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Checking in with the AL West: gaps becoming wider between the haves and have nots

You will not like anything this article has to say but please read it anyway

Houston Astros vs. Boston Red Sox
Carlos who?
Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

We’re still a week away from seeing an AL West opponent, when the Mariners will hopefully have a chance to get right against a floundering A’s team before having to face a reinvigorated Astros team. As May turns to June, though, the cries of “it’s early yet” sound more and more hollow as it becomes clear the Mariners are digging themselves a hole they are less and less likely to clamber out of down the stretch. Meanwhile, as the Mariners continue to sink, the Astros and Angels continue to rise, rise, rise. It’s a stark image, as presented by FanGraphs’ playoff odds tracker:

Remember those halcyon days of late April, when the Mariners were within shouting distance of a coinflip’s chance to make the playoffs? Not so much, anymore, as they’ve plummeted closer to the cellar-dwellars of Texas and Oakland than the high-flying A-teams.

Top of the pops: Houston Astros (24-13)

The Astros’ .649 win percentage is second only to the Yankees’ wild .750 in the AL this year, and only trails NYY and the Dodgers (.667) in all of baseball. Maybe spurred by the endless thinkpieces about the dynasty that wasn’t after their defeat in last year’s World Series, this year’s club seems to be playing angry. Jeremy Peña continues to make the club look smart for letting Carlos Correa walk, ranking in the top 10 of all MLB players and making Anders’s pick of him for ROY look annoyingly prescient. Yordan Álvarez is continuing to hit balls like they personally wronged him, and even the slowpokes on the offense like Altuve and Tucker have started to return to their previous forms. Combine that with a pitching staff anchored by the presumptive AL Cy Young in VerlanderBot and it’s looking like a fait accompli that the Astros won’t just win the AL West, but will cruise right back to their 30530th World Series appearance. I am just so very very sick of them.

Contenders, Not Pretenders: Los Angeles Angels (24-15)

With apologies to LL emeritus Matthew Roberson, nothing about these Angels (24-15) suggest they’re slowing down. Okay, they’re not as bulletproof as the Astros, still given to the occasional collapse, like the one they suffered yesterday against the Rangers where the bullpen imploded, allowing seven runs in the eighth inning to let the Rangers roar back to a 10-5 win, and Syndergaard was knocked out of the game the day before that in the first inning after allowing six runs, but in a depressed offensive environment, the Angels are the second-best team in baseball—behind just the Yankees—at creating offense, with a team wRC+ that actually outstrips the Astros. That could change if a red-hot Taylor Ward ever comes back down to Earth, but there’s been no sign of him cooling down; he hit a grand slam this past Tuesday in a 3-for-3 day with a double. Meanwhile, Trout is Trout and Ohtani Ohtanis, and that duo, more so this year than any other, seems assured to be enough to guide the Angels into the playoffs.

Above the Mariners: Texas Rangers (16-19)

That’s right; the Mariners have been playing so badly they’ve slipped below the Rangers on the strength of Texas taking those past two games against the Angels while the Mariners have been busy scoring no runs against the Blue Jays. The Rangers lost their recent series against the Red Sox, scraping just a Sunday win against the AL East’s bottom dwellers, so how the Mariners perform against the Sox could give us a good idea of which team stinks out loud more. Marcus Semien continues to struggle, but Corey Seager has been solid, and the Rangers seem to get all the clutch hits from the background players of their lineup—Eli White, Jonah Heim—that the Mariners don’t. Must be nice.

Still in the basement: Oakland A’s (16-23)

The actively-tanking A’s might be at the bottom of the AL West, but their .410 winning percentage would be good enough for fourth in the AL East or either league’s Central division. Still, that doesn’t mean things are going well in Oakland, who continue to be led by the tandem of Sheldon Neuse and Sean Murphy in most offensive categories, neither of whom are guys you’d probably roster on your fantasy team (okay maybe Murphy, the catching position is dire). On the pitching side, the A’s are getting close to getting Cole Irvin back; he made a rehab start against Modesto the other night and #8 Mariners prospect Edwin Arroyo blasted a home run off of him, making me sadder than ever that the A’s don’t pay to have MiLB TV at their A-ball affiliate.