This time a year ago, the notion of the Seattle Mariners reaching the postseason was a far-fetched dream. A devastating series of injuries, particularly to their starting rotation, had derailed a once-promising 2017 season.
Twelve months later at Memorial Day, the Mariners are sporting a winning record and challenging for first place. Can Seattle build upon their early success and earn an elusive postseason berth?
In our Memorial Day Report Series, we’ll discuss that and more.
Now, lets’ end our series with a review of the AL West standings and how Seattle stacks up against their divisional rivals.
|Los Angeles Angels|
Through Memorial Day, the Mariners are hot on the heels of the first place Houston Astros. But Seattle must perform better within their own division to play meaningful October baseball.
Currently, the Mariners are 11-10 within the AL West. That doesn’t sound so bad until you realize they’re 2-5 against the Astros and Angels. Worse, both teams outscored Seattle 42-17 during those seven contests.
Having said that, don’t overlook the Oakland Athletics. The club isn’t likely to contend, but their offense is potent making them the perfect spoiler. To date, the Mariners are 6-3 against Oakland, but five of those games were one-run affairs.
On that note, let’s compare the run production for each AL West club. The following table illustrates how each team ranks in the AL in several offensive categories, including the most important one of all — run scored/game (RS/G).
|Los Angeles Angels|
We’ve already discussed Seattle’s offense. But it’s worth noting the Mariners sit in the middle of the AL in run scoring with their overall productivity on par with the Athletics. Okay, let’s turn our attention to their competition.
In Houston, it’s an embarrassment of riches. The Astros are averaging a robust five runs scored/game. Among regular position players, only first baseman Yuli Gurriel, designated hitter Evan Gattis and outfielder Jake Marisnick are below the league-average mark for OBP (.318).
It’s worth noting Marisnick’s struggles led to a minor league demotion, but he was quickly recalled after Josh Reddick went to the DL with a finger infection. Reddick is expected to return to action later this week, which may mean Marisnick could be sent down again.
The team could also option rookie outfielder Tony Kemp back to Class-AAA Fresno instead, although he was Marisnick’s replacement in the first place. Kemp has been impressive in the field and at the plate during his short stay with the big league club.
Having choices is a nice problem to have for general manager Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch.
Los Angeles Angels
Through Memorial Day, the Angels’ offense (4.65 RS/G) has been slightly more productive than last season (4.38). But the lineup is deeper than in recent years. As usual, Mike Trout leads the way and looks like a potential AL MVP finalist once again. This year though, he has more help.
Andrelton Simmons is building off his breakout season last year. Superstars Manny Machado, Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor receive most of the attention when the discussion of best shortstop begins. But Simmons deserves to be including in the conversation.
In the short-term, rookie Shohei Ohtani is living up to his advanced billing. When his pitching duties don’t get in the way, the 23-year-old has been mashing as the club’s designated hitter.
Other layers to Scioscia’s offense include catcher Martin Maldonado, who recently returned from the DL, and utility player Jefry Marte. Still, not everything is going peachy with the Halos’ run production.
Two offseason acquisitions — Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler — haven’t lived up to expectations thus far. The 32-year-old Cozart is league average after having a career season in 2017. Kinsler, who has seen his offensive numbers plummet in recent years, is far worse with a batting average well under the .200-mark.
When the Mariners acquired Mitch Haniger, general manager Jerry Dipoto would often compare Haniger to Kole Calhoun. Unfortunately, that version of Calhoun has been missing for quite some time. The 30-year-old is still one of the best defensive right fielders in the game. However, he has .653 OPS since the beginning of the 2017 season.
Future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols joined the 3,000-hit/600 home run club earlier this season, although the 38-year-old is no longer a serious offensive threat. Yes, Pujols can still crush mistakes and he’s a wily veteran not to be taken lightly in key spots. But that’s about it.
Not much was expected from Oakland this season. After all, they’re viewed as being in a perpetual rebuild. But manager Bob Melvin has his club playing hard. Melvin’s lineup has five regulars — Mark Canha, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Jed Lowrie, and Khris Davis — with seven-plus home runs.
Lowrie isn’t just hitting homers. He ranks in the top-20 of the AL for batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
After a couple of down seasons, catcher Jonathan Lucroy has been a pleasant surprise after signing with the Athletics in March. The 31-year-old has an above average OBP, while delivering plus-defense behind the plate.
The Rangers have been consistent run producers for several seasons. But injuries have considerably slowed this year’s lineup. Future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre is on the DL for a second time, while second baseman Rougned Odor and center fielder Delino DeShields have missed time too.
Neither Odor nor DeShields are reaching base at a reasonable rate. Worse yet, the team’s best overall player — shortstop Elvis Andrus — will be out until mid-June with a broken elbow.
There are a few bright spots for manager Jeff Banister. Still just 23-years-old, right fielder Nomar Mazara has become a star for the Rangers. Veteran designated hitter Shin-Soo Choo is having a good season too.
Rookie Isiah Kiner-Falefa has been a pleasant surprise as an injury replacement across the infield. Once everyone is healthy, Banister is likely to continue to find playing time for the 23-year-old.
