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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A Weekly AL West Roundup, Week 9

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A strong week sees the Texas Rangers assert themselves as the division leaders, while the Astros stay hot and continue their slow assent up the standings.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The State of Texas prepares for a head on collision as two of the hottest teams in baseball converge in Arlington for four starting Monday. Jump to the end for a deeper breakdown of each pitching matchup in our series of the week section. In terms of the standings, Texas put some separation between themselves and the rest of the pack this week, while Houston continued their long climb back and can now look to break back above .500 in the upcoming week.

AL West Current Standings

Team

Wins

Losses

GB

Texas

34

22

-

Seattle

31

25

3

Houston

28

30

7

Los Angeles

26

30

8

Oakland

25

32

9.5



Glancing at the trends, Seattle has reversed course over the last couple of weeks and really needs a strong week to reestablish some momentum and avoid falling back into the pack. On the other hand, the recent uptrend for Houston is a thing of beauty that should give Astros fans everywhere hope for the rest of the season.

Now for our weekly trip around the division to catch up on the happenings for each team in the AL West:

1. Texas Rangers (5-1)

The Rangers just keep on trekking. As seen in our trend chart above, the Rangers have kept easily the most consistent trend line, they are yet to post a losing week and have only posted a .500 week twice.

After a down month pitching to a 4.35 ERA, the Texas staff has bounced back nicely in the early going in June posting a 3.41 through the first week of the month. In particular the bullpen seems to have settled down after a tumultuous start to the year, pitching to a very early 2.38 ERA in June after struggling to a 4.72 and 5.56 mark respectively in April and May. If the Rangers bullpen can hold these gains going forward this is going to be a very hard team to catch for the divisional crown.

In terms of specific results, the Rangers were in control for most of the week. In the Cleveland series, Texas jumped out to convincing wins in the first two before dropping the final game in extra innings. In much the same way, the Rangers coasted to the win in the first two games against Seattle before squeaking out a tightly contested final game.

In the first two games of the Mariners series, Texas got off to a hot start putting up a three spot in the bottom of the first inning in both games. Mariners starters struggled, as Taijuan Walker and Nathan Karns both failed to get to the sixth inning giving up six and seven earned runs respectively. In game three, Hisashi Iwakuma did a better job for the Mariners, but a three run fifth inning ended up being enough for the Rangers thanks to a strong day from Derek Holland.

The upcoming week welcomes Houston to Globe Life Park for four to start things off before the Rangers head to Seattle for a three game set. The Rangers will look to continue their domination of their divisional rivals, as Texas currently sports an 18-10 record against the AL West.

2. Seattle Mariners (3-4)

The offense pounded San Diego, as the Mariners took three of four to start the week with the Mariners putting up 47 runs. The Mariners took the first two in convincing fashion wining 9-3 and 16-4. Game three was a different story, as the Mariners placed Felix Hernandez on the DL before the game and called up James Paxton to start in his place. Paxton promptly surrendered six runs in the first inning and ultimately ten earned runs in the first four frames as the Padres crushed the Mariners 14-6.

The fourth game of the series was by far the most entertaining (unless you are a Padres fan). After falling behind early in what looked like another blowout loss the Mariners mounted easily the biggest comeback of the young season. Mariners starter Wade Miley gave up nine earned runs without getting out of the fifth inning before giving way to Mike Montgomery who allowed three runs of his own putting the Padres up 12-2 after five. The bullpen buckled down from that point forward only allowing one unearned run.

That was all the Mariners offense needed as they struck for a five run sixth behind a Kyle Seager double and Da-Hoe Lee homerun. That was just the appetizer though as Seattle struck for nine runs in the seventh to steal the lead and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Amazingly, the Mariners were able to put up all nine runs without the benefit of any extra base hits. One walk, one HBP and eight singles later the inning was finally over. Final score saw the Mariners on top 16-13.

After their comeback against San Diego, Seattle headed down to Texas to face the Rangers. The outcomes were not nearly as kind with the Mariners getting swept and falling three games back in the division race. We already broke down these games above, so I won’t dive back into that here.

