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A's in first & division up for grabs as Astros falter: AL West week 3 division recap

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The Oakland Athletics moved back into a tie for first place as the preseason favorite Houston Astros find themselves at the bottom of the division, four games back.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

About this time last year, I was wondering how long the Astros' incredible start would last after jumping out of the gate four games over .500 through their first 18 games. Now I'm wondering how long the Astros will stay in the AL West cellar after starting the year seven games under .500 in their first 19 contests.

Houston started the year as the over 50 percent favorite to win the AL West in the Fangraphs playoff odds, but they've slipped to merely a slight plurality after three weeks:

The projection systems had pegged the Astros to win 88 games at the start of the season, but starting out 6-13 has already dragged that projection down five or six games, which invites the rest of the division in. The main thing saving Houston is that none of the other AL West teams have run away from the field in the early going. It does mean that what looked like an easy division to predict for the projection systems is now anybody's to win.

Standings through April 24
Actual FanGraphs CoolStandings Projection
W L GB Since April 18 RS/G RA/G Place W L DIV POFF
A's 10 9 -- 4-2 3.5 3.7 3rd 80.5 81.5 20.4% 28.0%
Texas 10 9 -- 3-3 4.3 4.2 4th 78.1 83.9 11.3% 16.5%
Seattle 9 9 0.5 4-2 4.2 3.7 2nd 81.5 80.5 25.5% 33.6%
LA Angels 8 11 2.0 3-4 3.0 3.9 5th 78.0 84.0 10.5% 15.5%
Houston 6 13 4.0 1-5 4.0 5.1 1st 82.5 79.5 32.4% 40.9%
DIV = Percent chance of winning division. POFF = Percent chance of going to the postseason, including the Wild Card Game.

Here's our weekly jog through the division to see what's new with the A's and their division opponents this week:

T-1. Oakland A's (10-9)

Oakland returned to a share of first place after a 4-2 week. A surprise sweep of the New York Yankees without the help of Sonny Gray and Gray's win to open the Toronto Blue Jays series extended Oakland's winning streak to six games, their best since July 3-8, 2014. Toronto's bats came alive in the final two games of the series, however.

A's results since April 18
Date Opponent Result A's rec. Div. GB Streak A's starter Opp. Starter
18-Apr OFF DAY 1.0 OFF DAY
19-Apr at NYY W 3-2 (11) 7-7 1.0 W3 LHP Eric Surkamp RHP Michael Pineda
20-Apr at NYY W 5-2 8-7 1.0 W4 RHP Kendall Graveman RHP Nathan Eovaldi
21-Apr at NYY W 7-3 9-7 1.0 W5 LHP Rich Hill RHP Luis Severino
22-Apr at TOR W 8-5 10-7 Tied W6 RHP Sonny Gray RHP Aaron Sanchez
23-Apr at TOR L 3-9 10-8 Tied L1 RHP Chris Bassitt LHP J.A. Happ
24-Apr at TOR L 3-6 10-9 Tied L2 LHP Eric Surkamp RHP Drew Hutchison

One problem the A's have for at least the next couple of weeks is that they won't have third baseman Danny Valencia's services after he was placed on the disabled list with a mild-to-moderate hamstring strain he incurred on April 20 after trying to beat the fastest outfield throw that Statcast has ever recorded. Utilityman Tyler Ladendorf was called up and started Sunday's game in Toronto.

In other injury news, Eric Sogard had his knee surgery and will be out until midseason. He was a candidate to be optioned anyway, but now he's a 60-day disabled list candidate.

On the positive side, Henderson Alvarez had a successful first rehab outing with the Stockton Ports on April 20, throwing 30 pitches in three innings and then 15 more in the bullpen. He's listed as the probable to make a rehab start with the Nashville Sounds on Monday, and he's scheduled to try to go 45 pitches or three innings, according to a report from CSN California's Joe Stiglich. He would have to be activated or optioned to the minor leagues by May 20, when his minor league rehab time expires.

After noting that cold starts don't really move the needle much on preseason projections, Chris Coghlan, Coco Crisp, Mark Canha, and Khris Davis all homered in the past week (Coghlan, Canha, and Davis twice each). Yonder Alonso is still depending more on his defense than his bat, and Billy Butler picked up a couple of hits. Mea culpa, I was dead wrong on Billy Butler not being a platoon DH, and now it's time to wonder if his roster spot might be better given to someone else.

