At 17-11, the Texas Rangers are holding on to first place in the American League West, but with seven wins in their last 10 games, the defending champion Houston Astros are making a move towards the top spot. Of course, it’s also tough to count out a Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani-led Angels club this early, and the Seattle Mariners, with their flare for drama, will probably also be in the conversation for most of the summer. Oh, and Oakland is in the AL West too.
A look around the AL West as May begins
The Texas Rangers have earned the top spot on the back of some pretty impressive hitting, and trail just the Tampa Bay Rays in runs scored this year. Outfielder Adolis Garcia leads the league with 30 RBI and is joined in this lineup by Marcus Semien (23 RBI), Jonah Heim (22), rookie Josh Jung (21), and Nathaniel Lowe (19), all having very good seasons as well. Corey Seager missed most of April with a hamstring injury and still has no timeline to return, but Texas has had no problem cranking out hits and driving in runs without him in the batting order, even hanging 15 on the Yankees Sunday afternoon in support of a nice outing by pitcher Martin Perez.
Speaking of pitching, Nate Eovaldi has been pretty solid lately, also, throwing athree3-hit, complete game shutout in his last start, and the team will need both of them to continue pitching at a high level, because Jacob deGrom was placed on the Injured List this weekend with forearm tightness. deGrom is 2-0 on the year, and was leading the American League with 13.4 K/9 at the time of his injury.
The Houston Astros, 15-13 and two games behind Texas, have been on roll as of late, winning series against the Blue Jays, Braves, and Rays, before finally dropping two out of three to the Phillies this past weekend. That’s quite a streak versus some pretty good teams. The typically explosive Houston offensive has been less so, through April, and while not necessarily “struggling,” they are just 21st in home runs, and pretty league average everywhere else. Injuries to Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley have kept them out all season, and we haven’t really seen Alex Bregman at his best yet, but any lineup that boasts Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker should be able to find enough runs to keep things interesting.
Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, and rookie Hunter Brown lead a very effective pitching staff, and the Astros are able to back up their starters with one of the best bullpens in baseball. The backend, led by Bryan Abreu, Phil Maton, Hector Neris, and Rafael Montero, have surrendered just seven earned runs in a collective 47.1 innings pitched.
With a record of 15-14, the Los Angeles Angels are just a half of a game behind Houston. Shohei Ohtani has been putting up video game numbers this season, allowing just seven earned runs in his first six starts, and striking out 12.2 batters per nine innings, while batting .277 with six home runs and 17 RBI. You probably don’t need me to tell you how good Mike Trout is, and Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Drury are enjoying some early sucess as well, but a season-ending shoulder injury to rookie catcher Logan O’Hoppe is more troubling than it sounds. O’Hoppe was hitting .283 with an .886 OPS before his injury, and by all accounts playing very solid defensively. With Max Stassi also on the IL with no return in sight, the Angels are down to their third and fourth catchers, and in a situation that does not appear to have a favorable outcome. Taylor Ward’s bat has gone cold of late, as he is slashing just .132/.266/.208 across his last 16 games, and a return to 2022 form would certainly be welcome.
Coming off of their first playoff appearance in 21 years, the Seattle Mariners have stumbled a bit out of the gate this summer, winning just 12 times against 16 losses. 2021 Cy Young winner Robbie Ray will miss the remainder of the year with an arm injury, which is unfortunate mostly because his replacement has not been very good this season. In four starts, Chris Flexen went 0-4, by allowing 20 earned runs and 27 hits in just 17.1 innings. He pitched in releif on Sunday, so his days as a starter might be numbered, but with the day off on Monday, Seattle won’t need a fifth starter until the weekend, and have some time to maybe figure something else out. The rest of the rotation (Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, and Marco Gonzales) have actually been pretty good and the Mariners have been uncharacteristically let down by a bullpen that was the backbone of the team last season. Entering May at 26th in walks per 9 and 19th in WHIP, the relievers are responsible for nine of the team’s 16 losses.
The offense has been surprisingly ineffective as well, sitting 29th in OBP, 26th in OPS and dead last in team average. It’s not time to panic about Julio Rodriguez just yet, but he is batting just .239, Teoscar Hernandez, a career .259 hitter, is batting .209, Kolten Wong is hitting just .171, and someone needs to come up with a new term for whatever DH AJ Pollock is doing, because it’s not hitting. He’s the designated something, but it’s not hitter, because he’s slashing .118/.164/.275.
Last place in the division, and the league, are the Oakland A’s. The brass in Oakland have assembled an historically awful team that could legit lose 130 times this year. They have been terrible, top to bottom, but also trot out a couple players who are taking advantage of the playing time.
Brent Rooker is smashing baseballs right now. Carrying a 1.245 OPS through 68 at-bats, he has nine dingers and 22 RBI on the year, and center fielder Esteury Ruiz has 11 stolen bases in 12 chances. That’s the bright side of things. The not-so-bright side would be anything, or anyone related to the pitching staff. The A’s are last in hits, runs, walks, and home runs. If you can measure it, they can be bad at it. The starters are yet to collect a win amongst them, and the staff as a whole appears to be overmatched at every turn. Last summer’s best starter, Paul Blackburn, has yet to throw this season as he has been out with a nail avulsion, and if you don’t know what that is, take my advice and do not image search it. Even his hopeful return won’t offer too much releif, as this team was never supposed to be good in the first place.
The A’s will remain in last place for the rest of the year. If the Angels and Mariners can’t figure out their own faults, this division could quickly become a two-horse race between the Rangers and Astros.