Heading into week ten, the Mariners welcome the Cleveland Indians to town for four before getting a chance at redemption against Texas. Seattle will be looking to flip the script on Texas this week and regain some footing in the division.

3. Houston Astros (6-1)

The pitching is finally coming around: after a 4.97 ERA in April, the staff posted a 3.81 in May and are now at a tidy 3.07 over the first few day of June. May’s improvement came primarily from a 2.33 ERA from the bullpen, but now the starters are starting to come along as well.  

The only blemish on the week was a 3-0 loss at the hands of Zach Greinke who outdueled Dallas Keuchel. The game was a true pitching duel through six, but Keuchel ran into trouble in the seventh and the Astros bats never woke up.

The Astros went to extras two more times this week…feels like they can’t go a week without at least one game with extra baseball. Against the Diamondbacks, Springer played hero with an 11th inning homerun to lift the Astros to 5-4 win. Then on Saturday, Correa got to play hero with a walk off single in the bottom of the 12th to help the Astros overcome a blown save from Luke Gregerson.

Overall, everything seemed to be clicking this week as the Astros have been getting production from up and down the lineup the last couple of weeks. I won’t highlight everyone who had big weeks, but here are a couple of the most impressive stat lines of the week:

  • Carlos Correa: .400/.500/.680 with three triples and four walks
  • George Springer: .357/.419/.679 with two homeruns and seven RBIs
  • Evan Gattis: .269/.345/.731 with four homeruns and ten RBIs, pretty good for a backup catcher

Next up for the Astros is a four game series at Texas followed by three at Tampa Bay. This week makes up the first seven of a long nine game road trip that will end with two in St. Louis in week eleven. If the Astros can find a way to at least split with Texas and go 5-4 or better on the road trip you have to feel good about getting back into the postseason race in the second half.  

4. Los Angeles Angels (4-2)

The Angels grabbed both series during week nine, taking two of three from Detroit followed by two of three in Pittsburg. The offense only failed to score five runs once, in getting shut out over seven plus innings by Michael Fulmer. Fulmer, the Detroit rookie, took a no hitter into the seventh in what was easily the best start of his young career.  

On the week, the Angels got offense from a number of unexpected sources as Shane Robinson, Yunel Escobar, Kole Calhoun, Chris Iannetta and C.J Cron all managed to hit over .350. This made up for a surprisingly pedestrian week from Mike Trout who only managed a .250 line with one homerun. How many times are you going to be able to say Trout was one of the easier outs in a lineup? You have to love small sample sizes.

While Trout may have had a down week, Albert Pujols continued to do what he has done for his entire career, capping a strong week with a game winning homerun on Sunday. Pujols’s homerun on Sunday came in the eighth inning and turned what looked like a one run loss into a one run win for the Angels helping Los Angeles to grab the rubber match against Pittsburg.

Looking to week ten, Los Angeles will head to New York to face the Yankees in a four game series followed by three games at home against Cleveland.

5. Oakland A’s (3-3)

A tale of two series again this week as the A’s swept aside the Minnesota twins in the first three games of the week before getting swept themselves in Houston. The Houston series is highlighted above and probably something A's fans would rather forget, so lets take a deeper look at the Minnesota series.

Coco Crisp hit a leadoff homerun to kick off  the series, Semien doubled in a run in the fifth and Kris Davis delivered the game winner on a sac fly in the sixth. Kendal Graveman pitched a very effective six innings holding the Twins to only two runs to get the ball to the bullpen who slammed the door shut, preserving the one run lead.

Game two saw Danny Valencia and Stephen Vogt carry the day combining for five hits, five RBIs and four runs scored. Everytime the Twins would push a run across and look to be getting some momentum, the A’s would respond in the bottom of the inning. Oakland finished the game comfortably on top 7-4.

