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Checking in with the AL West: Fallen Angels, blastoff Astros, Is Texas the most interesting team in the AL West?

Also, Oakland is here

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

This week, the call is coming from inside the house, as the Mariners are currently engaged in battle with their AL West foes, the Astros, before heading home for another matchup with [grits teeth] the Red Sox, then the Twins, and then a lockout-lengthened series with the Angels. The Angels, folks! Don’t worry, we’ll get to them. But let’s do this first: check in with our change in playoff odds, courtesy of FanGraphs.

Hmph. Well. That is...a precipitous fall for the red line, while that orange line just continues up to the moon, baby. Houston is up to a staggering 99.2% chance to make the playoffs, which is the highest I’ve seen from them this season and would be the highest in all of baseball if not for those damn Yankees, who are at 99.7% odds, which is just...funny. It’s funny to me and not at all annoying that after years of Yankee fans being abjectly miserable in a very loud way on Twitter and declaring their franchise cursed and Brian Cashman a snake oil salesman and the Steinbrenners cheapskates and whatever else they’ve just leaned right back into braggadocio. I mean, of course they were going to turn it around at some point, they’re Literally The Yankees. But I digress.

The Mariners, you’ll note, have crawled ever-so-slowly upward, celebrating their big move to double digits last week with another incremental increase this week. The game played later today could either push them up even further, if they can gather their chutzpah against José Urquidy. Avenge Kyle Lewis, fellas.

There’s really only one AL West opponent whose fortunes we want to talk about, but let’s save that for last and have a real quick look around the rest of the division first.

Houston Astros (1 million - 0):

Okay actually we can skip this one, we know how the Astros are playing because the Mariners are literally playing them right now, maybe even as you’re reading this. Blah blah the Astros are good, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well the Mariners have held up against them after getting swept to kick off May. Already guaranteed no sweep this time out, baby, and no Verlander no-hitter (although I guess to be fair an Urquidy one is still on the table).

Oakland Athletics (a very little - a very lot):

I know, we’re just doing the boring teams so we can get them out of the way, okay? The Astros are consistently good, which is boring, and the A’s are consistently bad, which is boring and also bad. The A’s just kicked off a weird little two-game series at Atlanta yesterday (they lost the first game, despite it being a low-scoring affair on both sides) after getting swept by Boston at home and getting swept by Houston before that. Ouch. I can only imagine how obnoxious the transplant Red Sox fans are in a nearly-empty Coliseum. Is this...sympathy for the devil-magic Athletics I’m feeling? Don’t like that. Also, annoyingly, the last time Oakland won a series was against Seattle. Let’s maybe stop giving away series to bad teams, huh guys? Cole Irvin is back with the team now, which further bolsters their strong pitching (part of the reason they were such a poor matchup for the power-sapped Mariners a couple weeks ago), but the offense continues to scuffle.

Texas Rangers (26-29):

Last week Texas was a .500 team, although that changed after the Rays and Mariners both Messed With Texas for back-to-back series losses; after a postponement on Monday they split a doubleheader on Tuesday and will try to snatch a series win today. Next up for Texas is the White Sox, which, honestly, could kind of go either way. Texas’s pitching remains as effective as using Costco brand toilet paper to mop up a basement flood—remove Martín Pérez’s two wins and the rest of the staff has a cumulative 1.3 fWAR—but the offense is showing signs of life. Marcus Semien has pushed himself up to positive WAR after spending the first month-plus of his Rangers career deep in a Texas fug, Corey Seager continues to embrace the mantle of now being baseball’s best Seager until Crue is draft-eligible, Adolis keeps on García-ing, Jonah Heim and Sam Huff take turns wearing the one skin-suit between the two of them as hulking behemoths at the plate, and Eli White has sprung up out of seemingly nowhere to provide thrilling defense in center even as his bat is yet to catch up to the major leagues, which helps with that whole pitching problem. Texas is far from the best team in the AL West, but I think if I wasn’t legshackled to the Mariners they’d be the team I’d most want to watch, simply because they’re deeply weird and not good but good enough to be watchable, and I like that in a baseball team.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Disneyland, California, USA, Black Sucking Hole of Space-Time, Curséd Void, Land of Shadows, The Place the Ancient Ones Fear (runic tabulations not replicable on a screen):

From one perspective, the fact that the Angels have not been able to succeed in the post-season despite possessing not one but two generational talents on their roster is tragic, the stuff Greek dramas are built on, a lesson about pride going before the fall and the cosmic balance of the universe. From another perspective—an admittedly grubby, jealous, lower-minded but deeply human perspective—it’s just so danged funny. I thought this was it! I thought this was going to be the year for the Angels. Ohtani was coming off an otherworldly MVP season, Mike Trout back at full health, they added a guy whose nickname is Thor, they’re getting pop-up contributions from lesser-heralded prospects and still have the recent #2 prospect in baseball, albeit one who has struggled...the ingredients were there. Maybe a little thin here and there, maybe it was a thin line to walk, but you can skimp a little on the bottle marked “pitching” when you get to pour so liberally and constantly from the bottle marked “best player in baseball, 2011 - present.”

And yet. After getting off to a crackerjack start, the Angels have steadily plummeted earthward. Actually, what’s faster than plummeting? Level 35-Tetris blocking? 90-degree torpedoing? Stone-cold stunning?

For a team that depends on the production of their stars, the stars just haven’t been shiny enough. Ohtani has been above-average on both sides of the ball, but not on the same pace as his breathtaking MVP season. Trout was recently mired in an 0-for-26 slump that was the worst of his career to date, which is pretty impressive given how long he’s been playing the game. Taylor Ward, who had emerged as one of the offensive leaders, is on the IL again with a hamstring injury; Anthony Rendon is, as well. The pitching staff has scuffled, as well: Ohtani has been merely fine, Patrick Sandoval has seen his strikeouts go down and his walks go up; Reid Detmers threw one no-hitter and hasn’t been great since; Syndergaard has been a plate of meh covered in meh sauce with a side of unlimited meh soup or salad and mehsticks.

And so on Tuesday, in the midst of a historic 12-game losing streak, the team did what struggling, directionless teams do, and fired their manager, Joe Maddon. There’s like a whole other article to be written dissecting the weirdness of some of Maddon’s comments, but at this point, Angels’ management has changed hands so many times it’s like that haunted restaurant space on the corner by your house you look at and sigh wistfully “I hope something good goes in there next,” and then something else does and it’s no better than the last five things.

And, it didn’t work: the Angels lost yesterday’s game anyway, extending their losing streak to unlucky 13 (and Mike Trout left with an apparent groin injury after hitting a home run in the first inning, scoring Ohtani...and they still lost). The Mariners have a habit of not beating up on bad teams, but they absolutely cannot allow the Angels to get right against them when they come to town the weekend after next for a five-game series, or the AL West check-in next week is just going to be a bunch of skull and crossbones emojis.