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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A Weekly AL West Roundup, Week 7

The Rangers continues their steep ascent back into contention, while the Angels and Athletics also post winning weeks. 

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The story of the week has to be the Texas Rangers charge back into contention, closing the gap in the AL West down to 5.5 games heading into week eight. The Astros managed to avoid their first losing week of the season on the back of counterbalancing sweeps, but will need to get back on track with the rest of the AL West heating up and tightening the division race.

As our trend chart shows, the Astros still hold a healthy lead, but good teams respond to adversity and the way the Astros finish out this 10 game home stand will say a lot about the depth and mental toughness of this year’s squad. Of particular note on the trends, the rest of the division helped solidify the AL West’s reputation, as the Rangers broke above the .500 line for the first time all season and the Angels positioned themselves to make the same move in week eight.

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 (3-3)

A week of stark contrast, the Astros finished off an impressive road trip by sweeping a scuffling Miami Marlins team before returning home to get swept themselves. The weekend was even harsher than the sweep initially looks, as injury was added to insult with both Dallas Keuchel and Brian McCann finding themselves on the disabled list. Both guys look to return quickly as Keuchel is dealing with a pinched nerve and only expected to miss one start and McCann is only on the seven-day concussion DL. We will note that any time a concussion is involved it has the potential to linger and result in a prolonged absence, but let’s assume McCann won’t miss much more than a week.

Looking ahead the Astros will look to bounce back as they complete a rather challenging home stand with four games against the Detroit Tigers and three against the Baltimore Orioles.

2. Texas Rangers (5-1)

How quickly the tides seem to have changed in Arlington. With Cole Hamels on the DL, Rougned Odor and the offense sputtering and Sam Dyson full on imploding his way out of the closer role things looked bleak in April, but May has breathed fresh life into this team. The Rangers ended a 10-game winning streak Saturday with a loss to Detroit, but quickly rebounded to take the rubber game Sunday. With four straight series wins and wins in 11 of 12 the Rangers are the hottest team in baseball and that can predominantly be attributed to starting pitching. If you were just looking at the results, you would never have guessed that this team entered the season with real depth questions. To illustrate this, Texas ranks seventh in team ERA and registered nine quality starts during their winning streak.

The schedule takes a tougher turn in week eight, as the Rangers stay on the road for three in Boston and three in Toronto. If the Rangers win both of those series or even come away with a 3-3 record on the week they will have really made a statement during the month of May.

3. Los Angeles Angels (4-2)

At risk of sounding like a broken record, Mike Trout is leading the league in WAR (again…) and Albert Pujols is moving up the all-time offensive rankings when he can stay on the field. Trout’s consecutive games with a home run streak ended at four, but he now has 14 already, the highest mark he has posted by the end of May in his career (and he still has a week left to keep hitting them). Hell, the Mets even thought about intentionally walking him with the bases loaded this weekend.

Looking past Trout and his super human effort to carry the Angels on his own, Los Angeles was able to post a 4-2 record on the week behind an early week sweep of the White Sox and a sweep avoiding win Sunday afternoon against the Mets in New York. It is shaping up to be another wasted year of Trout’s prime, as the Angels look destined to loiter around .500 without a major shakeup.

Week eight see the Angels continue an east coast road trip with seven games in the state of Florida. To kick off the week the Angels will be in Tampa Bay for four before taking the quick trip to Miami for the weekend.

4. Oakland Athletics (4-2)

Home runs, home runs and more home runs. That is the story behind Oakland’s second winning week of the season, so let’s run through the big ones:

  • After dropping game one in Seattle Mark Canha got the fun started with a three run shot in the top of the ninth that would ultimately be the margin of victory.
  • Game one against Boston saw the Athletics knock three out of the park with Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis and Chad Pinder getting in on the action.
  • A day later, Canha reclaimed the spotlight with a tenth inning solo shot to walk things off and spoil Chris Sale’s gem.
  • Just one day later, the Athletics really showed off the power with four home runs highlighted by a three home run fifth inning (Canha, Davis and Pinder). Lowrie got in on the action with a homer of his own an inning later.
  • 1,372 feet. Deserving of its own bullet point, the fifth inning Saturday saw some moon shots, as the Athletics hit their three longest home runs of the young season. Highlighted by Pinder’s 483 footer that stands as the longest home run in the league for 2017.
  • Sunday saw Pinder hit his third home run of the week, but Boston overwhelmed the Athletics with small ball to prevent the four game sweep.

