The unexpectedly competitive AL West

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 09: Dee Gordon /
AL West
SCOTTSDALE, AZ – MARCH 09: Dee Gordon /

The Houston Astros were heavy favorites to take the AL West at the start of the offseason. They had the best rotation, a juggernaut offense and a serviceable bullpen. But now the AL West looks like it has the potential to be as much of a toss up as any division in baseball.

To many fans, it felt like 2018 was going to be a victory lap for the Houston Astros. Their MLB best rotation got better by adding Gerrit Cole. They had the reigning MVP in Jose Altuve and fifth place in Cy Young voting in Justin Verlander.

But the Angels refused to quietly concede the division with the addition of baseball’s most coveted prospect Shohei Ohtani and infielder Zack Cozart. The Mariners prepared their 2018 campaign by acquiring Dee Gordon from the Marlins. Now the AL West crown—and the postseason ticket that comes with it—could fall anywhere.

The Mariners have come to play

The Mariners currently hold first place in the AL West. They haven’t played a game in the postseason since Ichiro Suzuki’s 2001 rookie season which is good for the longest postseason drought in pro sports.

But the Mariners are making a legitimate case for ending that drought in tremendous fashion—by usurping the reigning World Series champions to take the division.

Mitch Haniger is driving the offense with his .871 OPS. James Paxton and Wade LeBlanc are maintaining the rotation with their 3.13 and 2.60 ERAs respectively. Pieces like Edwin Diaz and James Pazos have been preserving leads out of the bullpen and closing out victories.

The Mariners are no fluke and are likely to continue to win.

Angels regressed, but are still a threat

The addition of Shohei Ohtani is rivaled only by the Giancarlo Stanton trade as the biggest move of the offseason. In one swift and cost-efficient move, the Angels added an ace-caliber starter and a DH currently holding a .898 OPS. Between him, Mike Trout and Andrelton Simmons, the Angels have become must see TV—that is, until about the sixth or seventh inning.

The Angels bullpen is bad. It’s their most glaring need as the deadline nears. But fortunately for them, it’s probably the only thing that needs fixing. The rotation and offense have been good. With a piece or two added to the pen before the deadline, the Angels have a shot at climbing out of the hole they’re currently in and claiming the division.

AL West is the Astros’ division to lose

The Astros are still the on-paper best team in the division, but they need to continue to be the best on-field team.

The Astros are also victims of frustrating circumstances. They have an MLB best run differential of +122. For comparison, the Mariners—who currently hold the division lead over the Astros—have a run differential of just +17.

The Astros are doing everything right and the results should be better than they have been. But if they continue to work the way they do, the division is bound to be theirs.

Next: Philadelphia Phillies: Trouble in Rebuilt City?

No matter who claims the AL West by October, it’s likely to be a dogfight to the end.