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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A Weekly AL West Roundup, Week 15

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Following the All-Star break, the Astros pick up right where they left off continuing their slow march back into the division race.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

In case you missed it, the AL won the All-Star game this past week, claiming home field advantage and the right to a home game seven should the need arise. This is welcome news for Rangers, Astros and to a lesser extent Mariners fans. In terms of baseball that affects the standings not a lot has changed from last week with each team only playing one series. Even with only three games to work with the Astros were able to move one game closer to the division lead and Los Angeles rode a sweep of the Chicago White Sox to a tie at the bottom.

AL West Current Standings

Team

Wins

Losses

GB

Texas

55

38

-

Houston

50

42

4.5

Seattle

46

46

8.5

Oakland

40

52

14.5

Los Angeles

40

52

14.5


The last month of our trend lines shows that the Astros and Rangers remain on a collision course set to culminate in early August. The timing couldn’t be better either with the first series of the second half between the two Texas teams set to occur August 5-7. If both teams remain on their current trajectory, the division lead could very well be up for grabs. Looking at the rest of the division, the state of California continues to battle it out at the bottom and Seattle continues its courtship of the .500 line for another week.


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

1. Texas Rangers (1-2)

In our highlighted matchup from a week ago, two teams that stumbled into the break looked to reestablish their winning ways to start the second half. The Chicago Cubs came out on top after taking the first two games, but the Rangers battled back to avoid the sweep behind a strong effort from Cole Hamels. Over the course of their two losses, the Rangers struggled on the offensive side only registering one run. The one run came home in interesting fashion as Ryan Rua scored from second on an infield single thanks to an Anthony Rizzo off line throw.

Rangers’ fans had to be pleased with the early results from Yu Darvish, who threw 90 pitches Saturday. More importantly Darvish experienced no discomfort the following day. Darvish only managed to make it through 4 1/3 innings, but managed to strike out nine Cubs. The other half of what is supposed to be a two headed monster atop the Texas rotation came through in a big way Sunday, as Hamels went eight innings strong allowing a single run while striking out seven.

Next up on their cross country road trip, the Rangers will head to Los Angeles to face the Angels for three before heading to Kansas City over the weekend.

2. Houston Astros (2-1)

Picking up right where they left off before the break the Astros headed out to Seattle and promptly took two of three to claim their fifth straight series win within the AL West. The Astros now sit at 23-19 within the division despite the rough 1-9 start against the Rangers.

In game one, the Astros offense came through early and often in support of Doug Fister who claimed his ninth win of 2016. George Springer made sure the Astros got off on the right foot by launching a lead off home run to open the second half. To follow that up, Houston went on to plate five runs in the fifth inning culminated by Carlos Correa scoring from second on a wild pitch. The bullpen shut things down from that point giving Houston the 7-3 win.

Game two saw the offense completely disappear as the Astros were shutout. Lance McCullers did all that he could to keep hopes alive, pitching 5 1/3 inning of one run baseball. The bullpen also looked sharp, as Pat Neshek, Scott Feldman and Tony Sipp closed things out with 2 2/3 scoreless innings.

With the series on the line, the Astros put everything together for an 8-1 start to finish win. Offensively the Astros did most of their damage with the long ball behind a Jose Altuve second inning two run home run and a seventh inning grand slam off the bat of Carlos Gomez. The grand slam was the fifth of the year for Houston. On the mound, Colin McHugh shut things down to make for a comfortable Sunday afternoon win. McHugh managed six scoreless frames and ten strike outs and has now lowered his season ERA to 4.25 thanks to quality starts in five of his last six starts.

Houston will remain in the division in week 16, as they head to the Coliseum to face Oakland in a three game set before returning home to welcome the Angels to Minute Maid Park for three.

3. Seattle Mariners (1-2)

As noted above, the Mariners lost a home series to Houston. Lets quickly highlight a couple of performances of note from the Mariners side of things. In the lone win of the series Hisashi Iwakuma did the heavy lifting, posting seven scoreless innings and eight strikeouts. The bullpen combo of Edwin Diaz and Steve Cishek completed the shutout, both pitching a scoreless frame and collecting two strikeouts.

On the injury front, the Mariners lost both Ketel Marte and Nelson Cruz Friday night. Marte injured his ankle sliding into third base and Cruz fouled a ball off the top of his left foot. Both players were able to return to play Sunday after sitting out Saturday’s contest.

Next week the Mariners will face the Chicago White Sox at home before heading to Canada to face a strong Toronto Blue Jays squad. More importantly the Mariners will welcome back Felix Hernandez to the rotation, as he is slated to start Wednesday’s game against Chicago.

4. Oakland A’s (2-1)

In a series that saw three competitive games, Oakland managed to take two of three from Toronto. While the Athletics couldn’t complete the sweep, they have to be pleased with a series win against a hot Toronto team.

Game one required the help of replay, as Josh Reddick scored the tie-breaking run in the seventh inning, but was originally called out at the plate. The call was overturned handing Oakland the 8-7 lead that they would ultimately win by. The offense was buoyed by three home runs, one each by Reddick, Khris Davis and Stephen Vogt.

In the second game of the series Oakland once again relied on the home run, as they launched three for the second consecutive game. The three home runs accounted for all five Oakland runs. After hitting one in the series opener, Davis managed two Saturday. The big hit of the night, though, came from rookie Ryon Healy, who launched a three run homer in the second inning for his first major league hit.

