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MLB: AL West First-Half Recap


The AL West has seen plenty of surprises so far in 2017, with a resurgent Houston Astros team playing as dominant as they were over a decade ago. Los Angeles Angels were here hit with injury when Mike Trout went down, a hot-and-cold Seattle Mariners team, and an Oakland A’s team still bleeding from after the 2014 season. Check out the first half 2017 MLB season review for the AL West.

First Half Division Rankings

1:    Houston Astros                                    (60-29)         –

T-2: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim      (45-47)    16.5 GB      3.0 GB WC

T-2: Texas Rangers                                     (43-45)    16.5 GB      3.0 GB WC

4:    Seattle Mariners                                  (43-47)    17.5 GB      4.0 GB WC

5:    Oakland Athletics                                (39-50)    21.0 GB      7.5 GB WC

The Houston Astros are running away with the division and can get away with playing under .500 in the second half if the other four teams keep playing at an average level. Remaining in contention for a wild card spot are the Angels, Rangers, and Mariners, all needing to have a strong second half to contend.

Oakland Athletics: (39-50)

As far as the Oakland Athletics go, however, they need to be in seller mode at the trade deadline to contend in 2018 and beyond. The A’s have been playing their same old song since 2015: having to option and DFA left-and-right to see what works to get them out of their cursed black hole.

Oakland’s starting pitching has been hit with injuries and hit with dull mediocrity, as star SP Sonny Gray has done little to carry their rotation with a 4.00 ERA and a 4-4 record. Gray has been decent but nowhere near the former Cy Young Candidate’s past seasons’ performances. The young and improving Sean Manaea has been an anchor in the A’s rotation, is the leader in wins with 7, and has a surprisingly high 2.3 WAR. Injuries to Kendall Graveman, Andrew Triggs, Jharel Cotton, and a disappointing Jesse Hahn have sunk the team. The rotation can improve much in the second half as long as they step it up.

Sep 26, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sean Manaea (55) throws the ball in the second inning of the game the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The offense has been a hot mess, with a surprise DFA of former All-Star C Stephen Vogt last month highlighting just how bad they have been. Ranking 29th in the MLB in batting average, 25th in OBP, and 23rd in OPS, the offense lacks hitting but can hit quite a few home runs with power hitters Yonder Alonso, Ryon Healy, and Khris Davis, ranking 10th in the league for HR. The disappointments of the A’s offense include young SS Marcus Semien (.173 AVG, .328 OBP, .288 SLG, 1 HR, 4 RBI), having so much potential but having the ability to allow it to excel. 

Honestly, if Oakland can trade for young hitters that hit for average, their lineup could build to be lethal blended in with the power they have. Unfortunately, that’s not been the case for the first half of the year.

The bullpen as well has been not as awful as some have (including division rival Texas Rangers), but its instability early in the season has been alarming. However, closer Santiago Casilla has emerged out of the long-term committee with 15 SV and has been backed up by Ryan Madson and a healthy Sean Doolittle for a decent back-end.

Oakland is out of contention thanks to pitching injuries and an anemic offense but can be saved next season with plenty of work done by GM David Forst.

Seattle Mariners: (43-47)

GM Jerry Dipoto has spoken with the Seattle Times yesterday and explained of his team, “For a year and a half now, has been a pretty topsy-turvy team. [Seattle tends] to go through highs and lows. And every time we hit bottom, we bounce higher than we did the time before, and inevitably we come back down. But the one thing that this group is not afraid of energetically kicking it into the mountain once the ball starts rolling. When the ball starts rolling, we will push it faster. We just have to get better at when we start rolling up the hill.” Dipoto’s words cannot be more right, as I honestly think they are just about to break through and be a threat in the AL West, they start to plummet. Seattle, with such powerful offensive talent, have had higher expectations than how they’ve been playing, and are met with themselves as their own worst enemy. The Mariners are 4.0 GB of the 2nd Wild Card spot and have a threatening lineup to perform.

