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Checking in on the Astros’ division rivals

The AL West is... good?

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Athletics Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

As the quarter point of the season draws near, not everything is going exactly according to plan for the Astros. They currently sit two games above .500. In a vacuum, a record of 18-16 is acceptable, but in the unremarkable AL West, it’s somewhat underwhelming. Granted, the division as a whole has exceeded expectations thus far, with four of the five teams either at or above .500. Though the Astros are in second place, they still appear to be the favorites.

A big reason why is their stellar run differential: +33. This alone is an encouraging sign for the club, and it’s amplified by the fact that only two other teams in the American League have a better ratio. Unsurprisingly, neither are in the West. Let’s examine how the rest of the division is faring.

Oakland Athletics

Record: 21-15

Run differential: -10

Individually speaking, there haven’t been many surprises for the A’s despite the strong record. First baseman Matt Olson and outfielder Ramón Laureano have more or less performed as expected. A resurgent Jed Lowrie has boosted their infield and aided the offense, especially with Matt Chapman’s contact skills still MIA, evidenced by his 35 percent strikeout rate.

Starter Cole Irvin has been the biggest surprise of all. After being acquired from the Phillies for cash considerations during the offseason, Irvin’s logged 41 innings in 7 starts and has a shiny 3.29 ERA to show for it. Overall, the A’s pitching staff has been solid.

Judging by the data, it’d be safe to say that Oakland’s current record is likely inflated and due to regress. How much regression is the question.

Seattle Mariners

Record: 18-17

Run differential: -15

Speaking of regression, I present the one-game-over-.500 Mariners.

Offensively, the club’s two best players have been third baseman Kyle Seager and outfielder Mitch Haniger, which was expected, but the issue is both have a below-average on-base percentage hovering around .300. Not quite what Seattle wants out of two of their cornerstones.

2020 AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis is off to a fairly sluggish start and top outfield prospect Taylor Trammell has a strikeout rate above 40 percent in his first ~100 plate appearances.

The M’s pitching staff is all over the place. Staff ace Marco Gonzales has gone on the IL after posting a 5.40 ERA in his first five starts. Reliever Kendall Graveman has been a revelation with upper-90s heat; he’s yet to allow an earned run through 14 innings. Young hurlers Justin Dunn and Justus Sheffield remain frustratingly inconsistent.

This isn’t a team that’s without talent, but they’re lucky to be 18-17.

Texas Rangers

Record: 18-18

Run differential: -4

The Rangers’ offense is relevant again. The middle infield tandem of Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Nick Solak has proven to be a potent one so far. Outfielder Adolis García continues to make his presence known. He’s hit 9 home runs in just over 100 plate appearances. At age 28, he’s an early candidate for AL Rookie of the Year.

Outfielder Joey Gallo is getting on base a lot but has strangely produced meager power numbers, though he has gotten hot in that department over the past week. This lineup needs Gallo to be the three-true-outcomes monster he’s shown flashes of being.

Kyle Gibson has been superb atop the rotation. Assuming the rebuilding Rangers stumble in the standings, they’ll surely be tempted to move Gibson at the trade deadline later in the summer. He is under contract for 2022, but if he continues to pitch even half as well going forward this season, this may be his peak value.

The run differential is a pleasant surprise and complements the record nicely. I just think there are too many holes for this team to still be in the hunt two months from now.

Los Angeles Angels

Record: 15-18

Run differential: -27

This is why I never buy into the annual preseason hype surrounding the Angels. Of course it’s still early and there is plenty of time to right the ship, but it’s an ugly start nonetheless.

Mike Trout is still Mike Trout. Otherworldly two-way talent Shohei Ohtani is healthy, hitting bombs at the plate and showcasing dominant stuff on the mound. First baseman Jared Walsh has been immensely impressive through the first month plus, building on his breakout 2020. When on the field, third baseman Anthony Rendon is an elite player.

The issue is a lack of thump from the bottom half the lineup, as well as a still-unreliable starting staff.

Dylan Bundy, Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning have the ability to be quality starters, and though the data indicates they’ve pitched well in 2021, it’s not yet reflected by their respective ERAs. Ohtani has some of the best stuff in baseball, the issue for him has been a total lack of control and an inability to pitch deep into games.

Starter Alex Cobb, who was acquired from Baltimore before the season, has the same problem. José Quintana, once an incredibly reliable mid-rotation arm, looks like one of the worst free-agent signings from last offseason. Closer Raisel Iglesias has an ERA over 6.00. While that figure is likely to decrease substantially, Iglesias’s peripherals are uneven.

There’s reason to believe the pitching staff has dealt with an abundance of bad luck and when healthy, Ohtani, Trout, Rendon and Walsh could be one of baseball’s most dangerous quartets.

The Angels arguably have a playoff-caliber roster in terms of talent. As has been the case for the past several years, however, the whole appears to be less than the sum of its parts.