The AL West has — more or less— played out as expected in the season's unofficial first half.
However, with the upcoming trade deadline and roughly 44 percent of the schedule remaining, there is plenty of time for unexpected twists and turns. Below are some of my notes for each of the five AL West clubs as we enter the first day of the All-Star break.
Depending on who you ask, the Astros may have the best team in baseball. But they are firmly in the conversation, thanks to contributions from the entire roster.
- Offense: 113 wRC+ (3rd), 16.7 fWAR (3rd)
- Pitching: 2.98 ERA (2nd), 13.4 fWAR (2nd)
- Defense: 22 OAA (2nd), 24.7 Def runs (1st)
The main concern for Houston heading into the unofficial second half of the season is the health of Yordan Alvarez (.306/.405/.653, 197 wRC+), who has been sidelined with a sore right hand in recent weeks. The prevalent fear is that his injury is related to the hamate bone, as it could lead to a lengthier IL stint and possible loss of power once he returns. Thankfully, for now, it doesn't appear surgery is a must, no matter the root cause. But as the lineup has become more dependent on the young slugger, it becomes imperative that the Astros have their best hitter back in the fold sooner rather than later.
On the pitching side, the Astros expect Lance McCullers Jr. to make his season debut sometime this summer, with August feeling more like a realistic timeline. The pressing question is who will move out of the rotation when he returns, as the staff features seven starters when fully healthy. To help preserve their arms, Houston has implemented a six-man rotation, which could stay in place for a while to help alleviate the overall workload. At this juncture, due to his effectiveness in the bullpen, it feels as if Cristian Javier is a likely candidate to move back to the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever to accommodate McCullers Jr.'s return.
Barring an unforeseen collapse, the Astros remain in the driver's seat in the AL West race, with a nine-game lead over the red-hot Mariners. However, the schedule following the break is not easy as Houston has a double-header against the Yankees right out of the gate, followed by seven games in ten days against Seattle before the end of the month.
Riding a 14-game win streak heading into the break, the Mariners finally reached the level most expected at the start of the season. They just took an unusual path to get to this point.
- April: 11-10, +16 runs
- May: 10-18, -25 runs
- June: 16-13, +11 runs
- July: 14-1, +34 runs
Since June 1, there hasn't been a better pitching staff in terms of ERA as the Mariners lead the way with a 2.96 mark during that time. If you only go out to July 1, their collective ERA drops to 2.28. Make no mistake, though, as Seattle's staff is the primary driver behind this recent surge up the standings, especially regarding the Wild Card race. Robbie Ray has looked every bit like last season's AL Cy Young winner with a 2.24 ERA in his previous 56 1⁄3 innings, thanks partly to a two-seam fastball he implemented earlier this summer. Chris Flexen, Logan Gilbert, Marco Gonzales, and George Kirby have also pitched well in recent weeks. The offense led by All-Star, and the favorite for Rookie of the Year, Julio Rodriguez has also played a key role in their resurgence, but it all starts with that pitching staff.
Their upcoming seven-game stretch in ten days against the Astros will significantly determine the narrative of the division race for the remainder of the season. The pressing question for Seattle is how well they will hold up when they encounter choppier waters. Regression will happen, to some extent, as they can't maintain a .933 winning percentage forever. If they do, then baseball is broken. If they don't, there is enough distance between themselves and the Astros that it would require a collapse on the latter's part to create a viable path for Seattle to claim the AL West title.
Following a 7-14 record in April, the Rangers made some noise in the AL Wild Card picture with a 29-24 record and a plus-23 run differential combined in May and June. While a return to the postseason this season has never been likely for Texas, their two-month performance during that time inspired some confidence, with Corey Seager and Marcus Semien performing closer to their expected metrics. However, following a four-game sweep from the Mariners, the Rangers are looking in again from the outside with a 5-11 record so far in July with a 2.1 percent chance to qualify for the postseason per Baseball-Reference.
The question is how active they choose to be in the trade market leading up to the August 2 deadline. Martín Pérez would've been a name to watch a year or two ago, but the Rangers may feel closer to contention now, mainly if their top prospects on the cusp of joining the majors produce immediately. After all, they did take Kumar Rocker third overall to reach the parent club sooner rather than later, presumably. Could they possibly add to the roster at the deadline with an eye on next season? With Seager and Semien in the middle of their respective primes, the Rangers can't necessarily afford to waste too much time waiting on lower-level prospects.
The primary objective in Arglinton is to start contending in 2023; we'll see if that is a reasonable outlook, though. But the Rangers have improved in 2022 and remain an opponent to watch for the remainder of the season. While they may not qualify for the postseason themselves, they are a potential thorn in the side of any contender looking to make up ground in the expanded postseason picture.
What a train wreck.
For a month, it appeared that the Angels, not the Mariners, were the Astros' most significant threat in the AL West this season. They should've been with Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and Anthony Rendon. Instead, we're looking at an underperforming club featuring arguably the most top-heavy roster in baseball.
At this point, the Angels have to start asking the tough questions, like what to do with Trout and Ohtani for the long term. Alas, there isn't an easy answer for them as it is nearly impossible to recoup enough short-term value to compensate for their departure in a trade. Still, there isn't a clear-cut way for them to improve immediately by next season if they plan to retain their services. Plus, Ohtani is scheduled to become a free agent following the conclusion of the 2023 season, which only complicates matters for the Angels.
At 39-53, the rest of the 2022 season ought to be spent assessing the state of the organization. If they do decide to give it one more shot with the core of Trout, Ohtani, and Rendon, then they will have to make some significant moves to close the gap. With the expanded postseason, it is possible they could in 2023. But the margin for error is mighty slim now.
If it waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, then it is a duck. Based on their performance this season (32-61, -118 run differential), Oakland has a rebuild underway. While some intriguing players remain on this roster, the sum of its parts equates to what we're watching right now.
With the recent influx of prospects from last offseason’s trade activity, the A's are heading in the right direction as they construct their next contending roster, but it does little to soothe their struggles in 2022. Starter Frankie Montas represents their best chance to acquire the prospects needed to help push the rebuild further. Catcher Sean Murphy is another name to watch in trade discussions, especially considering the organization's overall depth at the position. Former Astros farmhand Ramón Laureano could fetch the A's another prospect or two at the trade deadline if they so desire to move him.