Another week in the books and the Astros still sit atop the rankings. Here is to hoping I can leave that opening sentence alone for the rest of the season. Looking at the rest of the division the Athletics made a move above .500 thanks to a five game win streak mid-week, the Rangers carry a four game winning streak into week four and Los Angeles continues to fade after a strong opening week.
As we established last week the trend chart will return after week five so, with that in mind it is time for our weekly trip around the division to catch up on the happenings for each team in the AL West:
1. Houston Astros (13-6)
In week three, the Astros picked up series wins over the Angels and Rays on their way to a 5-2 week. To this point the only series that Astros have dropped was against the Royals in the season’s opening week. After an opening week that saw the pitching carry the load and a week two that was offensively fueled the Astros finally showed a little balance in week three.
In seven games the Astros held opponents to three or fewer runs four times, while the offense pushed at least three runs across five times.
On the offensive side, a number of guys found the seats for the first time in 2017 with Carlos Beltran, Evan Gattis and Jose Altuve launching their inaugural home runs of the season in Tampa Bay over the weekend.
From the pitching side, Charlie Morton opened the week by combining with the bullpen for the Astros second clean sheet of the season in a 3-0 win over the Angels. Perhaps equally impressive and of note though, was how Joe Musgrove ended the week. After allowing a four spot in the opening frame of Sunday’s game in Tampa Bay Musgrove settled in to give the Astros a chance. Things got bad enough in the opening frame, that Brad Peacock started to warm up in the bullpen in the first inning…but then the young right hander settled in and delivered an impressive bounce back. Joe went on to retire 14 of the next 15 Rays and somehow get through six innings. The offense rewarded Musgrove for his efforts clawing back to force extras and ultimately picking up the 6-4 win in ten innings.
The Astros stay on the road to open week four as they head to Cleveland for our series of the week. Following their heavy weight battle, the Astros will return home for a weekend matchup against Oakland.
2. Oakland Athletics (10-9)
The Athletics had a weird week, as they sandwiched a couple of truly ugly losses around a five game winning streak. To open things up Oakland managed to get shut out by an old friend and former A in A.J. Griffin. The loss pushed the Athletics’ losing streak to four games, but they rebounded to take the final two versus Texas and the first three against Seattle. On Sunday things turned ugly again, as the Mariners and Nelson Cruz exploded for a convincing 11-1 win.
During the win streak, the Athletics picked up big performances from their starting pitchers as Jesse Hahn and Sean Manaea both provided six innings of one run baseball, while Jharel Cotton and Andrew Triggs went six innings apiece and surrendered two runs. If you can consistently hand the ball to bullpen with two or fewer runs on the board after six you will win a lot of baseball games.
With the bats, the production was spread around, but Trevor Plouffe did homer in back to back games against Seattle to provide a boost.
Oakland may have had their winning streak snapped, but they will look to start a new one during a road trip that has them headed to face the Angels early in the week and Houston over the weekend.
3. Texas Rangers (9-10)
As mentioned above, A.J. Griffin got the best of his former team to open the week, combing with the bullpen to shut out the A’s. This was the Rangers first shutout victory of the year, but wouldn’t be their last of the week. Following the big shutout the Rangers faltered dropping the next two in Oakland to round out their west coast road trip with a 3-6 record.
Returning home to Globe Life Park in Arlington was just what the Rangers and apparently their pitching staff needed though, as the Rangers went on to sweep the four game set against the Kansas City Royals. The Royals had no answers for the Rangers pitching, scoring five runs over the four games. Most noteworthy was a 13 inning shutout Thursday night. Andrew Cashner went six innings, but even more impressive the maligned Rangers bullpen posted seven scoreless innings behind six different relief pitchers.
Perhaps it isn’t fair to characterize the entire bullpen as maligned or struggling, as Sam Dyson who is on the DL and Mike Hauschild who is now back in the Astros farm system were to blame for nearly all the late inning blowups. It will be interesting to see how the bullpen performs over the next couple of weeks without those two in the mix.
With a four game win streak to their name, the Rangers will look to keep the good times rolling at home, as they welcome Minnesota and Los Angeles to town for three apiece.
4. Los Angeles Angels (8-12)
Oh how quickly things can change. After starting the season 6-2 and jumping to the top of the AL West standings out of the gate, the Angels have now dropped 10 of 12 thanks to an anemic offense. After posting a run total above three only once in week two the Angles bats remained quiet only posting three such games over the last week. For a team with questions surrounding most of the pitching staff these offensive struggles cannot continue if they hope to remain in contention into the summer and the second half.
Speaking of the pitching staff, the news in Los Angeles has not been good recently, as Garrett Richards was placed on the 60-day disabled list without a firm timetable for return. To make matters worse, Cam Bedrosian joined fellow relievers Huston Street and Andrew Bailey on the disabled list, leaving the Angels without their top three relievers. So now missing their ace and the entire back end of their bullpen the Angels will need someone to step up and fill the gap.