Eric Surkamp's start at Yankee Stadium was his best one for the A's, but even then he could finish the sixth inning, leaving Oakland's overworked bullpen to shutdown the game, and needing 11 innings to do it. Surkamp's terrible game against Toronto on Sunday left many wondering just why Jesse Hahn wasn't up, even if was only to make 75 better pitches than Surkamp, and makes it seem all the more likely that Hahn will be recalled by the time Surkamp's number comes up again.

Finally, Jake Arrieta threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds, ending what was then MLB's longest active no no-hit streak at 7,109 games. Oakland now holds the active no no-hit record, which stands at 3,916 games at the end of Sunday. Just 25 years until they break the all-time record held by the Chicago Cubs of 7,920 games!

The A's finish their three-city Eastern Time Zone road trip with four games against the Detroit Tigers before returning home for three games against the Houston Astros. Because of the possibility of a postponement Monday, there's a chance Sean Manaea could make his debut this week in a doubleheader, or even at the Coliseum on Friday.

T-1. Texas Rangers (10-9)

Texas clung to at least a share of first place all week by sweeping the Astros but then getting swept by the White Sox.

Rangers results since April 18
Date Opponent Result Rangers rec. Div. GB Streak Rangers starter Opp. starter
18-Apr OFF DAY up 1.0 OFF DAY
19-Apr vs HOU W 7-5 8-6 up 1.0 W2 LHP Derek Holland RHP Scott Feldman
20-Apr vs HOU W 2-1 9-6 up 1.0 W3 RHP A.J. Griffin RHP Doug Fister
21-Apr vs HOU W 7-4 10-6 up 1.0 W4 LHP Cole Hamels LHP Dallas Keuchel
22-Apr at CHW L 0-5 10-7 Tied L1 LHP Martin Perez LHP Jose Quintana
23-Apr at CHW L 3-4 (11) 10-8 Tied L2 RHP Colby Lewis LHP Carlos Rodon
24-Apr at CHW L 1-4 10-9 Tied L3 LHP Derek Holland RHP Mat Latos

The Rangers had trouble scoring this week, running into the same buzzsaw of a White Sox rotation that cut down the A's in the opening series.

Texas suffered further injury news after the Rangers placed reliever Keone Kela on the disabled list for at least three months for surgery to remove a bone spur in his right elbow. The Rangers leaned on Kela heavily last year to the tune of a 2.39 ERA in 68 appearances. He was one of the better relievers in a bullpen that finished with a 4.12 ERA, 11th in the American League.

Cole Hamels is experiencing some groin soreness that will cause him to miss at least Monday's start. He had a similar issue last year that caused him to miss just the one start, and there's no indication this injury is anything more serious than that. Cesar Ramos will be called up to make a spot start for Hamels against the Yankees on Monday.

The Rangers host the Yankees for three games, take Thursday off, then host the Angels for three games to finish off the week.

3. Seattle Mariners (9-9)

The Mariners took two of three from both the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels, doing their own road warriors thing to pull within half a game.

Mariners results since April 18
Date Opponent Result Mariners rec. Div. GB Streak Mariners starter Opp. starter
18-Apr OFF DAY 1.5 OFF DAY
19-Apr at CLE L 2-3 5-8 2.5 L2 LHP Wade Miley RHP Carlos Carrasco
20-Apr at CLE W 2-1 6-8 2.5 W1 RHP Taijuan Walker RHP Danny Salazar
21-Apr at CLE W 10-7 (10) 7-8 2.5 W2 RHP Nathan Karns RHP Cody Anderson
22-Apr at LAA W 5-2(10) 8-8 1.5 W3 RHP Hisashi Iwakuma RHP Nick Tropeano
23-Apr at LAA L 2-4 8-9 1.5 L1 RHP Felix Hernandez LHP Hector Santiago
24-Apr at LAA W 9-4 9-9 0.5 W1 LHP Wade Miley RHP Matt Shoemaker

The Mariners lost another game started by Felix Hernandez, making them 1-3 in games started by King Felix. Hernandez did, however, break Randy Johnson's franchise strikeout record of 2,162 on April 23. Hernandez now has 2,166, some 272 (12.6%) of them against the A's. He has struck out the Angels slightly more frequently, however, with 305 in 317 2/3 innings.

Other tidbits from Lookout Landing: Mike Zunino is off to a hot start in Triple-A Tacoma and why it's too early to think about calling him back upLeonys Martin is striking out more and hitting for more power.

The Mariners welcome the Houston Astros for three games, take Thursday off, and then host the Kansas City Royals for three games.

