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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A Weekly AL West Roundup, Week 16

Another week, another two games closer, as the Astros continue to put the pressure on the division leading Rangers.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing moved in terms of actual positioning in the AL West, but the race has gotten tighter. The AL East is shaping up to easily be the most entertaining race down the stretch with Baltimore, Boston and Toronto all believing they can and will win the division, but the AL West is quickly entering the same discussion, as Houston is within a series of catching the Rangers and Seattle is finding their groove again.

AL West Current Standings

Team

Wins

Losses

GB

Texas

57

42

-

Houston

54

44

2.5

Seattle

50

48

6.5

Oakland

45

54

12

Los Angeles

43

55

13.5


Looking at the overall trends, Oakland had a second consecutive strong week putting them at their highest position since week 10 and the Angels leveled out (thanks to another Astros sweep) after a hot start to the second half. At the top of the division, it still looks like we are in for a Texas sized collision in early August. If the current pace continues, the Rangers may very well find themselves in second place heading into the next Texas showdown (Aug. 5-7).

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

1. Texas Rangers (2-4)

Is it time to panic?

No, not yet, but at 6-13 in July the Rangers have to be feeling the pressure. Look for the Rangers to make some moves this week as they look to revamp their pitching staff and find a spark for a scuffling roster.

This past week marked the fourth straight losing week for Texas, a troubling trend, but things may be turning around thanks to a pair of weekend wins in Kansas City. The week started off the way most of July has gone with a three game sweep in Los Angeles. The sweep can be attributed primarily to further pitching struggles, as the Angles managed to score at least seven runs in all three games. The weekend started in much the same way, as the Rangers dropped their first game in Kansas City, unable to capitalize on a strong start from Yu Darvish.

Already 0-4 on the week, the Rangers turned to their staff ace Cole Hamels to stop the bleeding. Hamels did just that as he gave Texas 5 1/3 scoreless innings. While he successfully kept the Royals off the board, Hamels struggled with his efficiency and forced Jeff Bannister to turn to the bullpen earlier than he would have liked. The bullpen did their job closing the door and claiming the win for the Rangers at 7-4. Not everything was smooth sailing, though as the Rangers had to overcome the continued struggles of Shawn Tolleson who gave up three ninth inning runs. A.J. Griffin was able to grab the rubber game for Texas on Sunday, their first series win of the month.

Looking ahead, the Rangers are headed home for a three game set with Oakland and then welcome the Royals to Globe Life Park for a four game weekend series.

2. Houston Astros (4-2)

Another winning week makes it six in a row for the Astros. Oh and reinforcements are on the way in the form of Alex Bregman! Happy Monday Astros fans, let’s hope next week’s recap has Houston on top of the division.

Let’s look a little deeper at how the Astros performed in week 15. Houston stumbled out of the gate, dropping the first two games in Oakland. In game one, Oakland stormed out to a big lead behind a five run fifth inning thanks in large part to the inability of Mike Fiers and Michael Feliz to find the strikezone. In the inning, the Fiers and Feliz combo issued five walks, two of which pushed runs across ultimately burying the Astros. Game two looked better, as the Astros held a 3-0 lead heading into the seventh inning, but things fell apart from there with the Athletics plating two in the seventh and one in the ninth to force extras. Once in extras, Oakland promptly scored one in the tenth to walk off with the win and the series. The Astros avoided the sweep by grabbing game three behind a shutout performance from Doug Fister and Chris Devenski.

If the Oakland series was frustrating, the Angels series sure made up for everything, as the Astros continued their dominance of their Los Angeles counterparts running their winning streak against the Angels to 11 games. The highlight of game one had to be Lance McCullers, who pitched into the ninth giving up one run and striking out ten. Of his ten strikeouts, three came against the reigning MVP Mike Trout. Game two saw Evan Gattis break out on Gattis yard gnome night and carry the offense to the win. Gattis collected two home runs pushing his season total to 15. In the final game of the week, the Astros absolutely ambushed Tim Lincecum, plating eight runs by the end of the second inning. Ultimately, the Astros finished the day with 13 runs on the back of five home runs. Jose Altuve launched two home runs, while Preston Tucker, Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena added one each. Can the Astros just play the Angels every week?

