There is no shortage of pitching studs out West, but the stockpile of hitters is not as strong.
In these waning days before baseball's 82nd annual All-Star Game, I figured that this would be as good a time as there will ever be to take a page out of Michael Jong's playbook and run through the most valuable contributors on each club in the AL West—but with a few modifications.
First, because there are only four teams in this division, and because some very worthwhile contributors would be overlooked if I focused on only the top first-half performer from each team, I've opted to highlight both the best pitcher and the best hitter from each AL West ballclub. Second, I decided to inject a bit more subjectivity into the mix by listing my own picks, which at times vary from the WARP leaders on each team. You may not agree with every pick, but let's give it a spin anyway and see where it takes us:
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Nolan Ryan opens up about the Astros potential move to the AL, and a look at some reinforcements on the way for the Rangers' pitching staff.
Before the Texas Rangers collected a narrow 3-2 win over the major league-worst Houston Astros on Wednesday night and earned the right to proudly hoist the coveted Silver Boot—awarded each year to the winner of the six-game season series between the Rangers and their intrastate "rivals" down at the other end of Interstate 45; yes, it's just as thrilling for the victor's fans as I'm making it sound here—above their heads, the traveling delegation of Rangers beat writers asked team president Nolan Ryanif he wantedthe Houston Astros to make the rumored league-to-league jump from the NL Central to the AL West.
His answer—an emphatic "yes"—cited the potential benefits of more normalized start times and added fan interest within the state (read: extra gate revenues, which have historically followed the Astros' visits to Arlington), but one has to think that the recent one-sidedness of this matchup made it at least a skosh easier for Ryan to endorse an Astros transplantation. From 2009-present, the Rangers have compiled a brilliant 14-3 record against Houston, and just as their 5-1 run against last season’s 76-win Astros helped power the Rangers' run to their first division title in more than a decade, four victories in five tries against Houston this season has also served a very important function: keeping the Rangers' slim first-place margin intact.
I guess it just had to be this way. In a four-team division light on legitimately captivating narratives, the Mariners appear to have cornered the market on thrilling highs and unspeakable lows. Their latest hardship came in rough back-to-back losses in the nation's capital—the first being the Tuesday night collapse, where Seattle lost despite possessing a win expectancy north of 99 percent at one point in the ninth inning, and the second a 2-1 loss on Wednesday night, where the cause of defeat was a pair of unearned runs charged to an otherwise brilliant Erik Bedard.
Seattle summons its top prospect, the Texas offense tanks, and a pair of low-BABIP pitchers stop leading charmed lives.
It's the middle of June, the Seattle Mariners and their bizarre upside-down run differential continue to play the role of meddlesome pest in a division race that they weren't supposed to be this competitive in, and now their opponents have to deal with a new and potentially dangerous injection of talent in the Pacific Northwest: Dustin Ackley. Less than one hour after winning a 3-1 Wednesday night thriller at home over third-place Los Angeles to climb within one game of the slumping Rangers (a game which was ultimately decided by the luckiest damn single of Carlos Peguero's life), M's manager Eric Wedgeconveyed the good news to the Seattle press, and the future and the present drew ever closer together:
"It's time to get him up here,'' said Wedge. "We sent him down after spring training so he could get more experience at second base, get some more at-bats at the Triple-A level. He's ready to be up here."
Oakland finally gives their skipper the axe, but the A's struggles may worsen in the coming weeks.
You might think that the violent collapse of the Oakland Athletics would have positioned manager Bob Geren as the likeliest candidate among all major AL West coaching staff members for first dismissal. And though he did end up taking the axe on Thursday, he lost out on the claim of being the first coach in the division to go; the Texas Rangers shockingly dismissed first-year hitting coach Thad Bosley on Wednesday afternoon in spite of the club’s first-place standing and top-10 team offense. Triple-A Round Rock hitting instructor Scott Coolbaugh, a runner-up to Bosley in last winter's coaching search, was called to the majors to replace Bosley.
