When this season started the American League West was considered all but done. The Houston Astros were virtual locks to win the division. The team everyone thought would be contending was the Los Angeles Angels. The remaining three teams had at best an outside shot of competing for the division. The Texas Rangers have struggled as expected with a 53-68 record. However, the Oakland Athletic and the Seattle Mariners are kicking up quite a storm. Houston currently lead the division at 73-46 with Oakland behind them at 71-48 and Seattle contending at 69-51. Those Los Angeles Angels? They sit 13.5 games behind Houston.
Let us take a look at what might happen between the three challengers for the AL West across the rest of the season.
The Mariners have been pushing the Astros since the start of the season. On May 1 they were just 1.5 games back. On June 1 they had reduced that to a game and when the calendar hit July they were just half a game back. The Mariners have slipped back to 4.5 games behind the Astros as the calendar hits the middle of the August. However, their offense is about to get a huge boost in the form of the returning Robinson Cano.
Cano’s return from suspension could provide the Mariners with the shot in the arm they require to make one final push. Adding Cano to this lineup makes for an extremely strong group one through nine, with some solid bench options. Their weakness is their pitching staff. James Paxton is an ace, but behind him, there is a mix of talent and names. Mike Leake is an innings eater but he is not a true number two. Wade LeBlanc, Erasmo Ramirez, and Marco Gonzales can have good outings but down the stretch, they are not the force a playoff contender wants.
The issue is that there is nothing coming to bail out this rotation. If the Mariners are to contend for the playoffs they will need their offense to rake regularly. It is doable but it will not be easy.
While Seattle got closer to Houston before falling away in July and August, Oakland has done the opposite. The Athletics were five, 6.5 and 8.5 games behind at the start of May, June, and July respectively. However, as of August 14, they are just two games behind the Astros. Usually, at this stage, you look at an Oakland roster and see role players, not stand out players. This season feels different. Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis, Matt Olson, Stephen Piscotty, Marcus Semien and Jonathan Lucroy are all known elements. All of them have at some point been considered high ranked players at their position.
Around them, they have Nick Martini, Matt Chapman, Ramon Laureano, Josh Phegley, Chad Pinder and Mark Canha playing their bit part roles. Their hitting is as good as it has ever been. Their pitching? Now that is a bigger issue than even Seattle have.
Acquiring Mike Fiers helps boost the depth on this rotation. However, Sean Manaea is not an ace. Trevor Cahill or Brett Anderson are not great number threes or even number fours. It is another weak rotation that will pile pressure on the offense. Again there is nothing significant coming to their rescue without another trade. However, the caliber they need might be difficult to get through waivers, and they will not be willing to pay what they need to get it.
They may not have made this division look as easy as they should have. However, they are still in the strongest position of the teams in the race. Just their rotation alone is leaps and bounds above either of the Athletics or Mariners. The Astros current one through four is Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Dallas Keuchel. Their fifth guy is a weak spot, but if they can get Lance McCullers back late in September, that may be good enough. Only one of the other 10 pitchers in the Seattle or Oakland would crack this rotation, Paxton.
Hitting wise, in a stunning twist, they may actually be in the weakest position right now. With George Springer, Jose Altuve and Brian McCann on the disabled list there are some big holes right now. However, all three of those are expected back either late in August or during September. The difference is that with one of the best rotations in the majors they can get away with a weaker lineup.
The Final Word
The stakes in this race are extremely high. With the New York Yankees a lock for the other Wildcard spot, only two of the three teams can make the playoffs. If I was a gambling man then I would fairly safely back Houston and with the way the teams are trending the Athletics would be my vote for the Wildcard spot. However, there will be twists, there will be turns and it will be a lot of fun.