In the upcoming week, all eyes will be on Bregman as he prepares to make his major league debut. Bregman and the Astros will be facing off against the New York Yankees in Houston for three before heading to Detroit for a weekend series.

3. Seattle Mariners (4-2)

Seattle grabbed a couple of series wins during the past week, taking two of three against the Chicago White Sox and in Toronto against the Blue Jays.

In the Chicago Series, things didn’t start off very well, as Chris Sale twirled a masterful eight innings of shutout baseball. The Mariners jumped on White Sox closer David Robertson for four runs in the ninth inning though, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Adam Lind delivered the final blow, launching a three run walk off home run to give the Mariners a 4-3 win. Jose Quintana silenced the Mariners bats in game two, as Chicago grabbed a 6-1 win. In the rubber match, Adam Lind provided late inning heroics again, sending the game to extra innings with an eighth inning solo home run. Leonys Martin was the one to walk it off this time adding a solo home run of his own in the bottom of the eleventh.

Heading to Toronto, the Mariners turned to James Paxton who delivered seven strong innings, giving up one run and striking out nine on the way to a 2-1 Seattle win. While the first game was a pitcher’s duel, the Seattle offense exploded in game two plating 14 runs behind a monster two homer seven RBI day from Nelson Cruz. The Mariners probably wish they could have saved some of that run production for Sunday’s game, as they got shut out by J.A. Happ and the Toronto bullpen.

Hoping to build off of a strong week, the Mariners will hit the road and head east to face the Pittsburgh Pirates in a quick two game set before moseying on over to Chicago for a three game weekend set at Wrigley.

4. Oakland A’s (5-2)

As the trade deadline approaches, you expect the focus in Oakland to shift toward the future, but man the present sure looked good in week 15. As we already highlighted above, Oakland welcomed the Astros to town with two wins to kick off the week before dropping the final game of the series. The Athletics then went on to drop game one against Tampa Bay before grabbing the final three games of the four game, giving Oakland their first five win week of the season.

Breaking down the Rays series, the Athletics struggled to put up runs, as all of their offense came on a Jake Smolinski three run home run in the second inning. Game two was the pitcher’s duel of all pitcher’s duels, as the game remained scoreless into the 13th inning when Coco Crisp singled in the only run of the game. The starters, Sean Manaea and Jake Odorizzi posted nearly identical lines, as both pitched eight innings of shutout baseball. Saturday and Sunday saw Oakland grab a couple of one run wins behind late home runs. Saturday saw a pair of homeruns, one each from Smolinski and Ryan Healy, give starting pitcher Kendal Graveman the complete game win. Sunday, Billy Butler played hero with an eighth inning solo home run that ultimately proved to be the game winner.

Coming off of their best week of 2016, Oakland will hit the road for a tough week. The Athletics will first head off to Texas to face the Rangers and then follow that up with a weekend series in Cleveland. A month ago this may have been one of the toughest slates in baseball, but in recent weeks both Cleveland and Texas have struggled to differing degrees going 4-6 and 3-7 in their last ten games respectively.

5. Los Angeles Angels (3-3)

As is often the case with the fifth place team, we have already broken down both series for the Angels, so there is not a lot to add here. It was a tale of two series, as Los Angeles bull rushed the Rangers pitching staff to start the week and grab the sweep at home, only to turn around and get shutdown in Houston.

The Angels will look to get back on track and build on a strong start to the second half, but it will not be easy as they head to Kansas City for a three game set before welcoming the Red Sox to Los Angeles for four games over the weekend.

