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On paper, the AL West looked to be one of the most wide-open divisions in baseball entering the season. The division has produced the last two World Series champions -- Texas Rangers in 2023 and Houston Astros in 2022 -- and the Seattle Mariners have been kinda sorta maybe on the verge of breaking through for the last few years. The Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics aren't any good, but the case can be made that any of the other three teams are the AL West's best.

Nearly eight weeks into the regular season, we are no closer to answering the "which team is the favorite in the AL West?" question than we were on Opening Day, and that's not terribly surprising. The Astros, Mariners, and Rangers all finished within two games of each other last season and rarely does one emerge from the pack and separate itself in May. Here are the AL West standings entering play Tuesday:

  1. Mariners: 26-22
  2. Rangers: 24-24 (2 GB)
  3. Astros: 21-27 (5 GB)
  4. Angels: 19-29 (7 GB)
  5. Athletics: 19-30 (7.5 GB)

The A's had a nice little run a few weeks ago and pushed their record to .500 on May 4, but they are 2-13 since then and resemble the team they were expected to be in 2024 (i.e. very bad). The Angels are a mess. They were bad with Mike Trout and they are simply dreadful without him. I'm not sure any team has a bleaker long-term outlook than the Halos. The MLB roster is heavy on journeymen and the farm system is very, very thin. Things are bad in Orange County.

With the Astros closing the gap these last two weeks, the AL West is again shaping up to be a three-team race that goes right down to the final weekend of the regular season. And that's great! As long as you don't root for one these teams. The rest of us will get to enjoy a tight division race, assuming things continue on their current path, which of course is hardly a guarantee. Let's check in on the three AL West contenders now that we're nearly one-third of the way through the season, shall we?

Houston Astros

Key stat: 5.16 ERA from the starters (28th in MLB)

What's their greatest strength? The offense. Even with Alex Bregman starting slowly and José Abreu being so bad that he agreed to a minor-league demotion, the Astros rank fourth among all teams with a 117 OPS+. They've won nine of their last 12 games to get their season back on the rails and in those 12 games they're averaging 5.42 runs scored. Bregman is beginning to round into form and Jose Altuve, Jeremy Peña, and Kyle Tucker are among the top performers at their positions.


Jose Altuve






Jeremy Peña






Kyle Tucker






Note that Yordan Alvarez is not in that table. Alvarez hasn't been bad, though a ..260/.337/.436 (119 OPS+) line is well south of his usual production. Unless he's nursing an injury we don't know about, I'm comfortable assuming Alvarez will straighten things out and get back to mashing in time. Jonathan Singleton has been a pleasant surprise since taking over first base and Jake Meyers has performed well in center field. A little less than two months into the regular season, the offense is the clear strength of the Astros. 

Also, the bullpen has gotten itself on track after a rough few weeks. Josh Hader was Houston's big offseason addition and he was scored upon in three of his first five and five of his first 11 appearances. In his last 10 outings though, he's surrendered only two earned runs. Bryan Abreu and to a lesser extent Ryan Pressly are performing better as well. Abreu, Hader, and Pressly were supposed to form a fearsome end-game trio and that is now coming to fruition. Their combined numbers: 














That has more or less been the formula during Houston's recent 9-3 stretch. Score a bunch of runs and ask the bullpen to make the lead hold up. As poorly as the Astros started -- they were 7-19 at one point, their worst record through 26 games since 1969 -- they are not completely buried thanks primarily to their offense. That should make the rest of the AL West and really the rest of the American League a little nervous. Don't assume the Astros are dead until the math says they've been eliminated.

What's holding them back? You're looking at it in the key stat. The rotation has been among the worst in baseball, with Hunter Brown's backslide perhaps most worrisome. Two years ago he was the organization's top pitching prospect. Brown had a sparking debut late in 2022, pitched well in the first half in 2023, struggled down the stretch last year, and now he's been dreadful this season. These lines are moving in the wrong direction:

Hunter Brown has gotten worse over time, not better. FanGraphs

When's the last time a young Astros pitcher got worse, not better? The organization's run of seven straight ALCS appearances has been built on turning young pitchers into dominators, most notably Cristian Javier and Framber Valdez, who were $10,000 signings as international amateur free agents. Houston's pitchers tend to exceed expectations. Brown is doing the opposite and so is the team's rotation in general this season.

To be fair to the Astros, they have four starters on the injured list -- Luis Garcia, Lance McCullers Jr., José Urquidy, and J.P. France in Triple-A -- plus Javier, Valdez, and Justin Verlander each missed several weeks themselves. The Garcia (Tommy John surgery) and McCullers (flexor surgery) injuries were no surprise though. They had their surgeries last year. The Astros opted to lean on their internal depth rather than bring in rotation help over the winter and it's not really working out, even with Ronel Blanco being such a pleasant surprise (before his sticky stuff suspension).

