Man Los Angeles and Houston fans have to just be shaking their heads at this point unsure of what they have to do to see their respective teams gain ground on the perpetually hot Texas Rangers. Both the Angels and Astros posted winning weeks and still saw the gap continue to grow.
AL West Current Standings
Last week we highlighted the battle for the basement in California and as the trends show the Angels came out on top. Oakland now finds themselves alone at the bottom and in position as one of the only true sellers in the AL. Look for Oakland to be active early and often in the trade market as the summer rolls along and the trade deadline begins to approach.
1. Texas Rangers (6-1)
Opening the week with a loss at Oakland, it looked like there may finally be a chance for a losing week in Arlington, but it was not to be as Texas quickly got back on track with a six game winning streak to end the week. We will focus more on the Oakland series later, so lets dig into the dramatic three game sweep the Rangers pulled in St. Louis. After taking three of four from Oakland, the Rangers came into St Louis rolling, but had just barely enough against the Cardinals winning all three games by a single run. The sweep pushed their season record in one run games to a staggering 16-4.
So, how did it happen:
Game one saw the Rangers score the only run of the game in the fifth inning thanks to a Rougned Odor solo shot. The pitching did the rest, as Cole Hamels went 7 2/3 innings without giving up a run and Matt Bush and Sam Dyson came in to combine to close it out and complete the shutout.
Game two had a much more dramatic feel to it as the Rangers entered the eighth inning down 3-0. Not to be denied the Rangers put up matching two run innings in the eighth and ninth to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat as they have so often this season. The dramatic comeback came on the back of a number of St Louis errors this time, as they scored in the eighth on a wild pitch and a throwing error and then in the ninth on a walk and sacrifice fly.
Game three once again saw a late rally as the Rangers came back from being down 4-3 heading into the eighth inning. This time Jurickson Profar played hero hitting a two-run pinch-hit single to give the Rangers a 5-4 win and the series sweep.
They all came in different fashions, but the results were the same as the Rangers continue to live on the edge and put an exciting style of baseball on display day in and day out. How long can they keep it going before the close games start to turn against them?
In the upcoming week three teams will get a shot to flip the script and knock off the Rangers. On Monday, the Baltimore Orioles will head to Arlington to makeup a game that was originally scheduled for April 17th. Next up, the Cincinnati Reds will come to town for two game and ultimately the Boston Red Sox will be in town for the weekend in what should be an exciting three game series.
2. Seattle Mariners (2-4)
What a difference a month can make. Just four weeks ago, the Mariners sat nine games over .500 and in sole possession of the divisional lead, but with a fourth straight losing week the Mariners are now only three game over .500 and more importantly 8.5 games behind the Rangers for the AL lead. Now there is still plenty of baseball to be played, but Seattle needs to string together some wins quickly or they are going to find themselves not only out of the divisional race completely, but looking up at the Astros in the wild card race as well.
Week 11 saw the Mariners travel across the country to face off against a couple of AL East team in Boston and Tampa Bay. To open the week the Mariners dropped the first two against the Rays in tightly contested one run games. In both instances Seattle let a late lead slip away as they gave up a four run seventh inning on Tuesday to lose 8-7 before dropping Wednesday’s game in extras. The extra inning affair was set up by a Corey Dickerson RBI single in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game at 2-2. After the sixth inning, the bullpens clamped down combining for scoreless frames through 12. Then the wheels fell off in depressing fashion as the Mariners proceeded to walk three batters following a one out triple to give the Rays the walk off walk. The Mariners didn’t let the demoralizing nature of the loss stick with them for long though as they came back to salvage game three and avoid the sweep.
In the second series of the week, the Mariners got off to a better start taking the opening game 8-4 behind two Franklin Gutierrez homeruns. Alas it was not meant to be as the Mariners proceeded to drop the final two games to lose their third straight series. To add insult to injury Taijun Walker left Sunday’s start with a foot injury after 88 pitches. Walker managed five scoreless frames before being lifted, but this makes two straight starts that the pitchers has been forced out of prematurely due to a strained tendon in his foot.
On top of a hobbled Walker, the Mariners are currently without starting pitchers Felix Hernandez who is scheduled to begin throwing this week and Wade Miley who was placed on the DL this past Friday.
In week 12 the Mariners will head to Detroit for a four game series before welcoming the Cardinals to Washington for three games. After a tough home stand against the state of Texas which saw the Cardinals go 0-5 last week they have to be dreading another series against the AL West.
3. Houston Astros (4-1)
The Astros had a short week with two off days and only five games, but they made the most of them going to extras twice, pushing their season total to 12 extra inning games.
