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Checking in with the AL West: Things are looking up

Both for the Mariners and our schadenfreude courtesy of the Angels

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Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

My, my, how things change. The previous two installments in this series saw the Angels turn from their apex in May and begin their plummet (going from 77% to 24% playoff odds, according to Fangraphs). This week, we check in to note not only the Angels’ continued fall (now at 4.1% playoff odds), but the Mariners’ quick rise. The M’s have now increased their playoff odds over 33% in a span of less than two weeks. Both of those trajectories make this first half of July a jolly good time to be a Mariners fan, if we’re being honest. Take a moment to enjoy this image with me:

now that’s a good lookin’ chart

Some things, of course, don’t change: Houston’s dominance, the Rangers’ mediocrity, and Oakland’s life in the sub-basement, to name three. The opposing fates of Houston and Oakland seem pretty well written in stone at this point, but the Rangers continue to be a team to keep an eye on. They’re only four games back of the Mariners as of Tuesday night, with several direct matchups on the near horizon and the M’s having the more challenging schedule over the next three weeks.

After today’s D.C. doubleheader, it’s Texas all the way down for the Mariners in July: we exclusively play the Rangers and the Astros in alternating series until August first. It’s always daunting to face the Astros, but the Mariners are .500 against Houston in our first twelve games against them this year. If they can maintain that split going forward and take a majority against the Rangers (they’ve won four of six on the season series so far), they’ll be in good shape heading into August.

Houston Astros (57-29)

It’s been a month since the Astros lost a series (to the Marlins!) and they’ve spent the first half of this month walloping the Angels, Royals, and Athletics. The rest of their schedule before the All Star Game is more Angels and Athletics, before a slightly more challenging second half of July facing the Mariners, Yankees... and A’s. Never mind, I guess nothing is challenging when you’re the Astros. This past week, Astros fans have celebrated the announcements that five Houston players have been named to the ASG next Tuesday. There was some drama when fans voted Shohei Ohtani the AL’s starting DH in the ASG instead of Astro Yordan Alvarez, but Alvarez was named to the team anyways. However, he won’t actually play in the Midsummer Classic, as he’s been placed on the 10 day injured list with inflammation of his right hand. This was, of course, the move many of us hoped would pave the way for Ty France to take his rightful place in LA, but alas.

Jeremy Peña, who was Julio Rodriguez’s toughest competition for AL Rookie of the Year earlier in the season, has been slumping a bit the last few weeks. His strikeout rate in July has climbed above 25% and his wRC+ is down to 95. I’ll be interested to see how his bat responds to the rest and reset of the All Star Break.

Your Seattle Mariners! (46-42)

Texas Rangers (40-45)

The Rangers are just a handful of games behind the Mariners in the standings, and both teams will be looking to gain ground as they face each other seven times before July is out. Texas has slumped over the last couple of weeks, getting swept by the Orioles and losing a series against the Mets. However, they continue to score runs and keep themselves in it, and it looked like they might have turned it around by taking two of three from the Twins over the weekend. However, last night the Rangers lost to the pitiful Athletics fourteen to seven in twelve innings. Yes, you read that right, the As scored eight (8) runs in the twelfth to win it. The Rangers host the Mariners for a four game pre-All-Star-Break series starting tomorrow, and then head out on an eleven-game road trip to Oakland, Seattle, and Anaheim (with a quick make-up game in Miami to kick it off). Corey Seager’s bat has been red hot this last week, earning him AL Player of the Week honors. Look for a more detailed rundown of the Rangers’ lineup and pitching staff in Thursday’s Series Preview.

Anaheim... California... Los Angeles Angels (38-50)

The Angels just continue to epitomize the “Tungsten Arm” O’Doyle tweet, as Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani rack up achievements while the team racks up losses. The last ten games, the team has gone 1-9 while both Trout and Ohtani were named ASG starters (and Ohtani was named to the ASG as both a pitcher and a batter for the second year in a row). Even the Angels’ standout trio is struggling more recently, however. Trout, Ohtani, and Taylor Ward all have below-average wRC+ in July (29, 81, and 87, respectively) despite carrying the team’s entire offense on their shoulders. Having been swept in two of their last three series, the Angels face a difficult road to turning things around, facing the Astros and the Dodgers this week and the Braves right after the break. They’ll round out the month with more plausibly winnable series against the Royals and Rangers.

Oakland Athletics (30-59)

It’s just plain sad to check in on the Athletics, who continue to lose a lot of games, and have now lost their would-be-trade-linchpin Frankie Montas for at least a short time. Montas left the game early on July 3 and is experiencing shoulder inflammation; there’s no timeline yet on his return, but I can only imagine how much of a gut-punch it must be to the fans to lose one of the only things predictably exciting to watch about your team. Given the depressing nature of the Athletics’ circumstances, I’d like to focus on two bright spots. One is the selection of veteran Paul Blackburn as the A’s ASG representative, for the first time in his career. The experience appears to have been moving for him, after much struggle and injury in his career so far. The second bright spot is the A’s win over the Rangers last night— in that epic twelfth inning, the Athletics scored their eight runs on four walks, a single, a double, and a grand slam.

That’s your AL West Play to Watch today. Maybe if we all watch it we can manifest a Mariners grand slam this week (which would be our first of the season!).