Toronto avoided the sweep by winning the final game of the series 5-3 thanks to a Josh Donaldson two run double in the top of the ninth. The biggest development of the day, though, came when Rich Hill had to be removed after just five pitches due to a blister. Not an ideal time to be pulled from a start, as Hill figures to be one of the more in demand trade chips over the next couple of weeks.

The Athletics will stay at home for week 16, welcoming Houston for three before facing Tampa Bay in a four game weekend set.

4. Los Angeles Angels (3-0)

The Los Angeles pitching staff was in rare form, as the Angels swept aside the Chicago White Sox in a three game set. Over the course of the weekend Angel’s pitchers only surrendered one run, outscoring Chicago 16-1.

Hector Santiago got things started on Friday by registering seven shutout innings behind seven strikeouts and zero walks. Matt Shoemaker quickly showed up his rotation mate by going the distance Saturday. The complete game was the first of Shoemaker’s career and was a thing of beauty. Shoemaker scattered six hits, while registering 13 strikeouts. The Angels needed every bit of Shoemaker’s performance too, as they were only able to muster a single run.

In Sunday’s game, Jared Weaver snapped the Angels 20 inning scoreless streak when he gave up a run scoring double to Adam Eaton in the third inning. Albert Pujols made sure the run didn’t come back to bite the Angels by launching two home runs on the day on the way to an 8-1 Angels win. Weaver settled in as well going on to pitch seven innings while allowing the single run.

Looking ahead to next week, the Angels pitching staff will be tested with three games against the Rangers and three games in Houston.

Down on the Farm:

While not technically "down on the farm" this week I thought it pertinent to take a quick look around the division at the top trade chips/needs as we approach the trade deadline. Over the next couple of weeks we will be breaking down the minor league impact of any trades made, but in preparation for that here is what to watch for:

Oakland: The Athletics will be looking to unload veterans at the trade deadline in an effort to curb payroll and restock the farm. Rich Hill headlines the available pieces that Oakland will be looking to move, but with Ryon Healy being named the starting third baseman Danny Valencia may be on the way out as well. Other names of interest may include center fielder Coco Crisp, right fielder Josh Reddick and closer Ryan Madson.

Los Angeles: The Angels find themselves in a position to sell at the deadline and have a few notable names that have already drawn interest. The three names bandied about most frequently these days have been relief pitcher Joe Smith, third baseman Yunel Escobar and starting pitcher Matt Shoemaker. Shoemaker may hold the most value, but as a cost controlled and effective pitcher, the Angles may be hesitant to move him given the overall state of their pitching staff now and looking forward.

Seattle: The Mariners find themselves in a weird spot, as they are not built to truly be sellers nor are they at a spot to justify going all in and spending big at the deadline. Look for Seattle to work both sides of the trade deadline fence and only go big one way or the other if a deal for controllable major league talent falls in their laps.

Texas: If you haven't heard, the Rangers could use some pitching help. The question is whether that help comes internally or from the trade market. With Houston starting to put the pressure on, I expect the Rangers to go both routes to fortify their pitching staff. Look for the Rangers to explore the market for both a closer and a controllable starting pitcher. Recent rumors have Texas linked to Tampa Bay starter Matt Moore now that Boston has already pounced for Drew Pomeranz.

Houston: With the signing of Yulieksi Gurriel and the presence of Alex Bregman in Fresno, don’t expect the Astros to make a move for any offensive help. While Houston is sitting in the usual spot of a buyer, it has been rumored that the Astros have made Scott Feldman, Josh Fields and Pat Neshek available. The Astros could also be looking to add a LOOGY and starting pitching. All in all it looks like the Astros will refrain from any major moves while possibly working both sides of the trade deadline for some minor transactions aiming to round out the roster for the playoff push.

Series of the Week:

Seattle Mariners at Toronto Blue Jays – Friday, July 22nd – Sunday, July 24th

The Rangers weekend series in Kansas City should also prove entertaining and is worth a look if you have the time, but the matchup of the week has to be the Mariners heading to Canada to take on a surging Toronto team. If Seattle fails to put together a strong week the Mariners may very well find themselves more than ten games out and in a position to sell off impending free agents at the deadline as they turn their attention to 2017.

Pitching Matchups:

This week has a bunch of intriguing pitching matchups, so instead of digging in deep let’s quickly highlight a handful of matchups you may want to tune in for.

Wade LeBlanc (1-0) vs Chris Sale (14-3) – Monday, July 18th

Any time Sale is on the schedule it is worth tuning in to watch.

Felix Hernandez (4-4) vs Miguel Gonzalez (2-5) – Wednesday, July 20th

The return of Hernandez could do wonders for the Seattle outlook as they are quickly finding themselves out of the playoff race. If the Mariners want to stand any chance of making a run this year then Hernandez and fellow injured starter Taijuan Walker will have to come back and regain peak form in a hurry.

Sony Gray (4-8) vs Matt Moore (5-7) – Thursday, July 21st

Rich Hill (9-3) vs Jake Odorizzi (4-5) – Friday, July 22nd

Both Oakland and Tampa Bay have a number of interesting trade pieces and both of these matchups highlight that as all four starters have the potential to be on the move in coming days. Tune in to scout the starting pitching market, as any of these four could be coming to a team near you and pitching meaningful innings in October.

Yu Darvish (2-1) at Danny Duffy (5-1) – Friday, July 22nd

The question here is how does Darvish look in his second game back? A healthy Darvish could do wonders for a struggling Rangers rotation and make a trade less pressing.

*Pitching matchups are based on ESPN projections and subject to change