The Astros opened the week playing in St Louis for the first time since last years hacking scandal. The Astros got the best of their former division rivals taking both games of the two game set. In game one, Colby Rasmus came up big against his former team going 2-4 with a solo homerun. Game two saw Colin McHugh continue to slowly chip away at his ERA going 6 2/3 inning and giving up only one run. McHugh now sits with an ERA of 4.89 on the season (still not pretty, but considering where it was this is a welcome improvement). The Astros had to mount a comeback, though, nonetheless as Adam Wainwright stifled the Houston offense for 7 innings. The offense snapped back to life late, putting up two runs each in the eighth and ninth innings to win the game 4-1.
After facing the Cardinals, the Astros welcomed another former division rival to town in the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds and Astros split a pair of 11 inning games to kick off the series with Cincinnati taking game one and the Astros returning the favor on Saturday. Game three was much less dramatic as Mike Fiers and Chris Devenski combined for the shutout and Luis Valbuena and Evan Gattis homered on the way to a 6-0 Houston win.
Next up is a three game set against the Los Angeles Angels followed by a road series in Kansas City. The Astros play six of their next nine against the Angels setting up for a strong finish to June.
4. Los Angeles Angels (4-2)
The Angels won consecutive series for only the third time this season taking series against Minnesotta and at Oakland. In both series the Angels dropped game one, but fought back to take the series.
To open the week the Angeles welcomed the Twins to California and proceeded to lose the opener 9-4. From that point forward the Angels pitching staff really buckled down holding the opposing team to four or fewer runs in each of the next five games and two or fewer in three of the final four. While it was not against particularly impressive opponents, it still has to be viewed as a positive development that the staff was able to string together a series of strong starts.
Of particularly strong note are the final two game of the week. In Saturday’s game in Oakland Tim Lincecum made his triumphant return to the majors after nearly a year off. "The Freak" as he was often called in San Francisco did not show the same devastating stuff that he once had in his first start as an Angel, but thrived nonetheless. Lincecum went six innings giving up one run on four hits in what had to be an extremely encouraging sign for the Angeles coaching staff.
Not to be outdone fellow veteran starting pitcher Jered Weaver proceeded to pitch a complete game shutout on Sunday against the same punch less A’s lineup. Weaver surrendered only three hits and one walk, never really facing any threat on his way to the shutout.
Looking ahead Lincecum and Weaver have to be excited at the concept of facing the A’s again this week as both are slated to start games in the four game weekend set. Before they get to face Oakland again though, the Angels have to take a quick trip to Houston for a three game series.
5. Oakland A’s (2-5)
Having not had a winning week since April, Oakland continues to drift at a seemingly escalating pace to the bottom of the American League. Having claimed last place for themselves in the AL West and distanced themselves to the tune of a four game cushion Oakland will soon be turning their attention to the trade deadline and begin retooling for the future. For the time being lets still dig into how the week went and see if we can’t pick out a few bright notes.
Oakland opened the week with a four game home series against the division leading Texas Rangers. Behind a five RBI night by Kris Davis, Oakland jumped out to an early lead and coasted to a 14-5 victory in game one. Everything went downhill from there, as Oakland dropped the remaining three games by a combined score of 22-12. The A’s lost in a variety of fashions losing game two by a score of 10-6 thanks in part to homeruns surrendered to Elvis Andrus, Ryan Rua and Robinson Chirinos and dropping game four by a score of 5-1 after allowing Colby Lewis to get into the eighth with a perfect game intact. Lewis lost his perfect game bid in the eighth with a walk of Yonder Alonso and ultimately lost his no hit bid and shutout in the ninth.
After losing the final three to the Rangers and barely escaping becoming the victims of a perfect game, Oakland welcomed the Angels to town. As they did in the Rangers series the A’s grabbed game one, this time by a score of 3-2. And also like the Rangers series the A’s then proceeded to lose the remaining games and drop the series. In a striking parallel, the A’s even managed to be stifled by an aging soft tossing starting pitcher in the final game of the series getting shutout by Jered Weaver who went the distance only allowing three hits.
Oakland will look to break their streak of losing weeks and get back on the right side of things with a two game series against Milwaukee before heading to Los Angeles for a four game weekend set with the Angels.
Down on the Farm:
Last week we listed the 2016 draftees that were still playing in the College World Series, this week lets take a quick look at who each of the AL West teams took in the opening round. Some of the names should look familiar from the draft profiles that our minor league guys so graciously produced, but some may be new to you so here is a quick breakdown of the newest influx of talent to farm systems around the division.
