After six weeks, the Astros are the only team sitting above .500 in the AL West, positioning them with a comfortable 7.5 game lead at this early juncture. The Rangers took advantage of a weaker portion of their schedule to climb into the second position and take a six game winning streak into week seven. Outside of Houston, the rest of the AL West is grouped within one loss of each other in the standings making for a lot of week to week jockeying for position.
Looking at the trends, the Astros continue to climb having posted at least a .500 record in every week thus far. Seattle continues to tread water just below the zero line, as they attempt to weather the storm of pitching injuries. Texas posted only their second winning week of the season in week six and will look to finally post a winning record for 2017 in the coming week.
Now, 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 (5-1)
With two and four game series on the schedule, the Astros were put in a tough spot when it came to continuing to win series in week six, but not even the scheduling quirk could slow down the Astros as they posted their fourth and fifth consecutive series wins. The week started out with a pretty straight forward sweep of the offensively challenged Atlanta Braves as Houston managed 8-3 and 4-2 wins.
The big series of the week was in New York, though, as the Astros hit the road to face off against the Yankees for American League supremacy. The Astros got off to a hot start in New York, as Dallas Keuchel tossed six scoreless innings on the way to a 3-2 victory. On an even bigger note, Keuchel struck out nine for the second time in three games. Game two was more of the same, as Lance McCullers matched Keuchel with six scoreless innings of his own and seven strikeouts to zero walks. The Yankees got an assist from Mother Nature on Saturday, as rain postponed game three, setting up a Sunday double header for Derek Jeter’s number retirement ceremony. Sunday was a tale of two games, as the Yankees took game three behind a big six run seventh inning, while the Astros answered by taking game four and the series behind a six run first inning off of Masahiro Tanaka.
The Astros find themselves on ESPN for a second night in a row Monday, as they head off to Miami for a three game series. After their trip to Miami, Houston will return home for an off day Thursday before facing off against the Cleveland Indians over the weekend.
2. Texas Rangers (6-1)
Week six brought a weaker section of the schedule to the Rangers, as they played in a home and home four game set with San Diego before welcoming Oakland to Globe Life over the weekend. After dropping the first game of the week in San Diego, the Rangers turned things around to the tune of six consecutive wins.
Lost in the early season struggles of the bullpen and Cole Hamel’s injury is the impressive success the Rangers have been getting from their starters. With 39 starts in the books, the Rangers starters hold a combined 3.44 ERA behind only the Rays and Cardinals at 3.38 and 3.42 respectively. The entire AL West actually ranks in the top half of the league in starter ERA, which came as a surprise with all the injuries the division has seen at the position. The underlying stats are not kind, though, as the Rangers hold a 4.75 FIP and matching 4.70 xFIP.
Heading into week seven the Rangers will look to keep climbing and break over the .500 mark with a home series against the Phillies and a road set in Detroit.
3. Los Angeles Angels (3-4)
The Angels had a back and forth week failing to win consecutive games, but still managing a 3-4 week. Things got started with a walk off loss in Oakland, the Athletics third straight walk off. The Angels rebounded to take game two, but failed to secure the series, dropping game three 3-1.
After losing the series in Oakland, the Angels returned home for a four game series with the Detroit Tigers. The series went back and forth much like the Angels week, losing game one, winning game two, losing game three and ultimately winning game four to grab the split. Even the score lines were similar as the cumulative score for the series was 15-12. Of note, Mike Trout looks to be over his hamstring issue having homered in three straight games to end the week after sitting out since May 5th. Unfortunately, as the Angels got Trout back they lost another position player to hamstring troubles with Yunel Escobar hitting the DL. Escobar is expected to miss 2-4 weeks, while Luis Valbuena should fill in at 3B for the time being.
4. Seattle Mariners (2-4)
The frustration continued for Mariners fans in week six, as a promising week turned sour, as the offense went cold in Toronto. On the road all week, the Mariners opened things up with a two game sweep in Philadelphia behind a 21 run outburst.
The good times came to a screeching halt when the Mariners made it to Toronto, as the Blue Jays pulled off the rare four game sweep. Seattle never really got close until game four even, even getting shut out in game two behind a complete game by the Toronto bullpen. Joe Biagini technically started, but had been predominantly used as a reliever in 2017 until the past week. Game four saw things get close, but a Kevin Pillar walk off home run in the ninth buried Seattle for good. On the series the Mariners managed six total runs, a stark contrast to the 21 runs they dropped on Philly.
