The Astros have stumbled a bit in recent weeks, as injuries piled up, but the standings sure don’t reflect that. Even with losses in three straight series the Astros still sit with a comfortable 11 game lead as of Sunday night (pushed to 12 with a win in Oakland on Monday). If the Astros can just whether the storm for a couple more weeks reinforcements should arrive in mass, as the starting rotation comes off the disabled list one by one. That doesn’t even take into account any potential trades that could be on the horizon. The historic start to the season has afforded Houston the ability to remain patient, so if you are starting to get worried take solace in the double digit lead over our AL West competition and know that the rotation is on the way back.
As stated above, the trends illustrate the recent Houston downturn with two straight weeks of downward movement. Luckily, the rest of the division has failed to truly take advantage of the recent hick-ups and is still bunched together south of the .500 mark. Of note, the last two weeks have been the only losing weeks on the season, meaning the Astros opened with nine straight weeks of .500 or better baseball!
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 (2-4)
The past week, or two weeks for that matter pulled the Astros back to Earth a bit. The Astros still hold the best record in baseball, but have not won a series since sweeping the Rangers in Arlington. After splitting a set in Kansas City and dropping a series against the Angels last week, Houston dropped series at home against the Rangers and Red Sox this week. While that might be the case, the Astros were a couple of runs away from sweeping the Red Sox in a series that definitely showed a playoff atmosphere.
Further, injuries have put the Astros in a unique position to give the young guys a chance. This week saw the rookies respond in resounding fashion, as Derek Fisher, Francis Martes and David Paulino all produced on the big stage. After dropping the first two games to the Rangers, the rookies stepped up to help Houston avoid the sweep in a 13-2 win Wednesday. Martes got things kicked off, pitching five innings of one run baseball and racking up seven strikeouts on the way to his first career win. Martes and the bullpen had things under control, but Fisher helped put things away in a nine run sixth inning. Fischer got the big ining started with his first major league hit, a solo home run. He wasn’t done, though, as the Astros batted around giving Fisher the chance to pick up an RBI single and second run scored before the sixth inning came to a close. Paulino would get in on the action during the Red Sox series, as the Astros were able to get him his first major league win behind some early offense. Spotted to an early lead, Paulino went to work pitching six innings of one run baseball. Paulino was lifted after six, but could have easily come back out for the seventh if need, as he only threw 81 pitches.
Looking forward, the veterans are expected back soon, but it’s nice to see the young guys have success in an early taste of major league competition. In terms of what’s next, the Astros will hit the road for four games in Oakland and three in Seattle for week 12.
2. Texas Rangers (4-2)
As noted above, the Rangers were able to inch closer to the Astros in week 11, thanks in part to a series win against their in state rivals. The 2-1 series win only pushed the Rangers to 3-7 against the AL West leaders, but plenty of games remain in their quest to retain the silver boot. The Rangers also picked up a 2-1 series win over the Mariners with near identical 10-4 wins to open the series before dropping game three as the Mariners avoided the sweep.
Perhaps the biggest development of the week was the return of Tyson Ross to the pitching mound. Ross had missed 14 months of action due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, as the Rangers and Ross tried to avoid rushing him back to the majors. Ross looked solid, throwing 5 2/3 inning of two run baseball in his Rangers debut. Carlos Gomez also returned from the disabled list, making his presence felt quickly with a two RBI double and three run home run in support of Ross. With Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli also back and Cole Hamels in the midst of a rehab assignment the Rangers are getting healthy quickly, which could mean another run is on the horizon.
Week 12 brings the AL East into focus for the Rangers, as they welcome the Blue Jays to Globe Life for four before heading to New York for a three game set against the young Yankee bombers.
3. Los Angeles Angels (3-4)
I know it feels like talking about the Angels without Mike Trout is an exercise in futility, but the Angels are actually averaging a run more per game since Trout went to the DL and are hanging around .500. If the rest of the offense can stay hot once Trout gets back, this team could be strong enough to make some noise in the wild card race in the second half. Mike Trout in the playoffs is good for baseball, so as long as the Astros claim the division count me in for an Angels wild card game.
