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.

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The Aiken affair

Last week, the Houston Astros made history in the worst way by being the first team to not sign the No. 1 overall pick since 1983. It may go down as a historic blunder. The ramifications of not signing Brady Aiken are far-reaching for the organization and a number of its 2014 draftees.

A building plan going to waste

A plan predicated on getting young talent through the draft in high positions that’s not necessarily college talent (those who are generally closer to MLB-ready) depends on timing. Look no further than the Marlins of 1997 and 2003. Two World Series runs were made entirely built on a strategy of using talent that came together at the right time. After winning the championship, they started over due to small-market restrictions.

The Astros already somewhat into their long-term plan, as a chunk of the talent drafted and acquired via trade — Jon Singleton, Jarred Cosart, L.J. Hoes, Domingo Santana and Dallas Keuchel — is already at the major league level. Failing to sign three players, including two of early round potential (one a No. 1 overall) works against the talent-compiling objective.

This year might not be the only aspect of this failure, though. If this year’s performance is any indicator, it appears the Astros might also have whiffed on Mark Appel from last year. His numbers skyrocketed in a bad way this year, as he sits at A+ Lancaster with a 10.80 ERA. The 2013 first round selection has faced a number of injuries, and speculation leads some to say he may have been poorly picked.

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Cellar dwellers with bright futures: Astros

As the 2014 pennant race starts to kick into gear, several teams have established themselves as contenders. These teams have shown the resiliency and experience to compete in their respective divisions, and look to be in the thick of things for the rest of the season.

On the other hand, other teams have fallen off, and instead are looking to 2015 and beyond for their chance to compete. In particular, I thought of four teams who won’t make noise in this year’s pennant race, but who have talented young players and strong enough farm systems to turn things around in the near future. None of these four teams have been to the playoffs in quite some time, but if a number of prospects work out, they have the chance to be perennial contenders very soon. I plan to take a look at each of these teams in detail as a four-part series. The first team I’ll be discussing is the Houston Astros.

The Astros last appeared in the playoffs in 2005, and have lost 100 games or more in each of the last three seasons. Although they presently sport a 40-56 record, good enough for fourth place in the AL West, many believe it is only a matter of time before their high draft picks are ready to carry the team.

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