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Checking in with the AL West: Houston and Anaheim slug it out at the top of the division

Meanwhile, Texas, Seattle, and Oakland fight over who holds up the ladder in the cellar

Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Last week, we examined how the AL West was starting to become a two-team race, with Houston and the Angels at the top, a significant gulf, and then the bottom three teams. After a week of underperformance, it’s not surprising that gulf has become a veritable Mariana Trench. This week, at last, the Mariners will see two AL West foes back-to-back in the A’s and the Astros, who will roll into town to face a reeling Seattle ballclub. Unfortunately, that could do even more damage to a playoff picture that’s already looking pretty bleak for the Mariners, as you can see on FanGraphs’ playoff odds tracker:

Both Houston and Anaheim hold steady as the boss of the AL West applesauce, while Seattle’s playoff chances have been cut by more than half—from 14.2% down to 6.2%—after the sweep at the hands of the Red Sox to cap off an underwhelming east coast sojourn. Both Oakland and Texas have held steady in the basement, but Seattle is even closer to the cellar-dwellars than they’ve been all season. It’s a grim picture of just how far the team has fallen since those halcyon days of late April.

Still the champs: Houston Astros, 28-16

The Astros have actually cooled off some since the beginning of the month, when they had back-to-back-to-back sweeps against the Mariners, Tigers, and Twins. They dropped the series to the Red Sox before bouncing back by taking three out of four against the Rangers and are eyeing another series win against the Guardians before they head up to Seattle and their favorite AL West punching bags. Agh. Jeremy Peña remains the 12th most valuable offensive player by fWAR, although his strikeout rate is starting to creep up very slightly as teams start to get more of a book on the young shortstop, but he’s balanced that out by just slugging the daylights out of the ball. Kyle Tucker has also rebounded from his early-season snooze to start doing Kyle Tucker things to baseballs again as the Astros remain, offensively, the best team in baseball. Pitching-wise, Justin Verlander has single-handedly hoisted them up to fourth by fWAR, but behind him are lots of question marks: Luis García has been inconsistent, and Jake Odorizzi avoided a catastrophic injury when he had to be carted off the field the other night, but will certainly miss some time with “various strains and sprains.”

Closing quickly: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California (for now), 27-17

Stadium scandal aside, the on-field Angels continue to perform well, nipping at the heels of the Astros, although they did recently, hilariously, get swept by the Rangers, who they’re playing again this week. For as little as the Mariners have seen of AL West opponents, the Angels have only seen the A’s and Rangers for the past four series. The offense, as you’d expect, has been doing the heavy lifting for the Halos, with Mike Trout soaring to even more Mike Troutian heights after a few years marred by injury, but everyone’s been chipping in to help make them the sixth-best offense in baseball. Pop-up hero Taylor Ward, who trails Trout himself by just .2 fWAR, ran into an outfield wall last week and apparently has some nerve damage in his shoulder; he can swing a bat now but not play the field yet, so the team will need to be creative in finding DH at-bats for both him and Ohtani. Anthony Rendon has been affected by the dead ball, it seems; he has just five home runs so far and has a pretty middling wOBA of .330. Meanwhile, the pitching has held up better than expected; the Angels rank 13th in fWAR in baseball as a staff, with Ohtani and Sandoval at the head of the pack—Ohtani is currently rocking an otherworldly 34% strikeout percentage. Syndergaard has so far been a slow starter, striking out just 17% of batters faced with a 3.51 FIP/4.21 xFIP.

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: Texas (18-23), Seattle (18-26), Oakland (18-27)

We’ll skip talking about Oakland since we’re currently witnessing what tanking in real time looks like, and also the Mariners’ inability to prevent runs being scored by a roster assembled out of whatever sandwich materials are leftover at the end of the night at Subway. That brings us to the Rangers, who are continuing to struggle despite getting Mitch Garver back, probably because their last 12 games have been against the Red Sox, Angels, and Astros. The Rangers made a calculated risk on going all-in on investing in their lineup while skipping over the section marked “pitching”, which maybe would have worked if the current ball wasn’t made with an osmium core and filled with swamp water. As it is, Texas ranks 25th in pitching fWAR but only 22nd in offense. Corey Seager and Kole Calhoun have almost identical wRC+ marks although Calhoun is striking out about 10% of the time more than Seager and walking half the time. The Rangers’ three best hitters on any given night might be their catchers (Garver, Jonah Heim, and Sam Huff, who is really an ex-catcher but let me have this, things are so grim). Marcus Semien is hitting so poorly it’s difficult to find his name on the team leaderboard as first you have to scroll through clearly fake names like Zach Reks and Mason Frechette and Nicklaus Snyder. How bad is that? I made one of those names up and I bet you can’t guess which one.