As I have just mentioned, Seattle’s lineup consists of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, and Kyle Seager, which tells a fan they should be scaring pitchers. The offense, ranking 7th in batting average and on-base percentage for the league, does hit, but surprisingly is 24th place in home runs. Home run support (particularly from Cruz, Cano, and Seager) is not as great as it should be. With that being said, the lineup consists of a many young and blossoming hitters such as LF Guillermo Heredia and clutch bench players Ben Gamel and Taylor Motter, allowing for a strong bench.

 

The rotation is the biggest disappointment facing Seattle. Former Cy Young winner and beloved Mariner Felix Hernandez, has pitched a 2017 season through injury and turmoil, pitching 9 starts of 50.2 IP with a 4.44 ERA, a 5.10 FIP (which indicates Seattle’s defense helps Felix out quite a lot), and only 46 K. 

Former starter and now-long reliever and former All-Star Yovani Gallardo has a whopping 5.65 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and a -0.2 WAR (pitching under the level of an AAA pitcher). There have been young surprises in their rotation, and taking Gallardo’s place was 23-year old rookie Andrew Moore, pleasantly pitching three starts with a 3.86 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP, hopefully continuing to contribute positivity to Seattle’s rotation.

Closer Edwin Diaz predicted to be the fifth best reliever in MLB at the start of the 2017 season by Roster Resource, has been dethroned as closer in May, but redeemed himself. He, however, has not pitched to expectation with a 3.53 ERA. The supporting cast of Nick Vincent, James Pazos, Steve Cishek, and company have been adequate.

Seattle’s starting pitching and lack of power have been hurting their performance, but a healthier rotation can help to fix them and contend throughout the second half.

Texas Rangers: (43-45)

The AL West Division Champions of 2015 and 2016 will more than likely not win their 3rd consecutive championship as the mediocre offense and horrible bullpen of theirs has hurt them. The league-leading 17 blown saves have not done any favors and contribute to much of their underperforming 2017 first-half. Contending for a wild card spot, a trade for a decent high-leverage reliever will help, along with a decent bat.

The underperforming offense in Arlington has seen Joey Gallo and Mike Napoli bat under the Mendoza Line (both batting .194), Jonathan Lucroy with only 4 HR, and Rougned Odor with a .220 average, only remaining on the major league team at the moment due to his recent contract extension that came with two horses. 

Although Gallo, Napoli, and Odor have had a huge dip in their batting averages, they do however hit home runs (21 HR, 18 HR, and 17 HR, respectively). The best hitter, by far, is should’ve-been All-Star Elvis Andrus, batting .300 and a surprisingly high 11 HR. Another surprise (and hitting better than starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy) is Robinson Chirinos, with 12 HR and 25 RBI, probably to be starting catcher in 2018.

Texas’s bullpen is a mess, suffering from 17 blown saves, and going through two closer changes just in the first half. Sam Dyson (now doing wonders for San Francisco) had an ERA in the double digits for much of April and May and never recorded a save in Texas for 2017. After Dyson was Matt Bush closing, which was great for two months but declined in mid-June, ballooning his ERA from 0.96 to 3.55 and blowing five saves, making way for someone. 

As of now, the Rangers are left with not knowing what to do but play a tag-team with rookie Jose Leclerc, former long man Alex Claudio, dethroned Matt Bush, and former closers Jeremy Jeffress and Jason Grilli. This is until they await probable new closer Keone Kela to come off of the DL with a shoulder injury (just in the nick of time)!

 

The rotation has not been nearly as bad as their reliever counterparts but was faced with co-ace Cole Hamels going down with an injury for a good two months. All-Star Yu Darvish has made a good attempt to anchor the Texas rotation, but his 6-8 record shows he’s just tried to do so. Mediocrity has met Martin Perez, Nick Martinez, and Andrew Cashner. Tyson Ross is still trying to prove himself in the Texas rotation. Much of the good in the Texas rotation comes from 32-year-old rookie Austin Bibens-Dirkx, a new fan-favorite, outpitching Max Scherzer in Washington and having another stellar start in Yankee Stadium.

