- The AL West has the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, but he's not the primary reason the division has been exciting.
We’re nearing the halfway point of the season, but the AL West looks primed to send two teams to the postseason for the first time since 2015. The Astros are all but a lock for their third trip to the postseason in the last four years, while the Mariners could be headed back for the first time since Ichiro’s rookie year. Here are our midseason grades for the division:
Where do you even start with the Astros? At 53–28, they have the third-best record in the majors behind the Yankees and Red Sox. They’re second in runs per game, eighth in homers, first in batting average, second in OBP and fourth in slugging percentage. They’re first in weighted runs created plus, third in wOBA and second in offensive fWAR. They have the fifth-lowest strikeout rate and ninth-highest walk rate in the majors. In other words, they are anywhere between good and elite by every offensive measure. And with Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman all suffering through slumps at different times in the first half, they could somehow find another gear.
Things could be even better on the mound. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton are all legitimate AL Cy Young contenders. Behind that great triumvirate, Astros starters lead the majors with a 2.92 ERA. Their 2.85 team ERA leads the majors by a stunning 0.53 points over the second-place Cubs. There’s a wider gap between them and the Cubs than there is between the Cubs and the 13th-place Indians (0.49). At first, I had this as an A, but that would then mean this is a World-Series-or-bust season, and that’s no way to think about a sport with a famously fickle postseason format. This is an A+ team that has its sight set on MLB’s first World Series repeat in nearly 20 years.
If someone told you in March that, at the halfway point of the season, the Mariners would have the fourth-best record in the majors, better than the Cubs, Dodgers, Nationals and Indians, you would have said that they were one of the brightest surprises in the league. And that would have been before you considered that Robinson Cano has missed half the season due to injury and suspension. This team will, and should, be running home to show off its report card.
The Mariners’ numbers aren’t as dominant as the Astros’, but they still have staying power. Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger for Taijuan Walker will likely go down as one of the most lopsided trades of this era. Nelson Cruz has belted 20 homers well before the calendar turns to July. James Paxton has shown his ace potential and, more importantly, has remained healthy, and Edwin Diaz is one of the best closers in the game. The longest active playoff drought in professional sports might be coming to an end in a few short months. Am I an easy grader? Maybe, but I don’t think so. The Mariners earned every bit of this top grade.
The A's are four games over .500 and seven games out of a playoff spot, but still worthy of high marks. The A’s have quietly developed into one of the most dangerous offenses in the league, belting 106 homers while amassing an isolated slugging percentage of .177, good for fifth and sixth, respectively, in the majors. With Khris Davis, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman and Marcus Semien, this team can produce fireworks every time it takes the field. They strike out too much, even in this era, and don’t walk enough, but it’s not hard to see a top-flight offense in its incipient stages.
The rotation, however, has struggled. Sean Manaea had a signature moment with his no-hitter, but that hasn’t been attendant to a major step forward. Trevor Cahill has pitched well when healthy, but has made two trips to the DL. Daniel Mengden has an ERA in the mid-4s. Frankie Montas’s limited success looks like a mirage, with a walk rate nearly half of his strikeout rate. And yet, you see what the offense has done, keeping the A’s on the fringes of the wild card race, and you can’t help but be impressed.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels are wasting another ridiculous Mike Trout season. Not just a standard Trout season, either, but what’s shaping up to be the best season of his career to date. Still, they deserve a passing grade because so much of what has gone wrong for the Angels this season has been unpredictable. Shohei Ohtani’s elbow injury, Ian Kinsler’s rapid demise, Zack Cozart’s regression and Kole Calhoun’s historic futility were not developments the front office could have anticipated. The team’s lone deficiency you can put on the player acquisition staff is its dreadful bullpen, which has been a mess all season. And yet, they’re still two games over .500.
Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons are having strong years. No other everyday player has reached even 1.0 fWAR yet. Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs are all having strong individual seasons, and the rotation is tied for ninth in ERA- at 8% better than league average. Still, with the upper class that has emerged in the AL, it’s hard to envision the Angels playing their way into the postseason.
The Rangers didn’t have lofty expectations entering the season, but they've been worse than expected. They rank 23rd in hitter fWAR and 29th in pitcher fWAR. They’re in the bottom-third of the league in batting average, slugging percentage, homers, weighted runs created plus, starters ERA, team ERA, ERA-, FIP, strikeout rate and WHIP. FanGraphs ranks them as an average defensive team, and that’s about the best thing you can say about them as a whole. The lone positive is Shin-soo Choo, who, thanks at least in part to his underwhelming teammates, appears a lock for the first All-Star Team of his career in his age-36 season.