The final game of the sweep and Oakland’s fifth straight win came on the back of rookie starter Sean Manaea. Manaea went six strong innings, working effectively with eight strikeouts and only one run allowed. The offense came early and often, as the A’s grabbed a run in each of the second through sixth innings to grab a 5-1 win.

The upcoming week is a weird one for Oakland, as they face only NL Central teams. Oakland will face the Milwaukee Brewers in a two game set before heading to Cincinnati for a weekend series. Neither NL team should present a particularly daunting challenge, so look for Oakland to grab their first winning week since the middle of April.

Series:

Houston Astros at Texas Rangers – Monday, June 6th – Thursday, June 9th

So we are going to break away from our usual format here and focus on what is an absolutely pivotal series for the Astros and break down each of the pitching matchups in the upcoming four game set with the Rangers. While I won’t go as far as to say this series is a must win, anything less than a split could leave the Astros stuck fighting for a wild card the rest of the way. Both teams come into this one on a roll, having won eight of their last ten, so lets jump into the individual games and see how things are currently lined up.

Pitching Matchups:

Game 1: Mike Fiers (3-3) vs Colby Lewis (5-0) – Monday, June 6th

Fiers is coming off of a strong outing that saw him rack up seven strikeouts over six innings while giving up only one run. Further Fiers is one of the only Astros to have had success against the Rangers this year, as he managed to go seven innings ceding two runs in his last start against Texas. Unfortunately for Fiers he is scheduled to face off against the Astro killer Colby Lewis. Lewis has had a great season to this point and is coming off of six shutout innings in Cleveland in his last start. More importantly though Lewis has absolutely devastated the Astros over the years. Lewis is 10-1 with a 2.39 ERA over 94.1 innings lifetime against Houston…

Game 2: Dallas Keuchel (3-7) vs Cole Hamels (5-1) – Tuesday, June 7th

Game two will pit two aces having vastly different 2016 seasons. Keuchel who is coming off of a Cy Young season has had his struggles documented well here, so I won’t drone on about that. I will say Keuchel has put up quality starts in his last two starts and has an 11:1 strikeout to walk ratio over his last 13 innings, so at least he isn’t handing out the free passes like he was to start the year.

On the other side, Hamels has pitched to a 3.39 ERA on the year and is a large part of why the Rangers currently sit on top of the AL West. Digging into the numbers, Hamels has been helped significantly by an 83.8% LOB, good for seventh in the majors (Colby Lewis sits at fourth with 84.6%, so some of that can be attributed to a strong defense). Hamels high LOB% has allowed his ERA to sit a full run and a half below his FIP, which come in at 4.88. Let’s hope the regressions starts this week.

Game 3:  Doug Fister (5-3) vs Yu Darvish (2-0) – Wednesday, June 8th

The surprise ace of the Houston staff statistically this year has been none other than Doug Fister who sports a tidy 3.51 ERA. On the flip side he sits with similarly scary underlying numbers as Hamels down to a matching 4.88 FIP. Fister has given the Astros a quality start in eight of his last nine starts, missing the quality start by one out in his lone "dud".

Looking to the Rangers side, Darvish has only made two starts to this point, but has picked up the win both times while striking out 12 and only walking 2. Darvish has only gone 81 and 88 pitches in his starts respectively, so hopefully the Astros can work some counts early and get to the Rangers bullpen early.

Game 4: Collin McHugh (5-4) vs Martin Perez (4-4) – Thursday, June 9th

McHugh turned in a much better May, pitching to a 3.83 over six starts. After about the worst start to a season he could have made, McHugh has lowered his ERA from 135 after his first start all the way down to a season low 4.82 at the end of May. Let’s hope he can keep the trend going and post another solid start for a resurgent Astros rotation.

For the Rangers, the 25 year old Martin Perez is easily putting together the best season of his young career. Perez currently boasts a 3.24 ERA through 12 starts. While Perez did not pitch in either of the earlier series between the Rangers and Astros he has found success in the past against Houston, sporting a 1.71 ERA over the course of six starts and 42 innings.

*Pitching matchups are based on current projections from ESPN.com