The Rangers have clearly prioritized clubhouse chemistry—or the avoidance/removal of potential sources of distraction and strife—during the most recent years of Ron Washington's managerial reign. Bosley's dismissal is all the more interesting when you consider the surrounding circumstances and Washington and Bosley’s decades-long friendship. According to local reports, Bosley's primary offenses were lacking communication and a failure to mesh well with the Rangers’ hitters. Several players groused off the record that they didn't feel Bosley listened to them and couldn't do enough to help them. Elvis Andrussuggested Bosley was out of touch when it came to effectuating positive change on the mental side of the game, and was instead inclined to prescribe mechanical changes in response to hitters’ requests for aid.
Last year may have been dubbed the "Year of the Pitcher," but out West, the pitching continues to thrive thanks to two hurlers who weren't expected to get the ball out of spring training.
It's June 3, and baseball's most tightly-clustered division houses not only the worst first-place team (Texas, at 31-26 going into Friday's action) and the best last-place team (Oakland, at 27-30) in the game, but also the best top-to-bottom starting pitching of any single division. Well, sort of. OK, not exactly. Call it the best conglomeration of ballpark-, league-, and luck-influenced starting pitching performance, if you will, because arriving at this conclusion requires the use of old-fashioned earned run average rather than the ubiquitous peripherals-based metrics that better reflect actual pitcher skill, but there it is all the same:
The mud hit the fan over the last week, and now a manager may find himself on the hot seat.
Here's a little insight into the prime source of AL West managerial turnover over the last decade: From 2001-present, Los Angeles (Mike Scioscia), Oakland (Art Howe, Ken Macha, and Bob Geren), and Texas (Jerry Narron, Buck Showalter, and Ron Washington) have collectively used only seven managers. Seattle, on the other hand, has run through seven managers from 2003-present. Accordingly, most of the talk of clubhouse discontent, unfulfilled potential on the field and the like has centered on the Mariners over the last several years. That was due to change at some point, and change it has, with an ugly situation very rapidly materializing out in Oakland as player-borne allegations have inundated the current Bob Geren regime.
The public nastiness began late Monday night when closer Brian Fuentes, still incredulous at having been summoned into a tied game in the eighth inning, blasted his skipper following a late-inning 4-1 loss at Anaheim: "The games in San Francisco were unorthodox managing. I thought it was a National League thing. But tonight was pretty unbelievable. ... I get up in the seventh inning. I have no idea. I didn't stretch. If there was some sort of communication beforehand, I'd be ready, which I was. I was heated up. I was ready. ... But there's just a lack of communication. I don't think anybody knows what direction (Geren) is headed." The next day, Geren demoted Fuentes as an apparent disciplinary measure and installed Grant Balfour as his new closer. Fuentes apologized to Geren behind closed doors for the public outburst, and all was (purportedly) forgiven.
Injuries decimate the division as Jered Weaver and Neftali Feliz struggle.
A quick glance at the AL West standings as of late Wednesday evening would reveal a competitive outlook very similar to that which has been the norm ever since the Rangers began their descent from their early-season 9-1 pedestal—Texas, Oakland, and Los Angeles all clustered within 1½ games of each other, constituting the tightest division race in baseball thus far, with Seattle trailing by a somewhat more formidable 4 ½-game margin. Another quick glance directed towards the Playoff Odds report would reveal that the Royals (0.3 percent) are the only American League squad in possession of worse post-season odds than the Mariners (0.5 percent), and I believe even the most stubborn/eternal optimists residing in the Northwest would freely acknowledge that this will probably not be the Mariners' year ...but if it's any consolation whatsoever, at least they have their health. Sort of.
The Mariners haven't been immune to the injury bug (David Aardsma, Shawn Kelley, and friends send their love from the infirmary), but at least have been healthier on the whole than their three divisional counterparts. It does, in fact, strike me that this has been one of the worst early-season AL West injury outbreaks that I can recall, what with the Rangers' organizational pitching and outfield depth being virtually decimated by everything from skull-grazing line drives (Eric Hurley; concussion) to ill-advised head-first slides (Josh Hamilton; fractured humerus) and everything in between, and now, more recently, the unfortunate news that both Dallas Braden and Kendrys Morales* will miss the remainder of the season after going under the knife for their respective ailments.
There is only one way to describe Wednesday's events in the AL West: awful.
