AL West Report: Texas Comes Blasting Out Of The Gate

The Texas Rangers have come blazing out of the gate in the AL West and sit on a 13-3 record and a 5 ½ game lead as we enter the final week in April. Even better for the Rangers is that it’s Oakland, not the Los Angeles Angels, who is in second place. If you believe, along with the rest of the free world, that only the Angels can beat the Rangers in this division, then Texas’ actual working margin is seven games. Not bad for less than three weeks work.

Perhaps the easiest way to explain Texas’ success is this—they are doing everything on a baseball diamond extremely well. Josh Hamilton has hit seven home runs, and he and Michael Young are both hitting over .400. Ian Kinsler is hot out of the gate and catcher Mike Napoli has already gone deep six times. All the starting pitchers are doing well, but I think the one that deserves the most attention is Matt Harrison. Not just because his ERA of 1.66 in three starts is the best on the staff. But because he’s the one who was on the losing end of Game 7 in St. Louis a year ago. Texas was earned deserved praise from commentators for putting last year’s World Series behind them and nothing captures that better than how well Harrison has pitched right out of the gate.

There’s a long way to go of course, and the Rangers are going to have navigate stretches where things don’t go well. But they have answered one key question right away and that’s whether there’d be a hangover effect after their devastating Series loss. Whatever the rest of the season holds, Texas has won that mental battle and we have to give tremendous credit to Ron Washington, the manger who doesn’t really get his due in spite of two straight American League pennants.  Texas will be in the national spotlight this week, hosting series against the Yankees starting tonight and the Rays over the weekend. Tonight’s game will be on ESPN, and the finale against Tampa will be the Sunday night game.

A look at the rest of the AL West, in order of the current standings…

Oakland (8-9): It’s all about pitching in Oakland, just as it’s been the past few years. Offensively, Yoenis Cespedes looks like a good signing, with a .364 on-base percentage and .509 slugging percentage, keyed by four early home runs. But the A’s need to get more from the other two new outfielders, Seth Smith and Josh Reddick if they aren’t going to condemn the thousand fans who flock to Oakland-Alameda each night to a slew of 2-1 losses all summer. Bartolo Colon is pitching great, although a hamstring injury or some other fatigue-based health problem is an inevitable part of his future. Billy Beane has to be happy with the work he’s getting from young starters like Tommy Milone, and relievers Grant Balfour and Tyson Ross, but there is nothing that suggests the A’s can maintain a .500 pace. This weekend starts a nine-game Eastern swing through Boston, Tampa and Baltimore.

Seattle (7-10): They won five of seven from Oakland, including on that silly two-game opening swing in Japan back in March, but have lost series’ to everyone else, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the White Sox, highlighted (or lowlighted from the Mariner perspective) by Philip Humber’s perfect game on Saturday. Like Oakland, they’ve got the pitching, but lack the bats. Felix Hernandez is his usual self, Jason Vargas has a 2.84 ERA in four starts and Brandon League has five saves and a 2.09 ERA. Now if we could just get a hitter to talk about and the M’s might have something.

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LA Angels (6-10): I’m going to guess you have at some point, heard the news reports that Albert Pujols has yet to homer. Fair enough point to report and it is part of Pujols’ overall struggles at the plate. But the Angels have blown four saves already, and you have to wonder how long it will be before Mike Scoscia makes veteran Jason Isringhausen the closer. Isringhausen, along with fellow vet LaTroy Hawkins each have sub-2.00 ERAs. Pujols is going to come around. Jered Weaver and C. J. Wilson are pitching well, and it’s only a matter of time before Dan Haren gets settled in and brings his 4.07 ERA down. But it means nothing if the bullpen stays a mess. Mike Scoscia figured out his pen a year ago, and I have every confidence he’ll do it again, but the process off sorting everyone out is a lot scarier when you have Texas threatening to run away and hide.