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Elephant Rumblings: Checking in with the rest of the AL West

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Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Happy Tuesday, Athletics Nation!

After seventeen straight games, the A’s had their first day off yesterday. As we near the end of April the Athletics are sitting a game over .500, slightly exceeding expectations for the beginning of the season. But what about the rest of the division? Let’s take a look at the other four teams of the AL West and see how their first three weeks compare to the A’s.

Texas Rangers

Having just finished up a three game set in Oakland, the Rangers are the only intra-division opponent the A’s have faced so far this year. The Rangers’ performance so far is a lot more like what was prognosticated for the Athletics, despite the Texas team being expected to be a wild card contender. With only 5 wins (two of which were handed over by the A’s over the weekend) the Rangers start has been sub-optimal.

A lot has gone wrong to start the Rangers’ season. Big signees Marcus Semien and Corey Seager have yet to take off at the plate, and Jon Gray is already on his second IL stint of the season with only 7 innings pitched so far. It’s likely that Texas is facing a bit of a short spring hangover and that they’ll pick up into May. The A’s next play the Rangers in Oakland a month from now, and Texas started a four game series against the Astros last night winning 6-2.

Houston Astros

Speaking of the Astros, we may be getting the first hints that peak has passed. After dominating the AL West for the back half of the last decade, many of their World Series winning (and banging scheme participating) big names have left for other teams. The Stros haven’t hit a big skid like the other team in Texas, but I doubt anyone would have had them flirting with .500 and sitting below the A’s right now.

The Astros have been riding off the successes of rookie Jeremy Peña, who has taken over shortstop duties from now-Twin Carlos Correa. Established Astros Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley have also helped carry the team through the first month, Bregman has been especially strong at the plate sitting at a wRC+ near the top of the American League. After missing the last two seasons after a Tommy John surgery, Justin Verlander returned to Houston in full form with a 1.89 ERA over four starts. Otherwise, the bullpen arms of Rafael Montero and Hector Neris have been impeccable, and Cristian Javier’s scoreless 8 innings of relief have him moving from the bullpen to the rotation. Fates may turn in the west after the current series with the Rangers, as the Astros face the dominant Blue Jays and Mariners. If the A’s can stay above .500, they may have a chance to keep the Astros in the rear view until they play in Oakland at the very end of May.

Los Angeles Angels

Did you know that this is the team that has Shohei Ohtani? Did you know that he is quite good at both the throwing and swinging parts of baseball? After his MVP season, Ohtani has returned to a similar pace as last year, flexing a 44% strikeout percentage in 14 innings. Leading the pitching staff, though, is a resurgent Noah Syndergaard. Thor is one of the top three pitchers in the division so far (behind Frankie Montas and the Mariners’ Logan Gilbert) and seems to be meeting the expectations Mets fans had for him over his injury-addled first six years. After Ohtani and Syndergaard, the pitching quality drops significantly. Explaining a large part of the Angels’ seven losses, the rest of the starters and bullpen are shallow, and that’s with a 6-man rotation. Prior to yesterday’s game, combined for 110.2 innings, over half of the non-Shohei-and-Syndergaard Angels pitchers have FIPs sitting over 4.00.

Did you know that this is the team that has Mike Trout? Did you know that even after missing a quarter of the Angels games so far this season, he is still a top-five player in the AL? Trout has stayed ridiculously good, even if the majority of Angels batters haven’t kept up. Taylor Ward and Matt Duffy have been putting up some Trout-esque numbers, but based off their high BABIPs, they’re both due for some regression soon. The A’s will face the Angels in two series in May, including the set in Oakland that starts May 13 and features a doubleheader.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners were eyed to improve this year, with some expecting them to take hold of the division. Well, would you look at that, Seattle was the first team in the AL West to hit 10 wins, and reversed their fortunes from last year now leading the league in run differential. Obviously adding the reigning Cy Young pitcher to the front of your rotation helps, but Robbie Ray is getting lapped by Logan Gilbert in effectiveness. Gilbert is currently rocking a 0.54 ERA and a 2.42 FIP, exceeding expectations so far.

At the plate, Ty France has been unstoppable. Currently the best hitter in the AL, France has been at or near the top of the home run leaderboard and currently is the hits leader. Looking at some of the advanced stats, France is tied with Trout at the top of the wRC+ chart, if that gives you an idea of how well he is playing. Ty isn’t the only Mariner with batting success, as J.P Crawford and Eugenio Suarez have also been connecting, though Suarez has some big strikeout caveats. Overall, the Mariners look ready to keep plowing through the season and pose to be a threat all the way to the postseason. The A’s don’t see the M’s until they travel to Seattle on May 23rd.

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