As we hit the three-quarter mark of the season, the playoff race is heating up and out west, things are getting pretty smoky. The American League West has been one of the most unpredictable divisions in baseball with the Houston Astros leading the division.
When all is said and done, the AL West could have three teams reach the postseason as the Rangers are sneaking up on the second wild card spot, and the Angels, although they have been slumping, are still in the thick of things.
Let’s take a look at each team with letter grades as we are nearing September and the home stretch of the 2015 season:
Houston Astros: A
There is no doubt that this team has surpassed expectations for the 2015 season. With a new manager in A.J. Hinch, there weren’t many people saying in spring training that they could be where they are today, but they are at the top and not looking like they are going away.
They have found a gem on the mound in Dallas Keuchel, who is in the conversation for a Cy Young, and by acquiring Scott Kazmir from Oakland, they have complemented Keuchel in a good way in that starting rotation.
At the plate, they have just battled and come up with clutch base hits when they need to. They have the worst average in the Majors, but have hit the most home runs. Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena both have 22 long balls. Meanwhile, Jose Altuve has been one of their best hitters for average once again. And how could you forget AL Rookie of the Year candidate Carlos Correa, who has been an incredible boost to this ball club.
The Astros look like they are well on their way to an AL West title, but they need to be careful of the Rangers and Angels who are just 5.0 and 5.5 games back, respectively, in that race. Pitching is always important when you are coming down the stretch and the Astros are the best pitching team in AL. This team is going to be dangerous and should be division champions when this is all said and done.
Texas Rangers: B+
The Rangers have got to be one of the most surprising teams of the entire season. After 2014 when their whole team was seemingly on the disabled list, 2015 was looking like a rebuilding year with new manager Jeff Banister. After the acquisition of Cole Hamels, they are looking like they could snatch a wild card spot in the AL.
Prince Fielder has been leading this offense after he was injured all of last season. He has jumpstarted this offense, but he hasn’t done it all alone. Mike Napoli has also been a good pickup through a waiver trade and has been hot since returning to Texas. You always have to keep Adrian Beltre in the back of your mind as well. This team sure has some pop at the plate.
Pitching isn’t necessarily their strong suit, but playing in Texas is tough as in the warm months it is a complete hitters park. Hamels should help bolster this rotation that includes Yovani Gallardo and Derek Holland, who just returned form the DL.
Look out for this Rangers team, as they have been quietly sneaking up the standings and could find themselves in the postseason come the end of the season. They have the pieces in place to compete and if they keep doing what they’ve been doing lately, Texas is a team you may not want to play come October.
Los Angeles Angels: C+
The Angels have been one of the most disappointing teams in baseball no doubt. After coming off a season in which they won the most games in the AL, they were at least expected to be a little bit more competitive for the division crown. With stars Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, they have plenty of offense, but they don’t have that one stud ace that most of the other teams in contention possess.
Los Angeles made some deadline deals, acquiring three veteran outfielders in Shane Victorino, David DeJesus, and David Murphy, but they could have used another arm in their rotation. Their general manager, Jerry Dipoto, did resign earlier this season after a dispute with the manager and the owner, but they didn’t make the necessary moves. They’ve had some decent pitching with Andrew Heaney and Hector Santiago, but they don’t have that one guy who will go out there and be your ace. Garrett Richards may be that guy, but a 3.80 ERA isn’t what you want from your “ace.”
They will be fighting for that second wild card spot the rest of the way. With a pretty difficult schedule coming down the stretch with games against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Astros, and Minnesota Twins, all teams in the race, they will have to get back on track. If they keep up their current pace, they will fall short of the postseason.
The reason for the C+ is because they are still in this race, but the expectations were so much higher for this team as they were supposed to battle for a division title. The Halos aren’t totally out of the picture by any means, but they still have some work to do.
Oakland Athletics: C
After making wholesale changes this offseason that included trading All-Star Josh Donaldson, the expectations in Oakland were not all that high. They had some young, untested talent to go along with some veterans, and that formula projected the A’s towards the bottom of the AL West.
They have had some bright spots, however, as Sonny Gray could potentially be the AL Cy Young Award winner. He has posted some great numbers with a 2.10 ERA and has been dominant in nearly every start. In addition, they may have found their center fielder of the future in Billy Burns. The speedy leadoff man has been the spark in this lineup for Oakland and has been one of the main contributors on most nights.
Oakland’s defense is also one of the worst in the Majors. Marcus Semien is on pace to break the record for most errors in a season and they can throw it around a bit.
The reason for the C, is because they weren’t expected to do much, but have made some moves to help grow this team for the future like trading Kazmir. They knew they had to sell and they did so and will rebuild for next year. It hasn’t been a total failure, but this team wasn’t expected to win.
Seattle Mariners: D
This team is arguably one of the biggest failures in the Majors in 2015. The expectations for this team were sky high and they haven’t lived up to them one bit. This team was one game away from a playoff berth in 2014, but in 2015, most people had them either winning the division or at least grabbing a wild card spot. The Mariners aren’t close to either one.
When you look at this team on paper, you wonder how they can be so bad. With Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Felix Hernandez, they have the pieces in place to compete, but they just haven’t been able to put it all together.
The only bright spots on this team this season have been Cruz and Hernandez. Cruz leads the league in home runs and Hernandez, even though he went through a tough stretch, has returned to form and looks like his typical self.
The two places where this ball club has gone wrong are at the bottom of the order and in the bullpen. Seattle just DFA’d Fernando Rodney and after a season in which their bullpen was the best in baseball, they may have completed a full transformation to the worst. The bottom of the order has also been brutal. Mike Zunino is hitting .176, a black hole that hasn’t been able to produce.
The reason for the D is because of the performances of Cruz and Hernandez and the second half of Cano. Aside from them, this team has been brutal to watch and a GM change could be coming this offseason.
This AL West race is sure going to be fun down the stretch as three teams could potentially still make the postseason. It will be interesting to watch how the A’s and Mariners play the Rangers, Angels, and Astros as they could be the teams to play spoiler.
Prediction: When the regular season is over, I see the Astros taking the division crown with the Rangers snatching the second wild card spot and the Angels missing out on the playoffs altogether.