Texas can contend in the second half if Gallo, Napoli, Lucroy, and Odor can wake up, and if the Rangers bullpen can be fixed with young fireballer Kela leading the way (if he can stay healthy) with the rest of the high-leverage staff and middle relief stepping it up. The starting rotation is also very much in need of improvement and can do so hopefully staying healthy as well.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: (45-47)

An already all-time great for the Angels, Mike Trout missed part of the season with a much-needed thumb surgery. This took a blow to the already mediocre offense. Missing Trout, the Angels experimented with several young options. A horrible and injury-ridden rotation hurt chances of winning and couldn’t support the lineup and decent bullpen of the first half. Chances to contend are still very prevalent but need to help their rotation and boost their lineup to seize the chance.

Experiments with Eric Young and Cameron Maybin in the outfield have been adequate but nowhere near the performance of future Hall-of-Famer Mike Trout. Also hurting the lineup have been underperforming hitters such as Albert Pujols, Kole Calhoun, CJ Cron, and Danny Espinoza, allowing the lineup to further tank without Trout. The pleasant hitters for LAA include Yunel Escobar and Andrelton Simmons, helping to anchor the offense from part-mediocrity and part-horrible. With Trout’s return in the second half, the Angels can look into contention a bit further, but the rest of the lineup (especially the veterans that know better) needs to step it up.

Los Angeles Angels
Sep 19, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) smiles to the bench after hitting a triple and driving in a run during the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The starting rotation has been injury-ridden, and its result has been HORRIBLE. After Tyler Skaggs goes down with an oblique strain and Andrew Heaney with Tommy John, the end-result has been a rotation with an average ERA struggling around five. JC Ramirez, the Angels’ best RP has an 8-7 record, ERA of 4.46, and WHIP of 1.31, screaming decent but mediocre.

Under Ramirez is the main cast of Ricky Nolasco (5.06 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, (4-10)), Jesse Chavez (4.99 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, (5-10)), recently-injured Matt Shoemaker (4.52 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, (6-3)), and recently-optioned Alex Meyer (4.18 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, (3-5)) has been pitiful and can be saved with a trade for at least one (if not two) starting pitcher and health to heal the starting rotation on its own.

Their bullpen was hit with an injury to Huston Street and has used a closer-by-committee for much of the season, using options David Hernandez, Street, Cam Bedrosian, and Bud Norris to close games. Angels have seemed to have found the closer in Bud Norris with a strong setup man in Cam Bedrosian, but bullpens are so volatile that no one is going to know if that is all going to change or not.

The Angels need help with their rotation and need an offensive boost with Mike Trout, but can contend as long as they start playing well.

Houston Astros: (60-29)

In 2014, Sports Illustrated predicted the Houston Astros to win the 2017 World Series and put then-emerging prospect George Springer on the cover. Then, it seemed as if Sports Illustrated maybe didn’t know what they were talking about at the time and put too much faith in Springer and then-prospect Correa along with Altuve to anchor the 2017 lineup, but now, they seem to know what they are talking about. Despite being hit with starting rotation injuries, the lineup has been nothing but stellar and consistent and had 6 All-Stars this year.

The offense has three starting All-Stars: 2B Jose Altuve, SS Carlos Correa, and CF George Springer, and boy have they made Houston Great Again. It’s not only the three stars that have contributed significantly to Houston’s offense, but also Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, Alex Bregman, and super-utility man Marwin Gonzalez who have all offered a great deal to AJ Hinch’s club. The worst hitters on the team are Norichika Aoki, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran, who would all be the best hitters on 4th and 5th place teams. The deep lineup also has great options (and trade bait) in Derek Fisher, Kyle Tucker, and Juan Centeno.

Houston would benefit from pitching: both a decent starter and a decent reliever. They are running away with the AL West and would take an enormous second-half meltdown to give it up.

The AL West in the first half can be summed up as having a stellar Houston Astros team have a huge lead over the other four teams. Three teams are in mediocre-land while contending for a Wild Card Spot, and the Oakland just about have to throw in the towel at this point. We’re only halfway through 2017, but we can already see a bit of certainty for how the second half will pan out. In the game of baseball, there is no telling.


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Sydney Moore
I'm a young but ambitious writer currently residing in the Austin area. I've been writing since August 2013, and it's one of my hobbies. Another hobby of mine (of course) is watching baseball with my favorite team being the Texas Rangers. I also watch football (college and NFL) and love the Dallas Cowboys! #NeverEverQuit

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