As they look to right the ship, Los Angeles will wrap up a four game set against Toronto Monday night before Oakland comes to town for three. Finally, the Angels will hit the road for a divisional matchup in Arlington against the Rangers to close the week.
4. Seattle Mariners (8-12)
Right when you think the Mariners have turned a corner they drop three of four to Oakland and quickly find themselves back at the bottom of the division. After some early season struggles it looked like getting away from the Astros was all Seattle needed, posting back to back series wins over the Rangers and Marlins, but a trip to Oakland soured things and left Seattle still looking for answers.
Taking a quick peak at the Oakland series, James Paxton finally looked human and was knocked down a peg after giving up five earned runs and failing to get out of the fifth inning. Even still, Paxton holds a 1.78 ERA on the season and posted an 8:1 K:BB rate in the loss. Look for him to get back on track in week four.
After dropping the opening three games of the series in Oakland, Nelson Cruz decided he had enough and put the team on his back Sunday collecting five RBIs and scoring three runs thanks to a bases loaded walk, a three run home run and a run scoring double. Taylor Motter got in on the fun as well, blowing the game open with a third inning grand slam. Now to see if the Mariners can leverage their offensive outburst into a strong week four.
Seattle will continue to search for consistency and the upside everyone hoped for coming into the season as they hit the road to face off against the AL Central. The Mariners will head to Detroit first before facing Cleveland over the weeken
Down on the Farm:
The Astros are mere percentage points away from having the best winning percentage in baseball with their 13 wins and counting in April. The minor league teams have been following suit, as they have collected 39 wins tied for the tops in the majors. Of note Arizona is the other team with 39 and they have also seen some early success at the major league level with a 12-8 record.
Looking at the rest of the AL West, not all is lost in Seattle as at least their minor league system is producing early on. The same cannot be said for the rest of the division as Los Angeles sits below average, the Rangers barely avoid the bottom five and Oakland is only two wins separated from last place.
Now obviously wins are not everything at the minor league level as team focus on development and push prospects through the system at different paces, but count me in the camp that likes to see guys learn to win. I want to see our young hitters develop good plate discipline and the pitching staffs to pitch efficiently and learn about effective velocities, but more than anything else, I want all of our minor leaguers to develop a habit of winning.
Houston Astros at Cleveland Indians - Tuesday, April 25th – Thursday, April 27th
Cleveland will face off against the AL West all week, but the series to focus on has to be against the Astros. This series could foreshadow a potential AL playoff matchup or even AL Championship battle if things go as planned for both teams. Pitching set up nicely for this one for the Astros as the off day Monday allows them to trot out their 1-2-3 in Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton. The Indians are not quite as lucky with both Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar missing this series. Don’t count on things being easy for the Astros offense, though, as they still face Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. Kluber has a Cy Young to his name, but Bauer is the one who has truly baffled Astros hitters over the years. In five career starts against Houston, Bauer has a 1.97 ERA and has racked up 38 strikeouts.
Joe Ross (1-0, 3.86 ERA) at Tyler Anderson (1-3, 7.32)– Monday, April 24th
Monday is a light day of action with only nine games to choose from. With the Astros off I’ll be turning my attention to Colorado where two of the top teams in the league at this early juncture will face off. Ross will be making only his second start of the season, while Anderson has surrendered four runs or more in five or fewer innings in each of his first four starts. I’m looking for a lot of offense in Colorado with this matchup. The other option for top billing has the Los Angeles Dodgers headed to San Francisco in a matchup that has a history of getting tense.
James Paxton (2-0, 1.78 ERA) vs Daniel Norris (1-1, 3.71 ERA) – Wednesday, April 26th
In what seems to be our weekly look in on James Paxton, the lefty hurler has pulled another young up and coming opponent. After opening the season with three straight scoreless efforts, Paxton finally looked human surrendering five earned runs against Oakland in week two, but look for him to bounce back in Detroit. On the other side, Norris is only 23 years old and has looked it early. Norris has a pedestrian 11:9 K:BB rate in the early going and is looking to find a consistent rhythm on the big stage.
Masahiro Tanaka (2-1, 6.00 ERA) vs Chris Sale (1-1, 0.91 ERA) – Wednesday, April 26th
Chris Sale’s first taste of the Yankees in a Red Sox uniform should be a fun one. Sale cost the Red Sox a lot in the offseason, but in the early going he has been absolutely worth it posting great numbers including 42 strikeouts over his first four starts of the year. Tanaka makes for a worthy opponent on the others side of this matchup too. Don’t let his bloated ERA fool you as Tanaka has begun to round into form after giving up seven earned runs on opening day without even getting out of the third inning.
Jharel Cotton (2-2, 4.76 ERA) at Joe Musgrove (1-1, 5.91 ERA) – Friday, April 28th
Finally, I’ll leave you with another AL West matchup. Neither young pitcher in this matchup has seen the greatest results in the early going. Struggling to find consistency as a young pitcher is pretty standard, but this has the potential to be a matchup we see for the better part of the next decade.