The Angels played to a 3-4 record in week 11 behind a 2-1 series win against the Yankees and a 1-3 series loss against the Royals, who have suddenly played their way back into the wild card discussion and some interesting decisions at the trade deadline. Saturday was the big day, as the Angels avoided the dreaded four game sweep behind home runs from Cameron Maybin, Albert Pujols and Luis Valbuena. Pujols’ shot was the 602nd of his career, but more importantly it gave him 1,865 career RBIs and pushed him into the top 10 all time for career RBIs, passing Mel Ott.
Outside of Trout, the Angels did receive some good news on the health front this week, welcoming back Cam Bedrosian. The anticipated return of Huston Street in the coming week will give the Angels as close to a full strength bullpen as they have had all season. Even with the injuries the Angels have gotten top ten performances in wins, strikeouts and ERA from their bullpen, so look for the Angels to lock people down late moving forward.
The Angles will put their imprint on the AL East race in week 12, as they head to the east coast for three game sets at Fenway and Yankee Stadium.
4. Seattle Mariners (3-4)
The Mariners had a losing road trip after splitting a four game set in Minnesota and losing two of three in Arlington, but a number of positive storylines came out of week 11. First and foremost is the impending return of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. The return of their veteran starters will give the Mariners a nearly healthy rotation giving things a now or never feel if the Mariners are going to stake claim to a playoff spot in 2017. The other big storyline is Mike Zunino! Once viewed as one of the elite catching prospects in the game and then written off as a bust, the 26 year old now has 26 RBIs in June to lead the majors.
In week 12, the Mariners will welcome the Tigers and Astros to Detroit for four and three game series respectively.
5. Oakland Athletics (4-2)
The Athletics had one of the weirder weeks in baseball, as they wrapped up a six game road trip with a two game sweep at the hands of the Miami Marlins before bouncing back in a big way to complete a four game sweep of the New York Yankees. Let’s bask in the unexpected nature of baseball and break down the four game sweep of the Yankees to see just how the Athletics pulled it off:
Game 1: Sony Gray put the Athletics in position to win, providing 5 1/3 productive innings, but the bullpen tried to give the game away allowing the Yankees to tie thing up in the ninth and take the lead in the tenth. Khris Davis got to play the hero in the bottom of the tenth, plating two for the walk off win on a bloop single.
Game 2: Game two was all about Matt Chapman. The rookie had his first career hit taken away early in the game thanks to instant replay, but bounced back with a two run single in the eighth that proved to be the game winner, as the Athletics won 7-6 for a second consecutive one run win.
Game 3: The Athletics took a day off from the dramatics Saturday with a 5-2 win. Ryan Healy carried the offense with two solo home runs, while Jesse Hahn pitched five effective innings.
Game 4: Oakland completed the sweep with a four run third inning carried by a Khris Davis two run homer. Jharel Cotton had a strong performance as well, tossing 6 1/3 inning of three run baseball and picking up the win.
The Athletics will look to complete the successful home stand with a four game set against the Astros before heading to Chicago to face the White Sox over the weekend.
Down on the Farm:
We will skip past this section for the week, but look for deep dives into the AL West farm systems newest additions from the 2017 amateur draft in the coming weeks.
Series of the Week/Pitching Matchups to Watch:
Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners – Friday, June 23rd – Sunday, June 25th
The series of the week and the pitching matchups to watch can all be rolled up into one this week, as the weekend series in Seattle is poised to see three starting pitchers return from the disabled list. For the Mariners both Felix Hernandez (projected to start Friday) and Hisashi Iwakuma (projected to start Saturday) are preparing to take the mound after lengthy layoffs, while Houston looks to welcome back Lance McCullers for Saturday’s tilt. All three starters look to play integral roles in what their respective teams are doing in 2017, so how well they pitch and more importantly their ability to avoid any setbacks make for the top storyline of the week in the AL West.