Javier, Valdez, and Verlander are all healthy now and the rotation has been better these last few weeks. Even during Houston's recent 9-3 stretch, the starters have a respectable 5.03 ERA and are averaging 5.2 innings per start. The majority of that has come against the offensively challenged A's and Detroit Tigers too, so Houston is still waiting for the rotation to settle in. Credit to the Astros for beating the teams they're supposed to beat. We just need a little more evidence to say all is well.

How can they separate themselves in the AL West? Honestly, they might not be able to. The Astros are 9-3 in their last 12 games and have begun to dig themselves out of their early season hole, but it is still a hole, and catching up to (never mind passing) multiple teams is never easy. There's still a lot -- A LOT -- of season to be played and that is the best thing the Astros have going for them. There's time remaining. There's also a lot of work to be done to re-enter the division race.

That all said, the Astros have perhaps the most straightforward path to improving their roster among the AL West contenders. They might not even have to go outside the organization for help. Eventually Alvarez will hit (right?) and their rotation is the healthiest it's been all season. Javier, Valdez, and Verlander aren't as dominant as they were two years ago, when they led the Astros to a World Series title, but they are the foundation of a solid rotation and they're finally taking regular turns together.

There is a "last hurrah" element to this year's Astros with Bregman set to become a free agent and Verlander now 41, so if they still need a starter at the deadline, GM Dana Brown should go get one and not sweat the prospect cost. The heaviest lifting will involve the guys already on the roster performing better. How do the Astros separate themselves? By the offense continuing to do what it's doing and Javier, Valdez, and Verlander performing as expected the rest of the summer. It really is that simple.

Seattle Mariners

Key stat: 3.79 runs per game (26th in MLB)

What's their greatest strength? My goodness, what a rotation. The Mariners recently had a 21-game stretch in which their starters pitched to a 1.38 ERA and averaged 6.2 innings per start. Never once in those 21 games did their starters allow more than two earned runs, and only three times did they fail to complete six innings. In Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby, the Mariners have as good a 1-2-3 punch as any team. Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo (in limited action) have done fine work as well.

For Seattle, their rotation is No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 on the list of their biggest strengths. The offense has not been good, as the key stat shows, and the bullpen other than all-world closer Andrés Muñoz has had some hiccups. Remove Muñoz and the Mariners' relief crew has combined for minus-0.08 win probability added. The guys charged with bridging the gap between that great rotation and Muñoz are (ever so slightly) lowering Seattle's chances of winning. The rotation is the clear strength here. It is the team's lifeblood.

What's holding them back? The offense, which seems to be the story every year. GM Jerry Dipoto brings in new players every winter and, for whatever reason, those players wind up performing below their career norms. Last year it was Teoscar Hernández and A.J. Pollock (and Tommy La Stella). This year it's Mitch Garver and Jorge Polanco (and Mitch Haniger). It's remarkable, really.


Garver and Polanco in 2023






Garver and Polanco in 2024






J.P. Crawford returned from an oblique strain Monday and was slashing .198/.296/.302 prior to the injury. Julio Rodríguez hasn't been himself either. He's hitting .274/.320/.332 with only two -- two! -- home runs. He's also 9 for 13 stealing bases, so he's not contributing much on the bases either. Ty France hasn't hit since the 2022 All-Star break. Those three combining for a .634 OPS is holding this team back.

By OPS+, Seattle's two best hitters this season have been Josh Rojas (138 OPS+) and Dylan Moore (128 OPS+) and reader, that is not good. Their track records tell us they won't continue at this pace all season. Cal Raleigh has 10 homers with a power-heavy 121 OPS+ and is the one guy in the lineup who was expected to hit and is doing so. The hope is -- what needs to happen is -- Crawford, Garver, Polanco, and Rodríguez begin to perform as expected as Moore and Rojas come back to Earth. 

The Mariners did not score six runs in a game until their 16th game this season and only 15 times in their 48 games have they scored even five runs. Only the A's, San Francisco Giants, and Chicago White Sox have scored five-plus runs fewer times than the Mariners. For all intents and purposes, this offense is held to four runs or fewer twice a series. It's really hard to win like that no matter how great your rotation. The starting staff deserves almost all the credit for Seattle's 26-22 record. 

How can they separate themselves in the AL West? I don't see how the Mariners can solve their offensive problems without going outside the organization. Even if Garver and Polanco revert to their pre-2024 ways, they've still got weak spots at first base (France) and in right field (Haniger), and maybe at third base too if Rojas and Moore don't keep it up. Dipoto is loyal to his guys and that's admirable, but France has to be nearing the end of his leash. He's hit .234/.317/.371 in over 1,000 plate appearances since the 2022 All-Star break and that just is not acceptable at first base, especially when paired with poor defense.