Down on the Farm:

Not prototypical sellers nor your typical buyers the Mariners found themselves in an interesting position as the trade deadline quickly approached. Jerry Dipoto didn’t panic though and seems to have successfully made a move that could help today, but should definitely provide value down the line. And just like that we have our first trade to discuss in the AL West. This past week, the Mariners agreed to a deal that would send reliever Mike Montgomery and Triple-A pitcher Jordan Pries to Chicago. In return, the Cubs sent Triple-A DH/1B Dan Vogelbach and Double-A pitcher Paul Blackburn to Seattle. Lets dig into what we can expect going forward for the two new Mariner farmhands.

Dan Vogelbach, 1B:

At 23 years old, the first baseman provides very little on the defensive front and should ultimately find himself in a DH role as he ages and settles into a major league role. With little to no defensive value, Vogelbach will have to provide some serious offensive firepower to stick long term. To his credit, he has shown just that over his time in the minors and currently sits with a 67/55 K/BB ratio, 16 home runs and a slash line of .318/.425/.548 in Triple-A this year. Look for Vogelbach’s bat to get him an audition with the Mariners by spring training 2017 at the latest.

Paul Blackburn, RHP:

Blackburn is definitely the lesser known of the prospects coming back in the trade, but at 22-years old the right hander has found success in the upper minors already. In just over 100 innings this season Blackburn has compiled a 3.14 ERA with peripheral to back up his success. Unfortunately, the numbers and projections do not foretell a difference making career for Balckburn. We all know that prospects can turn in to valuable pieces even without overpowering stuff, but it shouldn’t be the expectation. So, with that said, look for Blackburn to ultimately transition to the pen in order to get his opportunity in Seattle.

Series of the Week:

Seattle Mariners at Chicago Cubs – Friday, July 29th - Sunday, July 31st

The big series of the week is once again in Chicago (as it was most recently in week 14) with the Mariners trying to get hot in time for one last charge up the standings. With a tough week on slate, Seattle will really need a complete team performance to stay alive in the AL West race. Anything less than a 3-2 week for the Mariners may very well put them close to 10 games back in the standings and scrambling to sell off some aging contracts right before the deadline.

Pitching Matchups:

For the second week in a row we have a number of big time pitching matchups on the docket, so we are expanding from our usual three matchups to highlight a fourth game you should tune into.

Lance McCullers (5-4) vs Masahiro Tanaka (7-2) – Wednesday, July 27th


McCullers absolutely dominated in his most recent start and will look to continue his brilliance at Minute Maid Park with a start against the New York Yankees Wednesday night. Taking the hill for the Yankees will be Tanaka who owns a 3.00 ERA on the year. Tanaka has struggled against the Astros in his two career starts, though, getting knocked around to the tune of a 6.75 ERA.

Hisashi Iwakuma (11-6) at Jon Lester (10-4) – Friday, July 29th

In our series of the week, arguably the biggest individual pitching matchup has to be Iwakuma against Lester. The two veterans come in with various levels of success, as Lester has pitched to a 3.09 ERA, while Iwakuma sports a 3.95 ERA on the year. While Iwakuma doesn’t sport the same level of performance as Lester, the Mariners starter has been brilliant over the last month pitching to a 2.51 ERA in five starts.

Rich Hill (9-3) at Trevor Bauer (7-4) – Friday, July 29th

In what should be Hill’s last start in an Oakland uniform (at least in 2016) he will face off against a strong Cleveland lineup. Look for Hill to rebound after being lifted from his most recent start with a blister. On the other side, Bauer has found success in his age 25 season, pitching to a 3.65 ERA.

Dallas Keuchel (6-9) at Justin Verlander (9-6) – Sunday, July 31st

Two veterans who seem to have found their mojo will face off in the Sunday finale in Detroit. While I’m sure you are aware of Keuchel’s recent resurgence, as he claims a 2.33 ERA in three July starts. You may be less aware of the strong season that Verlander has put together. For starters Verlander has a strong 3.74 ERA, but more impressively he has a 9.5 K/9 rate, the second highest rate of his long career.