The last thing the AL West was supposed to be thought of by MLB baseball handicappers was – The Wild, Wild West – yet almost three weeks into the season that is what we have.
Houston has more than a pulse, Oakland is not the doormat so many thought in the off-season and if one thought Anaheim and Seattle would run roughshod through this division, at least for now against the MLB odds, it ain’t happening. Here is a look-see at all five teams in the division and we forecast how they should be considered for MLB picks.
Houston Astros – Houston Making Real Strides
In the past five years, Houston has averaged 61.6 wins per season. While even sportsbooks acknowledged the talent base with the Astros is improving, hard to imagine anybody thought this team would be in first place even for a day in the last week of April.
If the ‘Stros were going to show real improvement, the natural assumption would be the offense would be carrying them right? Yet that has not been the case at all, as they are ranked 13th in the AL in scoring. Jose Altuve’s batting average is down 30 points, sluggers George Springer and Chris Carter have made less contact than email campaigns sent to I-Phones. In fact, those two and Evan Gattis might help cool the city of Houston with all their whiffs and moving the air, since the trio is on pace for over 200 strikeouts each.
So why are the Astros even close to competitive this season? Pitching. That’s correct, after being 13th in ERA and dead last in relievers ERA (4.80) in 2014, as of this writing Houston has the second-best earned run average in the AL and its bullpen is third. After this current road trip, Houston will be home 16 of their next 20 contests and could continue to make some noise.
Oakland Athletics – Oakland’s Numbers Pointing Upward
Pertaining to the Oakland A’s supposed demise this season, it seems best to paraphrase the great Mark Twain, “The report of the death of the Oakland A’s was an exaggeration.” General manager Billy Beane did move a few talented players from a team which looked ready to play in a World Series a year ago. But Beane is not about to worry about last year and brought in Ike Davis (.353 BA, .414 OBP) Billy Butler (.343 BA, .395 OBP) and elevated catcher Stephen Vogt (.373 BA, .450 OBP) to full time duty. How are those working out?
Run differential is a great indicator of a team’s overall strength and Oakland was the best in baseball last year and is in the upper third to start 2015. Oakland still has good starting pitching, but needs help in the pen. The A’s will be playing mostly division games the next couple weeks and have a reasonable chance to beat the betting odds and show a profit.
Los Angeles Angels – Nothing Heavenly About Anaheim Yet
Last season L.A./Anaheim Angels had the top offense in the big leagues. To date, other than Mike Trout (.317 BA, .408 OBP) and new second baseman Johnny Giavotello (.292, .364 OBP), the rest of the Halos are not delivering. To a certain degree the same was true last year into June when Los Angeles took off and went on to have the best record in baseball with 98 wins. The larger concern for Halos is the majority of their everyday players are in their 30’s, granted most other than Albert Pujols are in their early 30’s and should be productive, but the window is beginning to close. With Jered Weaver 32 and C.J. Wilson 34, you have to wonder if they do not make the World Series this season, has their chance passed? Next week the Angels will play three games each against both Bay Area teams before opening up a 9-game homestand. Most likely not much better than a 50-50 wager on the road trip.
Seattle Mariners – Dealing With Expectations
Seattle was trending in March as the choice to unseat Anaheim and win the AL West. They were one game away from making the postseason last year and adding Nelson Cruz’s big lumber stick and having the overall pitching staff ready from the start of the season was supposed to be a plus. However, Seattle staggered to a 3-7 start and other than Cruz and to a less degree shortstop Brad Miller, the offense has been soft in not connecting for big hits when needed. What has the Mariners held back more than anything from people wanting to utilize them for MLB picks is the starting pitching. Even with Felix Hernandez’s 1.61 ERA, all of the starters collectively are over five on earned runs. The M’s are showing some improvement as this past week progressed, but will have a much better indication where they are when they make two Lone Star State stops next week followed by hangin’ close to Disneyland. It will not get easier with Hisashi Iwakuma placed on the DL.
Texas Rangers – What Else Could Go Wrong for Texas?
Coming off an injury-riddled 2014, Texas was optimistic this season would be different. Then Yu Darvish was lost, Derek Holland went back on the DL. That means the adjusted Rangers starting rotation looks this way presently: Yovani Gallardo, Colby Lewis, Nick Martinez, call-up veteran Wandy Rodriguez and possibly Ross Detwiler (10.95 ERA means he’s subject to change). Texas is going to have to score way more than 4.1 RPG like they are now and how much use will that bullpen receive? The Rangers have nine division conflicts on the horizon and the only good news is six will be in Arlington.