Race for the Pennant: AL West & Wild Card

Today’s topic in my series about the race for the postseason will cover the AL West and the AL Wild Card. The content is organized by current standing:

Oakland Athletics
66-40 | division lead

When this season began, the expectation was that the Oakland A’s would compete in their division and a playoff spot. Currently they find themselves sitting 26 games over .500 with the best record in baseball.

Right now everything is clicking for Oakland, their offense is the best in the majors, scoring 534 runs. They are being led by Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, and Brandon Moss, who have combined for 60 doubles, 62 HR, and 214 RBIs. But what’s scary about the A’s team is not how good their offense is, but how much better their pitching is.

The Athletics pitching staff has been lights out this year, posting a 3.14 ERA (3rd best in the majors), a 1.16 WHIP (2nd) and a BAA of .231 (2nd). They are being led by Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, who have identical 12-3 records. Also, the A’s added Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in a blockbuster trade with the Cubs earlier this season.

Between the dominant offense and the lights out defense, Oakland has posted an insane run differential of +169, and they are currently the odds-on favorite to win the World Series. In any other division, the A’s would be running away from the competition, but the Angels have kept pace and sit only two and a half games out. Expect this one to head to the wire.

Predicted Finish: 1st in AL West, 95-99 wins

Los Angeles Angels
63-42 | 2.5 GB

Like the first place Athletics, the Angels would be running away from the competition in any other division. As it stands, however, they sit only two and a half games back from the A’s, and they have the ability to close that gap.

The offense is currently leading LA’s charge. They are 2nd in the league in runs scored with 514, and 3rd in batting average, hitting .265. 22 year old potential phenom (and AL MVP frontrunner) Mike Trout it leading the way, batting .302 with 24 HR and an OPS of .980. In addition to Trout’s production, the Angels are enjoying Albert Pujols’ return to form, as he currently has 20 HR and 66 RBIs.

While the pitching staff is not as potent as the offense, it is still getting the job done. Currently LA has an ERA of 3.72, which is a middling 15th-best in the majors. However, the staff has a WHIP of only 1.21 and a BAA of .234, which is good enough for 3rd lowest in the majors.

LA and the A’s could trade the division lead multiple times before the end of the year. However, when the dust settles, expect LA to be end up No. 2 in the division.

Predicted finish: 2nd in AL West, 94-98 wins

Seattle Mariners
55-51 | 11 GB

When Seattle signed Robinson Cano to a 10 year, $240 million dollar deal this past offseason, they expected to be competing for a World Series this year, but now they sit 11 GB of the A’s and only 4 games over .500.

Robinson Cano has been the offensive power that the Mariners expected to get when they signed him. He currently is batting .327 and has 58 RBIs. However, he is the only bright spot in an offense that has struggled this year. Currently the Mariners rank 26th in runs scored with 408, 22nd in batting average with an average of .245, and their OBP of .299 is third worst in the majors.

The pitching staff has been a juggernaut this year, ranking 1st in ERA (3.06), WHIP (1.14), and BAA (.225). Leading the charge as usual has been ace Felix Hernandez with an 11-2 record, and an ERA of 1.99. In addition to King Felix’s dominance on the mound, the Mariners have enjoyed the success of closer Fernando Rodney. Rodney has successfully converted 29 of 32 save opportunities, and has an ERA of 2.11 while giving up only 1 HR in 42.2 innings of work.

The Mariners are too far back to win the division this year, as it would take a miracle collapse by both the A’s and the Angels for Seattle to have a chance. They have the ability to win a wild card, but it would require turning around their offensive woes.

Predicted Finish: 3rd in AL West, 82-86 wins

Houston Astros
43-64 | 23.5 GB

The Astros have not had much luck since their move to the AL West a couple years ago, and this year is no different than the past years.

Houston’s pitching staff ranks in the bottom three in ERA, WHIP, and BAA. Dallas Keuchel, their best starter, has an ERA of 3.11 and a record of 9-7. The only other two starters for Houston who qualify for the Cy Young Award, Scott Feldman and Jarred Cosart, have ERAs of 4.41 and 4.91, respectively.

While the pitching for the Astros has been terrible, there are a few bright spots on the offense. Jose Altuve is batting .343, which is the highest in the AL by 16 points. Also, rookie George Springer has 10 HR and 51 RBI.

The Astros are still a ways away from being able to contend in the AL West, however they are making strides in the right direction. Look for them to be in the mix in future years.

Predicted Finish: 4th in AL West, 66-70 wins

Texas Rangers
42-65 | 24.5 GB

When the season started, Texas was a decent pick to win the division and possibly even the World Series. But now, more than 100 games into the season, they have a decent shot of picking first in next year’s draft.

Their offense has been adequate this year. Adrian Beltre is batting .321 with 15 HR and 57 RBI and Alex Rios is hitting .305 with 43 RBI. Overall, the offense ranks 13th in runs, having plated 434, and they rank 7th in BA with an average of .259.

But Texas’ problem lies not with its offense, but with its defense, which has been horrendous. They have a staff ERA of 4.87, and opponents are batting .283 against them, which is the worst mark in the league. Yu Darvish has been dominant, with an ERA of 2.90, but a lack of run support has caused his record to be only 10-6. No other starter besides Yu even qualifies for the Cy Young award right now, as a rash of injuries have created a need for the team to constantly reshuffle the rotation.

For Texas, this has become a year to rebuild and let everyone get healthy, as they have no chance of making the playoffs this year. However, look for them to reload and be ready to compete next year.

Predicted Finish: 5th in AL West, 63-67 wins

Wild Card Predictions:

AL Wild Card No. 1: Los Angeles Angels

As stated above, the Angels would be running away in any other division. However they are stuck behind the Athletics, so look for them to take the first Wild Card spot. If they make it out of the Wild Card game, they are capable of making a deep playoff run.

AL Wild Card No. 2: Toronto Blue Jays

After going into the break only two above .500, the Blue Jays have climbed to 8 games over. While there are multiple other teams out there within striking distance for the wild card, look for the Blue Jays to hold onto their wild card spot.

Tim Hanna is a contributing writer of Three for Ten Sports.

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