WASHINGTON, June 3rd – The tale of the season for the AL West was supposed to be a battle between the defending pennant-winning Texas Rangers, and the retooled pitching staff of the Oakland Athletics. Instead, it’s turned into a race around .500, as the Rangers, just 31-26, lead the three teams below in their division by margins ranging from just 1.5-4 games.
The Rangers started the year on fire, shooting out to a 10-3 start, segued into an 8-15 slump, and have been up and down ever since. The Seattle Mariners, surprisingly sitting in second place, started off 8-15, and have gone 21-12 since, to move to just 1.5 games back. The Los Angeles Angels seized control of the division when Texas was struggling, but are now 2.5 games out. Finally, the A’s have seen their offense implode, earning a trip to fourth place.
Only in the early summer of the baseball season, May, June, July, can a close race involving an entire division be seen. Very much the same thing is going on in the five-team AL East, where all five teams, from the New York Yankees to the Baltimore Orioles, are separated by only six games.
So much pride and attention is put into the September playoff “races”, of which there are often only one or two battles that fit that description. The real months where seasons are won and lost are the middle two, the hot days of June and July. Over the next two months, and a little help from August if necessary, the pretenders will be banished from contention, making way for the highly publicized two-team pushes of late August and early September.
For our target case, the AL West, the burning question is which pair of teams will emerge from the dog days of summer? Or, more accurately, can any of these teams consolidate into a contender?
Beginning with the process of elimination, it’s a simple task to spot which of these four teams doesn’t belong. Unsurprisingly, it’s the surprise of the bunch, the Mariners. The pitching staff for the Mariners has produced as usual, this year rallying behind defending AL Cy Young award-winner Felix Hernandez and top prospect Michael Pineda. The problem with that system? Seattle’s anemic offense and the comparative pitching strength of the entire division. As long as the Mariners only get hitting production out of two spots, their march up the division standings will come to an end.
Where to go next? To the other struggling offense of the division, namely to Oakland. The A’s aren’t that much better than the Mariners in any of the three main aspects, but together, they’re easily a leg up on Seattle. Sadly for all the preseason predictions, the A’s, with their struggling offense, won’t be able to contend for the division after the dog days of summer pass by.
That would leave standing the Rangers and Angels, two evenly matched teams with identical strengths and weaknesses. Only one pair of teams can emerge into the stretch race, and Texas and Los Angeles, two well-rounded squads, seem poised to beat out the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics.
But anything can happen in mid-summer, and no matter which two teams come out of it, this AL West race will go down as one of the most dramatic in the three-division era.
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