With about of a third of the season complete, the Astros lead the way in run production. But the gap isn’t significant between the front running clubs in the AL West. That said; the difference-maker will likely be the success of their respective pitching staffs.
|Los Angeles Angels|
Along with runs allowed/game (RA/G), you’ll notice the preceding table includes the well-traveled stat ERA and fielding independent pitching (FIP). Also available is my new favorite metric for assessing pitching — estimated weighted on-base average (xwOBA).
Regardless of the metric, Houston’s rotation is phenomenal. It’s the best in baseball. Hinch has three starters with an ERA under 3.00 — Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton. Rounding out the the starting five is 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers.
In the bullpen, closer Ken Giles has scuffled. But Astro relievers have held opposing hitters to the second lowest batting average in the behind the New York Yankees. Key contributors include former starter Collin McHugh, super-reliever Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock, and Hector Rondon.
So far so good for the Angels’ pitching staff, but the rotation’s injury history can’t be overlooked. Former top prospect Alex Meyer was lost shoulder surgery before the season began. Since Opening Day, the club has lost starters J.C Ramirez and Matt Shoemaker.
Despite the setbacks, the starting staff continues to deliver positive results. Naturally, Ohtani is getting the majority of national exposure. But he’s not alone. Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, Garrett Richards, and Nick Tropeano have formed a solid rotation behind Ohtani. Also contributing, rookie Jaime Barria.
Thanks to losing Middleton, the bullpen hasn’t been as stable. Scioscia has turned to veteran Blake Parker in recent save situations. The Angels skipper has also used hard-throwing rookie Justin Anderson once to close out a game.
Cam Bedrosian is another option, but he’s been susceptible to the long ball and has struggled with his control at times. Although former Atlanta Braves closer Jim Johnson is available to Scioscia, the veteran manager appears content with using the 34-year-old in a setup role.
The Athletics’ pitching staff has been decimated by injuries. Among the casualties; starters Andrew Triggs, Brett Anderson, Paul Blackburn, and Jharel Cotton and relievers Ryan Buchter, Santiago Casilla, and Liam Hendriks. Still, Oakland continues to hang in there thanks to those remaining intact.
Former first round pick Sean Manaea is living up to the expectations hoisted upon him. The southpaw threw a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox earlier this season and is only one of two pitchers with double-digit starts.
In the bullpen, Blake Treinen has proven to be dynamic closer. If Melvin can get the ball to Treinen’s hands with a lead, there’s a good chance Oakland wins.
The lone bright spots in the Rangers’ rotation have been ace Cole Hamels and 45-year-old Bartolo Colon. Southpaw Martin Perez is shelved with inflammation in his non-throwing arm. The remaining contributors are veteran arms who’ve struggled mightily this season.
In the bullpen, Chief Sealth H.S. and Everett Community College product Keone Kela has assumed the closer role. But the 25-year-old has struggled with injuries in the past and has never logged more than 40 innings in a season.
Another young right-hander, Jose Leclerc has been reliable this season. The 24-year-old has predominantly been an eight-inning weapon for Banister. Other key contributors out of the bullpen include veteran Jake Diekman and Thomas Jefferson H.S. alum Tony Barnette.
Former Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum was signed by the Rangers during the offseason and was expected to eventually become the club’s closer. But the 33-year-old encountered blister issues and started the season on the DL.
Now healthy, Lincecum is delivering sub-optimal results with Class-AAA Round Rock. For that reason, no timetable has been set for the former University of Washington star’s Texas debut.
With 50-plus games in the record book, it’s already abundantly clear the divide between good and bad teams in the AL is significant. Because of this rift and the fact AL West teams haven’t faced the same competition, it’s still too early to read much into the overall records of clubs within the division.
To see what I mean, refer to the following table.
|Los Angeles Angels|
As you can see, the Mariners have played just three games against the AL East, which has the two of the best teams in the AL — the Red Sox and Yankees. Conversely, the Angels have already taken bruises against New York and Boston.
That’s not Seattle’s fault, but they’ve able to pad their record by feasting on the mediocre AL Central where a .500 team is in first place. In fact, they’ve played one fewer game against that division than the Angels, Athletics, and Astros combined. This is why more time to determine how the AL West and wild card races shake out.
Having said that, the Mariners have taken care of business against inferior competition. That hasn’t always been the case during the club’s recent history. The true test comes for manager Scott Servais and his crew in June when Seattle plays 15 games against the Angels, Astros, Red Sox, and Yankees.
Entering the season, the defending World Series champion Astros were the clear-cut favorite to win the AL West again. To date, the Mariners and Angels have put pressure on Houston while making their presence known throughout the league. Whether either team can sustain their early season success is unknown — it will come down to their respective rotations.
By the All-Star break, we should have a more clear idea on how the AL West stacks up. The Mariners will face stiffer competition in June, while the Astros and Angels get the opportunity to pad their respective records against the weaker AL Central.
It’s going to be a fun summer in the AL West.