4. Los Angeles Angels (8-11)

The Angels split four games against the Chicago White Sox and dropped two of three to the Seattle Mariners to fall to two games back.

Angels results since April 18
Date Opponent Result Angels rec. Div. GB Streak Angels starter Opp. Starter
18-Apr at CHW W 7-0 6-7 1.0 W1 LHP Hector Santiago LHP Carlos Rodon
19-Apr at CHW L 0-5 6-8 2.0 L1 RHP Matt Shoemaker RHP Mat Latos
20-Apr at CHW L 1-2 6-9 3.0 L2 RHP Garrett Richards LHP Chris Sale
21-Apr at CHW W 3-2 7-9 3.0 W1 RHP Jered Weaver LHP John Danks
22-Apr vs SEA L 2-5 (10) 7-10 3.0 L1 RHP Nick Tropeano RHP Hisashi Iwakuma
23-Apr vs SEA W 4-2 8-10 2.0 W1 LHP Hector Santiago RHP Felix Hernandez
24-Apr vs SEA L 4-9 8-11 2.0 L1 RHP Matt Shoemaker LHP Wade Miley

The Angels did well to earn a series split against Chicago and to steal a game from Felix Hernandez. They'll need Matt Shoemaker to show improvement after a poor start on Sunday, the second time he has allowed six earned runs in three innings.

One pitcher who won't be trying to take Shoemaker's place in the rotation for awhile longer is Andrew Heaney, whose rehab was shut down after his ability to throw hit a "plateau," according to Angels manager Mike Scioscia. He was still feeling "tightness and tenderness" throwing from 50 feet a weekend ago, and it remains unclear when Heaney will return.

In perhaps related news, the Angels signed pitcher Kyle Kendrick to a minor league deal. Though the innings he's thrown over the years can best be described as "innings eating" and he was wrecked in Colorado last year, he could still be an improvement over what the Angels have now, and they need all the pitching depth they can get.

The Angels host the Kansas City Royals for three games, take an off day Thursday, then travel to Texas for three games.

5. Houston Astros (6-13)

The Texas Rangers swept the Houston Astros and the Red Sox took two of three from them in a tough 1-5 week that dropped them four games back after three weeks. The Astros have yet to win consecutive games.

Astros results since April 18
Date Opponent Result Astros rec. Div. GB Streak Astros starter Opp. starter
18-Apr OFF DAY 2.0 OFF DAY
19-Apr at TEX L 5-7 5-9 3.0 L1 RHP Scott Feldman LHP Derk Holland
20-Apr at TEX L 1-2 5-10 4.0 L2 RHP Doug Fister LHP Cole Hamels
21-Apr at TEX L 4-7 5-11 5.0 L3 LHP Dallas Keuchel RHP A.J. Griffin
22-Apr vs BOS L 2-6 5-12 5.0 L4 RHP Collin McHugh RHP Steven Wright
23-Apr vs BOS W 8-3 6-12 4.0 W1 RHP Mike Fiers RHP Clay Buchholz
24-Apr vs BOS L 5-7 (12) 6-13 4.0 L1 RHP Scott Feldman LHP Henry Owens

Houston's tough start comes despite Jose Altuve winning AL Co-Player of the Week honors for his 1.336 OPS with three home runs the previous week. That power surge, writes FanGraphs' Eno Sarris, comes from (you've heard this before) an added leg kick that's resulting in more line drives and fewer ground balls, getting him into the ideal line-drive launch angle more often. If he keeps that up, he's going to beat some underpowered projections this year.

A big problem is that they're only 2-2 in Dallas Keuchel's starts, and Keuchel gave up six runs and 13 hits, including one home run, in his last start on April 21. FanGraphs' Dave Cameron is sounding the alarm about Keuchel's decrease in velocity. He also hasn't been getting the low strike called that has kept him in business for awhile, and if the umpires are raising the bottom edge of the strike zone, he's in big trouble. Over at the Crawfish Boxes, they're watching the situation but they're not too concerned.

Finally, Lance McCullers continues to rehabilitate from shoulder soreness he experienced in the middle of March, and he's being assigned to extended spring training after getting over the hurdle that caused him to be scratched from a second rehab start, writes Angel Verdejo Jr. of the Houston Chronicle. The extended spring training environment will let McCullers work without having to worry about minor league travel or anything other than Florida weather, says Astros manager A.J. Hinch.

The Astros played after midnight in their extra-inning loss on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, and now they'll have to fly immediately to Seattle for three games, take an off day Thursday, and fly to Oakland for three games.

Information on games results from Baseball-Reference.com.