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Checking in on the AL West: Texas on the rise, Angels see their wings clipped

Astros keep marching, A’s and Mariners keep mushing

Texas Rangers v Houston Astros
Martín Pérez and Jonah Heim, the AL West dynamic duo you all expected
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Here we are checking in from yet another east coast road trip, although to be fair, the Mariners just got done battling a pair of AL West foes in Oakland and Houston (and if you didn’t follow any of those games, hoo boy have you got a surprise in store), and are about to see some more of the Texas teams on the tail end of this road trip. To paraphrase John Green, the Mariners are playing the AL West this season like they are falling asleep: slowly, and then all at once.

Let’s check in with where the playoffs odds currently stand thanks to our pals at FanGraphs:

Ah. Hello darkness, my old friend. And yet what’s this? A crack of light appears beneath the door? Yes, just as the Mariners looked like they would be Cinderella-sweeping the ashes of their playoff hopes away with the other cellar-dwellars of the division, a slight revival thanks to the series win against the Astros has pushed them all the way into double-digit territory, although barely. It’s a heady concoction, friends, sip carefully.

No, see US rise: Texas Rangers (24-24)

You know, I get bored of writing this the same way every week and having to start out with “blah blah blah the Astros are still world-beaters” so let’s switch things up this week and go with the hottest team in the division first. Texas remains slightly behind Seattle in the projections but has pulled their record up to a respectable .500 thanks to a series split with the Angels followed by a series win against Oakland and are guaranteed at least a series split against Tampa Bay. This is important, although unfortunate, news for the Mariners, who are set to face off next against the Rangers in Texas right as they’re getting hot. Mitch Garver is back to stabilize the top of the lineup, Marcus Semien has his batting average within shouting distance of the Mendoza line, Adolis García and Corey Seager have 20 homers between the two of them, and the scrubs part of Texas’s lineup—the Eli Whites and Jonah Heims and Sam Huffs—seem to be taking it in turns to play hero each night. Meanwhile, Martin Pérez must have a rapidly-aging portrait in an attic somewhere because he’s been sensational—he blanked the Rays over seven innings last night in a three-hit performance and he’s already put up more fWAR than in the past two years combined, and is just about to eclipse his number from the entirety of 2019. It doesn’t solve the Rangers’ problem of who pitches the other four nights, but it definitely helps.

Still da champs (but also da chumps): Houston (32-18)

If you had hoped their series loss against the Mariners would send the Astros into some kind of tailspin, I got bad news for you son, as the Astros have 99 problems but the AL West ain’t one. Also, they don’t have 99 problems. Maybe not even 9 problems. They go for the sweep today against Oakland and then get to beat up on the poor, poor Royals for three games before returning home and sharpening their bats for use against the Mariners pitching staff. That’s enough of thinking about the Astros for now, we’ll have enough of that to do soon enough.

Where Angels Fear to Tread (the playoffs): Anaheim (27-23)

The Angels maintain their winning record but rather than floating easily above their AL West opponents, appear to be entering an Airplane! situation. (Arte Moreno: “There’s no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?”) The Angels have taken a heavy hit to their playoff hopes over the past week, falling from 77% to under 58%. Those numbers are damaged by a four-game sweep in Toronto, and they’re currently facing the Yankees before closing up their road trip at Philly, then returning home to face the Red Sox and the Mets, before going on the road to the Dodgers, a slate of games that equals or exceeds the Mariners’ miserable May. The pitching that was holding together over the beginning of the season has started to show some wear and tear: Syndergaard got torched for five runs in just 2.1 innings yesterday against the Yankees, including a four-spot in the first inning, and Reid Detmers, no-hitter aside, hasn’t yet shown he can consistently solve major-league hitters. Ohtani has gotten even stronger since the beginning of the season because of course he has, but Patrick Sandoval, their other best pitcher, has fallen off some from a hot start; his FIP has almost doubled from April to May, while his strikeout rate has fallen almost in half, which is truly dismal considering he’s still walking batters in the double-digits.

On the offensive side, Trout keeps Trouting, Troutingly, but Anthony Rendon is headed for an IL stint and pop-up sensation Taylor Ward has also been sidelined with a shoulder injury, and because of Ohtani taking up the DH spot it’s been difficult to work him back in as long as he’s not cleared to throw. The Angels remain the third-best team in baseball by wRC+ but have been significantly slowed without Ward and now face a week without Rendon as well (if you’re curious about Ohtani, he’s at a “mere” 128 wRC+—still excellent, of course, but not quite at his MVP-caliber pace of 152 last year).

Also here: Oakland (20-32)

Did you know that before Oakland won their last series against Seattle they hadn’t won a series since the second week of May when they played the lowly Detroit Tigers? In retrospect, what a frustrating series, despite the loss being dulled by some solid play against the Astros. This upcoming series with Texas will largely determine who becomes Oakland’s roommate in the cellar of the AL West, and even as I’ve moved past hoping for playoffs this year, winding up in the basement with the actively-tanking A’s is a bridge too far for my patience, and hopefully for the team’s, as well.