Not a whole lot to say here, but man does it feel good to have a full slate of baseball to talk about. Looking at the standings, the Angels have the early lead, but with only roughly four percent of the season in the books the standings don’t hold a lot of weight. At the end of the day, though, these games matter just as much as game 162 and we’ve seen in the past few years how thin the line between playing October baseball and sitting at home is.
With only one data point in the books it doesn’t make sense to bust out the charts quite yet, so the trend chart will return after week five.
Now for our weekly trip around the division to catch up on the happenings for each team in the AL West:
1. Los Angeles Angels (5-2)
It’s early, but don’t tell the Angels that. After splitting their opening four game set in Oakland, the Angels went on to sweep the Mariners and are feeling pretty good about the way things are playing out so far.
The Angles ended the week on a high note thanks to an amazing finish on Sunday and that is where we will turn our attention this morning. Down 9-3 headed to the bottom of the ninth, the Angels looked dead in the water.
Albert Pujols had other plans, though, opening up the inning with a deep shot to center field. Pujols 592nd home run seemed destined to be the silver lining of a blowout loss to end the week, but instead it served to spark the Angels offense. Still down five the next eight at bats proceeded as follows: walk, single, walk, RBI groundout, strikeout, double, walk and walk again. So, two hits and four walks later Pujols returned to the plate. With two outs and the game on the line, Pujols did what he has been doing for the better part of two decades, smoking a game tying single through the right side of the infield. Cliff Pennington then wrapped things up with a single off the right field wall to score Mike Trout, the SEVENTH run of the inning and the game winner!
Looking ahead to week two, the Angels will look to keep the good times rolling with a home series against Texas and a weekend trip out to Kansas City.
2. Houston Astros (4-3)
Opening up with a seven game home stand, the Astros would have loved to show off the offensive firepower that the revamped lineup projects to put up over the course of the season, but it wasn’t to be, as a pitching staff that many questioned entering the year carried the bulk of the weight in week one. The Astros are not the only team slumping at the plate to start the year, as the highly touted lineups in Toronto, Baltimore and Boston all join the Astros in the bottom third or the league offensively after one week of games.
The lack of runs doesn’t mean the Astros haven’t seen some early fireworks, though. The Astros are tied with the Rangers for the league lead having hit 11 home runs already. Sadly, 9 of the 11 home runs have been of the solo variety. Part of that can be attributed to George Springer, who has hit a lead-off home run three times through the first seven games.
On the pitching front Dallas Keuchel has looked more like his 2015 self posting a 0.64 ERA through two starts, while Chris Devenski has looked downright filthy in two long relief appearances, posting 14 strikeouts over eight innings. Devinski’s ability to pitch extended innings late has been a real weapon and can largely be attributed to Houston’s 2-0 record in extra-inning games. Overall, the pitching staff holds a 2.83 ERA seven games into 2017. If that level of pitching holds up the Astros will be hard to beat.
The Astros will hit the road for week two, heading to Seattle for a quick rematch to kick off the week before moving down the coast to Oakland for a three game weekend set.
3. Oakland Athletics (3-4)
The Athletics got a bit of a mixed bag to open the season, splitting an opening series with the Angels before dropping two of three in Arlington. The only team in the division that doesn’t project to at least contend for a playoff spot this year, the Athletics still have a number of interesting young pieces that could surprise in 2017.
Of note from the young arms in particular, Kendall Graveman who is serving as the de facto ace with Sony Gray out took a no hitter into the seventh on Saturday against the Rangers. Graveman also posted six strong innings on opening day and now sits 2-0 after just a week of baseball. Andrew Triggs also posted a solid debut with five and two thirds shutout innings.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sean Manaea has been roughed up a couple of times already allowing ten runs (nine earned) through two starts. The rest of the young guns followed Manaea’s lead, with Jharel Cotton surrendering five runs and failing to get through five and Raul Alcantara getting hammered for eight earned runs in only two innings in his lone start.