The Mariners will continue their search for consistency in week seven as they return home to welcome Oakland for three and the White Sox for four.
5. Oakland Athletics (2-4)
For every team that goes on a winning streak (Texas), there has to be someone else on the other side of the ledger. For Oakland fans that just happened to be them in week six. After winning the series against Los Angeles, as noted above, things turned sour during their trip to Texas. Oakland saw their luck run out, as they dropped all three games in Texas with the last two being by a single run.
From a roster standpoint, Oakland made a big move Thursday, sending Jharel Cotton to Triple-A Nashville. Cotton came into the season hyped as one of 2017’s top breakout candidates, but after a little over a month Cotton held a 5.68 ERA. On top of the rough ERA, Cotton had started to struggle with the long ball in recent days giving up five home runs over his last two starts. To replace Cotton in the rotation, the Athletics expect to have Sean Manaea return for Monday’s game in Seattle.
Looking at the schedule, the Athletics will wrap up the road trip with three games in Seattle to start the week before returning home for a four game set with the Boston Red Sox over the weekend.
Down on the Farm:
Normally, this section is reserved for taking a look at unheralded prospects or new faces on the AL West farm system, but today let’s take a look back at a couple of prospects no longer in the division. The Rangers have won the division each of the past couple of seasons and swung some big midseason trades to bolster their roster for October. Last season saw the Rangers acquire Jonathan Lucroy for Lew Brinson, Luis Ortiz and Ryan Cordell.
A quick look at the prospects that were sent to Milwaukee, may make Rangers fans uncomfortable, as Lucroy’s free agency looms. Brinson has been scorching to start the year, racking up a .327/.398/.515 line along with four home runs and five stolen bases. On top of the offensive output, Brinson continues to excel in centerfield and looks destined to break through with the Brewers later this year. Ortiz has also gotten off to a hot start, posting a 3.00 ERA for Milwaukee’s AA affiliate while striking out 27 in 30 innings. Even Cordell has come out of the gates hot, as the 25 year old has posted a .325/.400/.581 line with six home runs and five stolen bases. Cordell could find a utility role with the Brewers later this year, as he has experience at every spot in the outfield as well as first and third base.
Obviously, to acquire a player of Lucroy’s talent any team would expect to give up some minor league talent, but Milwaukee looks primed to cash in quickly on last season’s deal.
Series of the Week:
Cleveland Indians at Houston Astros – Friday, May 19th-Sunday, May 21st
For the second week in a row, the Astros will take part in the marquee matchup of the weekend. In round one the Astros got the better of the New York Yankees, but round two may prove a tough task as the Indians come to town. The pitching rotations are not lined up for success, with Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers set to miss the series, while Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are set to take the hill for the visiting Indians. A series win here would be a major statement by the Astros.
Chris Archer (3-1, 3.04 ERA) at Carlos Carrasco (4-2, 1.86 ERA) – Monday, May 15th
Opening the week, the big matchup comes outside the division with a pair of aces matched up in Cleveland. For the Rays, Archer is coming off of consecutive 11 strikeout games and outside of a rough start in Baltimore (3 HRs) has done a much better job of keeping the ball in the yard in 2017. On the other side of the matchup, Carrasco carries a sub-2 ERA and has a streak of six consecutive quality starts to his name.
Clayton Kershaw (6-2, 2.43 ERA) at Johnny Cueto (4-2, 4.15 ERA) – Wednesday, May 17th
One of the better rivalries in baseball pairs a couple of teams headed in opposite directions in 2017. The Giants enter the week with a three game winning streak to their name, but sit only a game ahead of Sand Diego at the bottom of the NL West. The Dodgers on the other hand have used a hot stretch to get within a game and a half of Colorado for the division lead. Wednesday’s game matches up future hall of famer Clayton Kershaw with the current staff ace in San Francisco in Cueto.
Chris Sale (4-2, 2.15 ERA) vs Sonny Gray (0-1, 3.78 ERA) – Thursday, May 18th
Finally, for the Astros off day, the pitching matchup to watch is at Fenway as the Oakland Athletics have the unenviable task of figuring out Chris Sale who has struck out ten or more batters in seven straight games. On the other side of the ledger, Sony Gray looks to make his fourth start of the year coming off of his first quality start of the year. Gray provides a stark contrast in pitching style to Sale behind a ground ball heavy approach, having failed to strike out five in a single start this season.