In the not-so-grand pantheon of the absolute biggest gut-punch days for the AL West in recent memory, Wednesday—and all of the demoralizing events and announcements that were contained within its 24-hour window—no doubt deserves a very prominent spot. I suspect I may never get another opportunity to wind the entirety of my narrative around the happenings of a single day, but only because this day was so completely and utterly outlandish from a baseball standpoint. Behold the chronology of one miserable day in the life of the AL West:
11:49 a.m. PDT: After receiving second and third opinions on his barking left shoulder from famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrew and Mets team physician Dr. David Altchek on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, the word finally came down via John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Dallas Braden to have shoulder surgery Monday to repair torn capsule in left shoulder." Like so many felled pitchers before him, Braden's own injury-marred odyssey included shoulder stiffness, the obligatory and quite immediate trip to the 15-day disabled list, and a subsequent visit to Dr. Lewis Yocum and an MRI exam that revealed no structural damage and culminated in a prescribed course of rest and rehab. Sports medicine has never been in a better place than it is right now, but cases like this one—where further examination reveals a far more serious underlying problem than what was first diagnosed—are so commonplace that I really can't begrudge anyone a healthy dose of skepticism about baseball injuries.
The season is only a month old, yet there are some players who are separating themselves from the pack--as underperformers.
Billy Beane once remarked that he reserved the first two months of the regular season for evaluating what his team had and pinpointing its most glaring deficiencies, used the middle two months to go out and actively address those deficiencies, and viewed the final two months as an opportunity to allow those midseason improvements to play out and make any final tweaks or adjustments. It's a concise, memorable, and completely intuitive way of looking at the season from a managerial perspective, and one that's becoming increasingly relevant as we begin to burrow our way into the heart of the regular season's second month.
At this point in the game, I find myself most interested in those individual starting players who are not close to pulling their expected weight, and those positions that seem the likeliest to demand some form of midseason fortification. This, of course, is done with the full understanding that a player's season numbers can still swing violently in one direction or the other given such a relatively early date on the calendar. If we can identify what isn't working so far, we've made some fairly substantial progress toward figuring out what's likely going to be addressed at some point down the line... and since this is, after all, all about the AL West, you can probably guess what's coming next.
The Mariners and the Athletics have seen no offensive relief, while the Rangers can't get no satisfaction in their bullpen.
The date is April 28, the wild variation that permeated the AL West during the regular season's first three weeks is slowly but surely stabilizing (well, about as much as one could reasonably expect in a division race), and things are beginning to look a bit more fully-formed. Boring, right? Not so much. Even when a clear-cut and definable narrative isn't jumping out at you, there's always something—or, in this case, a few somethings—worth discussing with long-term implications attached.
This morning, I'm going to embark upon a sort of "scattershooting" tour through the division, a term coined by legendary Texas sportswriter Blackie Sherrod when he wanted to hit upon several completely unrelated points in a print column, but couldn't meld them all together in one cohesive essay. Genius.
The Angels may have been counted out in the preseason and the Rangers may have gotten off to a hot start, but now the teams are neck-and-neck.
On an uncharacteristically chilly Wednesday evening in Arlington, something happened to the host team that had not happened since September 20, 2009: The suddenly herky-jerky Texas Rangers officially dropped their third consecutive series, falling to the same team in the same venue as they had when they dropped that third consecutive series nearly a year and a half before. From a division-centric point of view, however, the item of greater significance to come out of the Rangers' inadequate play was the hasty ascent of a new team into the AL West pole position—the Angels. For the first time since June 7, 2010, a team other than the Rangers has outright possession of the top rung... and it pulled it off by beating the Rangers two times out of three in their own house.
Over much of the last half-decade, a big part of the Angels' yearly narrative can be traced to their seemingly paranormal ability to win more actual games than what their raw runs scored and runs allowed totals (or, more concisely, their Pythagorean win-loss record) indicate they should have won. Indeed, I can hardly imagine any baseball-literate person not happening upon at least one snark-filled reference to Mike Scioscia's "magic" or the like in all of their years of online reading, which is really just a more compelling way of stating that Los Angeles has a peculiar knack for performing above the league norms in higher-leverage game situations. (Of course, this trend didn't really end up holding true last year when the Angels went 80-82 against a Pythagorean record of 79-83, but who wants to cast doubt upon the existence of magic?)