The Athletics hit the road in week two for three in Kansas City before returning home to welcome the Astros to the Coliseum for the weekend.
4. Texas Rangers (2-4)
The Rangers opened the season with the tall task of facing off against the defending AL champion Cleveland Indians. On top of an already loaded roster the Indians went out and got Edwin Encarnacion in the off season and welcome back Michael Brantley from an extended injury absence to further strengthen their standing as the class of the AL.
The Rangers looked to be up to the task for most of the series, but just couldn’t seem to find answers at the back end of the bullpen, giving up late leads twice on the way to getting swept to open the season. Most noteworthy, the Indians scored seven unanswered on opening day at Globe Life Park punctuated by an Encarnacion game tying home run in the eighth and a three run effort in the top of the ninth off of Sam Dyson. Game three of the series was even harder to swallow, as Dyson once again fell flat, this time surrendering five runs in the ninth inning. Highlighting the collapse was a grand slam off the bat of Francisco Lindor.
The Rangers rebounded to take two of three from the Athletics over the weekend.
In week two, the Rangers will head out on the road for the first time, heading west to face the Angels and Mariners for three apiece.
5. Seattle Mariners (1-6)
Seattle fans are hoping to hit the reset button in week two following about as frustrating a week as you can get to open the season.
The Mariners failed to score more than four runs in any of their first six games, then proceeded to explode for nine Sunday afternoon only to cough up a six run lead in the ninth. On the pitching front things actually looked pretty good, as the Mariners had a legitimate shot late almost every night, losing by one run three separate times, including two walk-offs.
The Mariners will need to kick things into gear quickly, as they stay within the division again in week two, welcoming the Astros and Rangers to Safeco for three apiece.
Down on the Farm:
After trading away Taijuan Walker during the offseason and Drew Smyly hitting the DL already the Mariners may be looking for pitching help sooner rather than later…
With that in mind we turn our attention to the Seattle farm system and their number five prospect, right hander Andrew Moore. Moore made quite the impression as the opening day starter for the Mariner’s Double-A affiliate, carrying a no hitter into the sixth. Drafted with a compensation pick in 2015 out of Oregon State, Moore had an impressive showing in his first full year in the minors posting 2.65 ERA between two leagues.
Ultimately, Moore projects to the back end of the rotation, as he lacks the size and overpowering stuff of a front of the rotation type. Still, with a good feel for pitching, a low 90s fastball and a nice mix of secondary offerings (curve, slider and change) Moore should be in Seattle by 2018 with an outside chance of making a difference in the second half of this season.
Series to Watch:
Texas Rangers at Seattle Mariners - Friday, April 14th – Sunday, April 16th
While the typical early season sample size caveat applies to records as much as it does statistics it is never too early to focus in on a big divisional series. Neither the Mariners nor the Rangers got off to the start they were hoping for in week one, but with divisional games on tap all week for both squads the standings could flip quickly or find one team in an early hole.
Top Pitching Matchups:
Chris Sale at Justin Verlander – Monday, April 10th
While not an AL West battle, Monday’s matchup in Detroit pits two of the leading Cy Young candidates and best pitchers in the game against each other. There may not be many runs scored in this one, but it could be an incredibly entertaining duel nonetheless.
Lance McCullers at Sean Manaea – Saturday, April 15th
The middle game of the weekend series in Oakland is the one to watch, as a pair of pitchers from the 25 and under club will take the mound. Both pitchers have shown electric stuff in the past, but also some consistency issues, so tune in to see which version of the young pitchers show up for this one.
Cole Hamels at James Paxton – Sunday, April 16th
To wrap up week two the game to watch on Sunday is in Seattle as Cole Hamels and James Paxton take the field. As noted in our series of the week this entire series could be pivotal for both teams looking to avoid an early season hole and it’s hard to see either team being too confident in taking the series without getting this one.