tell if Altuve can keep this up.
Texas Rangers (11-18): Not good, but not bad
The Texas Rangers are in a sort of purgatory. They haven’t performed horribly, but they also haven’t played up their expectations. With an aging roster, there have been rumors of possible trades and rebuilding, but the organization fervently refutes the claims. Going into the season, the Rangers had most one of the most talked-about rotations in baseball with Corey Kluber (for Al Cy Young winner), Lance Lynn and Mike Minor (the last two who received votes in the 2019 American League Cy Young race) However, that excitement quickly fizzled. While Lynn has been the star of the rotation (and one of the stars in the league), Kluber only threw one inning of baseball in a Rangers uniform before going down with a Grade 2 shoulder strain, and he’s not expected to return for the rest of the season. Minor hasn’t been the same either and is 0-4 with a 6.94 ERA. To round out the backend of the rotation, Kyle Gibson is having a relatively decent season (3.74 ERA), but Jordan Lyles has been another weak spot in the rotation with a 7.52 ERA and a 1.72 WHIP.
As for the offense, Nick Solak and Joey Gallo have been carrying the Rangers, but just like the pitching, having two players carry the team won’t get them anywhere. Their offense ranks dead last in the MLB in runs scored per game, mainly because nobody else on the team has stepped up. The Rangers need the rest of their lineup to contribute if they want any hope at even getting a Wild-Card spot in the playoffs this year.
Inconsistent offense and struggling pitching is the exact reason why they aren’t performing the way they should be. To have only two consistent pitchers and two consistent hitters on the roster won’t cut it, and they frankly need help. At this point, the chance to compete for the playoffs is looking increasingly less likely for the team, and instead, they have some decisions to make. Should they concede this season and build for next season, acquire trade pieces to help them this season or should they continue competing with the hopes that things will click for the team down the stretch? For now, the Rangers say they want to stick with the roster, but only time will tell.
Seattle Mariners: (12-19) Rebuilding in progress…..potential incoming
On paper, the Mariners look atrocious, but there’s plenty of reasons to look up for their fans and the organization. The Mariners have taken this season as a rebuilding process and have their young players getting necessary reps during this season to hopefully lead the team into a successful future. The Mariners have let their young players play and struggle their way through this season, and while the team still has struggles, there are loads of potential just bubbling underneath the surface. Kyle Lewis is truly having a breakout season for the Mariners, hitting a team-leading .368. Justus Sheffield is having a breakout rookie season with a 3.51 ERA, and he’s getting plenty of time to progress and develop. J. P. Crawford and Dylan Moore are also having great offensive seasons so far, and getting reps during a relatively relaxed season might be just what they need to blossom into franchise stars.
Concerns: Kyle Seager
Kyle Seager: Seager is getting old, and while he is having a great year hitting for the Mariniers, it is unlikely that they will pick up his option for the next year. The Mariners are in the midst of a rebuilding process and it makes little sense to keep older players that could help other teams in a playoff push before they eventually retire. As the team that is in the midst of their rebuilding process, it’s not likely that they will keep an aging star and will instead seek to develop their younger players, like Dylan Moore who is hitting .282 in 78 at-bats
Los Angeles Angels (10-22):
All that talent, going to waste
It looks like Mike Trout will be on the outside looking in on the playoffs this year. It’s the same story for the Los Angeles Angels this year, as it has been for the entirety of Mike Trout’s career: great offense, horrible rotation. Their rotation ranks 28th in the majors with a 5.84 ERA and the bullpen has converted just four of 12 save chances. Except for Dylan Bundy (who has 2.58 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 38.1 innings), no pitcher has excelled for the Angels this season, and their atrocious bullpen is the reason that despite their talented offense they lose so many games.
The pitching, per usual. The Angels have a star-studded lineup with players like David Fletcher, Mike Trout, Shohei Otani, Albert Pujols and Anthony Rendon yet the pitching staff still can’t help the team compete for a playoff spot. It’s a shame and a waste of talent.
That’s the wrap on the 1st Half of the season so far, it’ll be interesting how the season progresses!