Following consecutive losing weeks, the Astros responded resoundingly with a 6-1 week against AL West opponents pushing the division lead back to 13 games. With pitching reinforcements coming after the break, hope of a divisional crown is dwindling in opposing clubhouses. The Astros need to keep their foot on the gas though to really put this race away, as the Rangers can attest to after they saw a nine game lead in 2012 disappear to a surging Oakland squad. Looking even further, the 2006 Minnesota Twins overcame an 11 game deficit to take the AL Central from the Tigers. The Tigers played to a MLB best 59-29 in the first half before faltering to the tune of a 36-38 record in the second half…
On that note, lets turn our attention to the trends. Four of the five AL West teams posted winning weeks, but little clarity was provided. Looking at the trends, though, it is clear that the Athletics are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the pack down at the bottom now ahead of only the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox in the entire American League. The Astros on the other side hold a ten game cushion on the Yankees and Red Sox for the top spot in the league. While the Astros and Athletics are starting to separate in opposite directions, the rest of the AL West is joining the chaos in between, as nine teams sit within 3.5 games of each other and the second wild card.
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 (6-1)
The Astros continued to take care of business within the division in week 12 pushing their overall record within the division to 28-11 a very healthy 0.7179 rate. Opening the week in Oakland, the Astros helped perpetuate the continued see-saw action the Athletics have going with a four game sweep. After leaving Oakland, the Astros got a rather rude welcome in Seattle, as Joe Musgrove got hammered and Felix Hernandez returned to quite the Astros’ bats. Rebounding from the shellacking, the Astros fought back to win the series behind Lance McCullers return Saturday and more bullpen heroics Sunday. With seven innings Sunday on top of Musgrove’s shortened outing, Monday’s off day could not have come at a better time for the bullpen.
The Astros will open week 13 staying in the AL West with the Athletics coming to town before switching gears and welcoming the scuffling AL East leading Yankees to Minute Maid Park over the weekend.
2. Texas Rangers (4-3)
The Rangers posted a strong week with a split vs Toronto and a series win in New York against the Yankees, taking final two after losing 2-1 in 10 inning Friday night. Ronald Torreyes with a walk off single was the villain or hero depending on which dugout you were in Friday. The story of the night, though, was the starting pitching with Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka throwing up matching zeroes for most of the night. The duel came to an end when Darvish left the game with tricep tightness after seven innings of two hit ball with ten strikeouts. Tanaka went one inning further, posting eight shutout innings with three hits and nine strikeouts on his ledger.
The Rangers continue their 10 game road trip in week 13, as they turn their attention to the Midwest and a four game set in Cleveland before wrapping up their trip with three in Chicago against the White Sox.
3. Los Angeles Angels (4-2)
What had looked like a tough week against the top AL East teams did little to phase the Angels, as they claimed matching series wins taking two of three in New York and Boston. That is not to say everything came easy for the Angels over the past week. Sunday’s game needed an assist from the review system, as an overturned double play lead to 3 runs in the second inning of a 4-2 Angels win. On a roster note, the Angels have hit surprisingly well as a team since losing Mike Trout to the DL, but not everyone has enjoyed a bump in production, as CJ Cron was once again demoted Friday. Cron had posted a .167 average since returning to the majors earlier this month. Speaking of the DL, the Angles did a little bullpen shuffle over the past week as former closer Houston Street was activated from the DL for the first time in 2017, while acting closer Bud Norris found his way to the DL with a knee injury.
In week 13, the Angels get the unenviable task of slowing down the cross town juggernaut that is the Dodgers. The Freeway series will play out as a home and away with the Angles playing two games on the road to open the week before returning home to finish off the four game set. After wrapping up with the Dodgers, the Angels will welcome the Seattle Mariners to tow who have also put together a hot month of June.
4. Seattle Mariners (5-2)
After winning the final game in Texas to wrap up week 11 the Mariners dispatched of the Detroit Tigers rather easily, completing the rare four game sweep. Turning their attention to the Astros, the Mariners looked to finally be getting over the hump against their division rivals when they knocked Musgrove from Friday’s game and ultimately from the major league roster with an emphatic 13-3 win. It wasn’t meant to be though, as the Astros would bounce back to win Saturday and Sunday, taking the series and pushing the Mariners to 3-7 against the AL leaders.
Hernandez looked solid in Friday’s win, going six innings and allowing three runs, while striking out six and walking one. For his first start in nearly two months, Hernandez looked strong and now he will look to find a rhythm week with a much easier matchup against the Phillies on Wednesday. If Hernandez can get through a couple more starts before the All-Star break it could be a big indicator in dictating the direction the Mariners take at the trade deadline with an aging roster and middle of the road results thus far.