1.17: Forrest Whitley, RHP, San Antonio, Texas – 6’7" 240 lbs
The Astros went with a local prep arm in the opening round. If for some reason you come around this blog and haven’t heard about him, the young right handed pitcher has the arm to touch 96 and currently has three secondary pitches. Ultimately his success will hinge on whether or not he can harness a couple of those secondary offerings. For more on Whitley check out his draft profile here.
Los Angeles Angels:
1.16: Matt Thaiss, C, University of Virginia – 5’11" 197 lbs
Thaiss is another prospect highlighted by the team here leading up to the draft. You can read more about the offense first college catcher here.
1.6: A.J. Puk, LHP, University of Florida – 6’7" 230 lbs
1.37: Daulton Jefferies, RHP, University of California – 6’0" 185 lbs
Oakland had to be pleased when the top college arm dropped to them at six. With a 6’7" frame there is plenty to dream on, but as with many pitching prospects Puk displayed inconsistent control for much of his college career. Jefferies on the other hand is a risk/reward pick having at one point been in the discussion for a top ten pick he is currently rehabbing a shoulder injury. The A’s rounded out the early rounds with a third college starter in Puk’s teammate Logan Shore in round three.
1.11: Kyle Lewis, OF, Mercer University – 6’4" 205 lbs
Lewis was a prospect who was in the mix for the top spot leading into the draft, so landing him with the 11th pick has to feel good for the Mariners front office. In 2016 Lewis hit a staggering .395/.535/.731 with 20 homeruns.
1.30: Cole Ragans, LHP, Tallahassee, Florida – 6’3" 190 lbs
In stark contrast to Oakland’s college heavy approach, the Rangers like to take high upside high school arms in the early rounds, and they stayed true to form in 2016. On top of taking the Ragans in the first, Texas used their second and third round picks on high school players as well picking up RHP Alex Speas and 3B Kole Enright. Ragans projects as a middle of the rotation starter, but is a long way from making an impact at this point.
Boston Red Sox at Texas Rangers – Friday, June 24th – Sunday, June 26th
Two of the top three records in the AL, but totally different divisional situations. The Rangers come into the week with a wide 8.5 game margin for the division lead, while the Red Sox come in with the third best record in the AL, but one game behind Baltimore for the AL East lead. The AL East has set itself apart so far this year with Toronto, Baltimore an Boston all boasting 39+ wins. The pitching matchups don’t match up as anything earth shattering, but game one will feature David Price. The Rangers could be in for a challenge as they try and stop the elite Boston offense with the trio of Nick Martinez, Martin Perez and Derek Holland. Of the three only Perez has an ERA under 5. If the Rangers find a way to win this series they will cement themselves as the class of not just the AL West, but of the entire AL.
Not a lot to talk about from a pitching perspective this week. Oakland and Los Angeles have been a pitching wasteland with Tim Lincecum and Daniel Mengden currently showing the most promise as recent additions to their respective staffs. So with that said, lets take a look at a couple of early week matchups between the Mariners and Tigers.
James Paxton (1-2) at Justin Verlander – Tuesday, June 21st
Hisashi Iwakuma (6-5) at Michael Fulmer (7-2) – Wednesday, June 22nd
Both of these matchups feature a veteran versus a young upstart in some capacity or another. In game one Paxton matches up against a former MVP and Cy Young winner in Verlander. Looking at the innings pitched, Verlander has more than 2000 IP more than Paxton at 2204.1 compared to 187. Both have seen success this year though, as Paxton currently sits with a 2.86 ERA and Verlander continues to throw meaningful innings for the Tigers with a 3.87 ERA in 2016.
In game two, the script is flipped with the Mariners trotting out the veteran in the 35 year old Iwakuma. Iwakuma has struggled to some extent in 2016, pitching to a 4.18 ERA nearly a full run above his career 3.29 ERA. On the other side of this matchup is Fulmer. Fulmer is a 23 year old rookie and if you haven’t heard of him yet you have been missing out. Fulmer currently sits with a 2.43 ERA through 59 1/3 innings, but has been even more impressive than those numbers as of late. After failing to register a quality start in any of his first four starts, Fulmer then went on a tear giving up two earned runs over his next 46 1/3 innings. That stretch included a 33 1/3 inning scoreless streak that ended in his most recent start against Kansas City. Fulmer currently has himself well within the rookie of the year discussion and has shown promise that the Tigers have been sorely lacking from young players in recent years.
*Pitching matchups are based on current projections from ESPN.com