Oakland will probably need to find other ways to score going forward, but the home runs sure are fun, especially in front of the home crowd. The Athletics will get two more chances to show off the power surge at home against Miami before they take the show on the road to face off against the Yankees for three games over the weekend.

5. Seattle Mariners (3-4)

The one team with a losing record in the division over the past week, Mariners fans would probably rather not dwell on the past, so we will make this quick. Things started off well enough with Seattle taking a three game series versus Oakland and winning game one against Chicago, but the White Sox proceeded to absolutely embarrass the Mariners from Friday through Sunday. The Mariners were only able to push one run across in each of the three games and were ultimately outscored 26-3.

To make matters worse the Mariners have to hit the road for week eight and will limp into the nation’s capital to face the top offensive team in baseball in the Washington Nationals for three before heading over to Fenway to face the Red Sox over the weekend. This is a road trip that could all but burry the Mariners and their injury plagued pitching staff. If they can’t find a way to at least win two games on the week the Mariners could find themselves starting to explore a tear down or at least the idea of being sellers at the deadline.

Down on the Farm:

Not an extensive in depth look this week, but a quick temperature check on one of the higher upside arms in all of baseball. Oakland Athletics’ pitcher Jharel Cotton came into the year with some serious helium and was pegged by many as THE breakout pitcher of 2017. Things did not go as planned for the young hurler, though, as he pitched to a 5.68 ERA in seven big league starts before finding himself demoted. In his first two starts for AAA Nashville Cotton has looked much better posting a 2.25 ERA and picking up wins in both starts.

Digging a little deeper, Cotton still looks to have a couple of things to work out before a return to the big league rotation. After allowing 1.4 HR/9 in his seven major league starts, Cotton is still allowing 1.5 HR/9 at AAA. To be successful consistently that is a number that will need to be brought down. On the positive side, in his stint in the minors, Cotton has seen his BB/9 rate drop from 3.8 to 0.8, in turn raising his K/BB rate from 2.19 to 13.

Obviously, we are working with small sample sizes all around here, but Cotton is one of the more exciting arms in the AL West and is someone to keep a close eye on as he works out some issues and finds his way back into the Oakland rotation later in the season.

Series of the Week:

Texas Rangers at Boston Red Sox – Tuesday, May 23nd – Thursday, May 25th

The Ranges have been red hot for much of May, winning 11 of 12, but much of that has been against the bottom of the barrel with three wins a piece against Oakland, San Diego and Philadelphia. A weekend series win in Detroit gave some legitimacy to the early season turn around, but a solid showing in Boston would go a long way to cementing their arrival in 2017. Boston has their rotation lined up to include reigning Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz for the three game set, while Texas will miss staff ace Yu Darvish. If the Ranges can take two of three on the road with the way the pitching matchups line up it will be hard to deny that the Rangers are playing like one of the best teams in baseball.

Pitching Matchups:

Ervin Santana (6-2, 2.07 ERA) at Dylan Bundy (5-2, 2.97 ERA) – Tuesday, May 23rd

This would not have been on your preseason list of premier matchups, but Santana and Bundy have both been lights out in 2017 and are a big part of why their teams are near the top of the AL. Whether either can maintain a sub-3 level of dominance long term is up in the air and doubtful, but for the time being this is a can’t miss matchup between two hot teams and two even hotter pitchers.

Kevin Gausman (2-3, 6.55 ERA) at Joe Musgrove (3-4, 5.63 ERA) – Friday, May 26th

Two pitchers and teams that have been featured in this section already this year will get the spotlight again. Both young arms have struggled in 2017, while their teams have produced at or near the top of the league. This game has the makings of an offensive explosion with lots of Friday night fireworks from both teams, but from the pitching perspective the importance of this matchup lies in the long game. If either of these pitchers can find better form and pitch with some consistency it will go a long way for their teams as both Houston and Baltimore prepare to position their rosters for a long season with postseason aspirations.

Yu Darvish (5-2, 2.83 ERA) at Marco Estrada (3-2, 3.30 ERA) – Saturday, May 27th

As noted in our series of the week, Darvish will miss the Red Sox, something the Toronto Blue Jays are sure to be disappointed by. Darvish has almost always provided elite stuff when healthy and has looked good in 2017, but on the other side of the coin the Blue Jays counter with one of the most underappreciated pitchers of the last couple of seasons. Estrada is quietly in the midst of his third straight season with an ERA below 3.5 and well on his way to a third 3+ WAR season in a row.