This week the Mariners have a light schedule, welcoming the Phillies to Seattle for two and then facing off against the Angles in Los Angeles for three over the weekend.
5. Oakland Athletics (3-4)
The Athletics have now swept their competition or been swept themselves in four straight series…making the feat all the more impressive is the fact that the two of the four series have been of the four game variety. After completing the big four game sweep of the Yankees to finish week 11, the script was flipped with the Astros taking all four games in Oakland. Hitting the road the Athletics headed up to Chicago where they dispatched the White Sox in a three game sweep of their own fueled by a number of firsts.
Saturday’s 10-2 win over the White Sox saw a trio of Athletic rookies do something that hadn’t been accomplished in over 100 years. When Barreto hit his first major league home run in the third inning of Saturday’s game he joined Matt Olson and Jaycob Brugman who had each hit their first MLB home runs earlier in the game. To make the day even more impressive, Daniel Gossett took advantage of the offensive explosion to record his first major league win. As the season winds on this Athletics team should be completely handed over to the kids, so we may be in store for a number more firsts before October.
Looking back to the results, the Athletics are now 1-8 against the Astros on the year, but will head to Houston hoping to change their luck in week 13. Following their three game set with the Astros, the Athletics will head back to Oakland to host the Braves for a three game weekend series.
Series of the Week:
Freeway Series – Los Angeles Dodgers vs Los Angeles Angles – Monday, June 26 – Thursday, June 29
The series of the week both for the division and arguably for all of baseball will be taking place in Los Angeles. The Dodgers are the hottest team in baseball and carry a ten game winning streak into the, but the Angels have been hot too winning five of their last six series, dropping the Yankees twice, as well as the Red Sox, Astros and Tigers all on the road. Evening the playing field a little further and helping to offset Mike Trout’s absence is the fact that the Angels are somehow managing to avoid Clayton Kershaw in a four game set. The Dodgers should still be heavy favorites against the Angels starting rotation, so tune in to catch a glimpse of Cody Bellinger and his torrid home run pace and maybe get an early look at one of the favorites over in the National League.
Jose Berrios (7-1, 2.76 ERA) at Chris Sale (9-3, 2.85 ERA) – Monday, June 26
Cole Hamels (2-0, 3.03 ERA) at Carlos Carrasco (8-3, 2.99 ERA) – Monday, June 26
What a day for the Astros to be off! On top of our series of the week pick kicking off at Dodger Stadium during the late slot, the Nationals host the Cubs in a battle of NL heavyweights (or at least preseason favorites) and then you have these two pitching matchups. First, in a battle of division leaders you have the 23 year old young hurler in Berrios who looks like the next big thing in Minnesota against the MLB strikeout leader in Sale. Secondly, within the AL West you have the return of Hamels from the DL against one of the many great pitching options in Cleveland. It is WAY TOO EARLY to start worrying about playoff positioning, but all of eight of these teams sit with 1.5 games of a spot as things stand today. So, take your pick in what looks to be a stacked schedule of baseball, relax and enjoy because regardless of what happens the Astros will wake up Tuesday with at least a 12.5 game lead on the AL West.
Jake Arrieta (7-5, 4.36 ERA) at Max Scherzer (8-5, 2.09 ERA) – Tuesday, June 27
Another out of division matchup to watch. The Cubs have struggled to replicate their 2016 success and the pitching staff lead by Arrieta is a big piece of that, as John Lester is the only rotation stalwart to claim an ERA under four. On the other side, Scherzer has been his typical Cy Young level self with 145 strikeouts to his name. Both of these teams came in with sky high expectations for 2017, so far only one has delivered. Can the Cubs make a statement against the Nationals this week or do we need to readjust our expectations for the defending World Series Champions?
Michael Pineda (7-4, 4.12 ERA) at Lance McCullers Jr. (7-1, 2.53 ERA) – Friday, June 30
The Yankees have stumbled recently and Pineda has been hit around by the AL West – Texas and Los Angeles – in two of his last three starts raising his ERA from 3.39 to 4.12. Things will not be any easier, as he faces off against the Astros, the league leaders in home runs. To make matters worse for Pineda, the Astros will counter with McCullers. With his 2.53 ERA, McCullers trails only Jason Vargas for the AL ERA crown, while Scherzer and Kershaw are the only NL pitchers with a lower mark.