MLB: AL West Memorial Day Check-In

The AL West is home to the defending champion Texas Rangers. It is home to baseball’s best team over the past several years, the Houston Astros. It is home to the best non-playoff team from a year ago, the Seattle Mariners. It is home to baseball’s best player in the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout. But so far, 2024 has been a dud. Only one team is over .500 and Trout is on the Injured List. The upside? With no one emerging, an interesting summer still looms. And one thing remains the same–Seattle, Texas and Houston have separated themselves from Los Angeles and the Oakland A’s.

Here’s a concise breakdown of things look rounding the first turn:

Seattle (31-27)
Pitching is what’s keying the Mariners’ relative success to this point. They are getting steady work in the rotation from Luis Castillo, George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, and Bryce Miller, all of whom have ERAs of 4.08 or lower. Not spectacular, but steady. All very sustainable, and in the case of Castillo, the hopes for getting even better.

Even more exciting is the potential shown by 24-year-old Bryan Woo. In just four starts, Woo’s ERA is a dazzling 1.66. There is no weak spot in the Seattle rotation, and the potential for dominance. This is in conjunction with a bullpen that’s anchored by Andres Munoz, with his 1.48 ERA and 11 saves.

All of that points to a team that can secure its first playoff berth in 23 years. But can they hit? The arms have carried an offense that ranks a putrid 14th in the American League for runs scored. The only player having anything close to a decent year is Dylan Moore, with a stat line of .349 OBP/.464 slugging percentage.

That said, Seattle can expect better from any or all of the following:

*Ty France (1B, .309/.348 stat line)
*Cal Raleigh (C, .285/.424)
*Julio Rodriguez (CF. .311/.344)

Then throw in that maybe the duo of 33-year-old Mitches—Haniger and Garver—can find some of that old spark in their bats. It won’t take much offense, and unless someone else in this division really heats up, it won’t take many wins. The Mariners might have flaws, but in this division, they are well-positioned.

Texas (27-29)
This had the feel of a year that might be a bit of a hangover, and so far, that’s held up. The biggest problem is that the bullpen is the worst in the American League. While 37-year-old Kirby Yates has stepped up and is doing a great job in the closer’s role, there is not a lot else for manager Bruce Bochy to turn to after he pulls his starter. And while those starters are good—especially Nate Eovaldi and Jon Gray—they aren’t great. The decision of the front office to let Jordan Montgomery walk after last season told you the organization was ready to ride the laurels of its 2023 World Series title rather than build on it.

That said, in a division that no one has taken hold of, there are good reasons for Texas fans to feel optimistic. Marcus Semien and Nate Lowe haven’t started to hit yet. Josh Jung has been hurt much of the year, but will return. Even Corey Seager, who has been solid with 13 homers and a .354/.474 stat line, could produce even more. So could Adolis Garcia, who has 12 home runs, but a poor .294 OBP.

If you get a few of these guys heating up, and Bochy can piece together a bullpen, the Rangers could keep hanging in a race that nobody wants.

Houston (25-32)
By objective measurements, the first year for rookie manager Joe Espada has been a disaster. That record is on a pace for 71-91. But, to continue the theme, in this year’s AL West, it’s only 5 ½ games off the pace as we come to the end of May.

The problem is starting pitching. While Ronel Blanco is having a surprise year at the age of 30, a 5-0 record and 1.99 ERA in six starts, and Justin Verlander continues to be steady at 41, with a 3.26 ERA, there’s a significant depth problem. Framber Valdez has been spotty. Cristian Javier is rehabbing on the IL. And Hunter Brown has been awful. Getting better results from the workhorse Valdez is the easiest place for a Houston revival to start.

Offensively, the main area to look at for better production is Alex Bregman. The third baseman’s stat line is .276/.335 and simply has to improve. And while Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez are having respectable years with the bat, both are capable of doing much more.

The heroes of Houston thus far have been Jake Meyer, with his .389/500 stat line. And above all, Kyle Tucker—the rightfielder has 18 home runs and has been an all-around offensive performer. If the Astros do surge in the summer, they’ll look back on how Tucker at least kept them afloat in the spring.

Oakland (23-35) & Los Angeles (21-35)
The A’s and Angels are both also-rans, but each one has a different feel. Oakland has kind of admirably hung in there. It’s easy to see why manager Mark Kotsay is getting so much respect around the league. A roster woefully short on talent to begin with has been ravaged by injuries to the starting rotation. Their record might be a 98-loss pace, but preseason expectations were to lose over 100, and that was before four starting pitchers got hurt. Credit to catcher Shea Langeliers and DH Brent Rooker, who have each hit 11 homers. And closer Mason Miller, with his 1.88 ERA, leads up the relief corps with the fourth-best bullpen ERA in the American League.

LAA was expected to lose roughly 90 games, lost Trout after roughly 30 games, and won’t get him back until July. It’s tough to call them a disappointment, but this is still an organization that can’t’ seem to get its act together. Perhaps the problems can be underscored by the bright spots—the only arms pitching well are Tyler Anderson in the rotation (2.74 ER) and Hunter Strickland in the bullpen (1.88 ERA)—and they’re 34 and 35 years-old, respectively. Not much in the way of a future.

The basic contours of this race—Seattle, Texas, and Houston at the top, with Oakland and Los Angeles at the bottom, haven’t changed since last year, even if the level of play has. I would expect the latter to see a boost in the summer, but the basics of the standings will also hold steady. This is starting to look like it’s finally the Mariners’ year. The only caveat is that Seattle doesn’t usually make notable upgrades. We’ll see if that changes in light of the opportunity that’s there.