Payroll was not raised meaningful over the winter because of the uncertainty regarding the future of ROOT Sports and it's unclear if Dipoto will be able to take on money at the deadline. If not, that'll make it'll real tough to upgrade the offense. Not impossible, but tough. Isaac Paredes has stood out as a possible fit since the offseason and the Tampa Bay Rays, who have been never been shy about trading away a core player in-season, have top prospect Junior Caminero coming to take over third base. Perhaps there's a fit there. Wherever it comes from, the Mariners need offense. That's how they separate themselves in the division. Give that rotation more run support.

Texas Rangers

Key stat: 8 pitchers with at least three starts (most in MLB)

What's their greatest strength? This is a tricky one because, collectively, the Rangers have not excelled at anything. They're averaging 4.58 runs scored per game, 12th most in baseball, and their position players have combined for 6.0 WAR. That's 13th in baseball. Their starting pitchers are tenth in ERA (3.57) and 14th in WAR (3.5). Their bullpen is 30th in ERA (5.08) and 22nd in WAR (0.4). Even the defense is close to middle of the pack with 19 defensive runs saved and eight outs above average.

It seems to me the Rangers' greatest strength is their resolve and championship mettle. That isn't to say they don't have good players, they obviously do, but things haven't come together yet and the Rangers have managed to stay afloat. This team won the World Series the hard way last year. They led the division most of the season, blew it in August, regained the AL West lead in late September, blew it again, clinched a postseason berth in Game 161, and then played 11 of their 17 postseason games on the road. Whatever adversity they're going through this year pales in comparison to what they went through last year.

If you want to pinpoint something on the field, then their greatest strength has been the late-inning combo of David Robertson and Kirby Yates (combined 1.71 ERA and 4.22 win probability added), and the reliability of Adolis García and Marcus Semien. They're in the lineup just about every single day and performing at a well-above-average clip thanks mostly to their power rather than their on-base skills. I'd also list manager Bruce Bochy among their strengths. He's proven to be the rare manager who meaningfully moves the needle.

What's holding them back? Health as much as anything. Corey Seager had sports hernia surgery on Jan. 30 and was somehow ready to play Opening Day, though he hasn't looked like himself (104 OPS+). The Jacob deGrom (Tommy John surgery), Max Scherzer (back surgery), and Tyler Mahle (Tommy John surgery) injuries were known coming into the season, but the Rangers are a point now where the guys who replaced the injured guys are getting hurt (Cody Bradford is out with back and rib trouble). Josh Jung played four games before an errant pitch broke his wrist, and his planned return was recently pushed back.

Evan Carter, last year's breakout postseason star, has been OK at best (95 OPS+). Hot-shot rookie Wyatt Langford mustered only a .224/.295/.293 (70 OPS+) slash line before being sidelined with an oblique strain. I don't want to blame the rookies for the Rangers playing .500 ball nearly two months into the season, but if you gave the Rangers and GM Chris Young a truth serum, I think they'd tell you they expected more from these two. But really, the single biggest issue is the non-Robertson/Yates portion of the bullpen. The middle relief, including 2023 postseason closer José Leclerc, has been a major liability.


Robertson and Yates







Rest of the bullpen

122 2/3






The Rangers had one of the worst bullpens in baseball last regular season and it very nearly kept them out of the postseason, then Bochy worked his magic and figured things out in October. That goes to show a bad bullpen won't automatically sink your season. It will shrink your margin of error though. With Jack Leiter failing to stick (19 runs in 9 1/3 innings!), Texas has four healthy starters at the moment (Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney, Michael Lorenzen, José Ureña), so they lean on their bullpen a lot, and it's been a liability.

Carter, Langford, and Seager performing south of expectations has certainly hurt. The Rangers still get enough offense to win most nights though, so really what's holding them back is their run prevention. The rotation is short-handed, which isn't a total surprise given the known injuries coming into the season, and the middle relief is questionable at best and outright terrible at worst. Texas has allowed at least six runs in a game 16 times, sixth most in baseball, and that is entirely too many. 

How can they separate themselves in the AL West? Coming into the season, the question was whether the Rangers could stay afloat long enough until deGrom, Mahle, and Scherzer returned to reinforce the rotation. They're doing that so far, I'd say, though it is a risky plan. Scherzer recently received an injection to treat a nerve issue in his thumb, so it's a separate injury from his back surgery. Also, Tommy John surgery rehab doesn't always go smoothly. Expecting deGrom to return as the best pitcher in baseball and Mahle as a capable No. 3 type might be asking too much.

It's reasonable to assume Seager will be better as he gets further away from sports hernia surgery, and Carter's hitting ability and approach are so precocious that I expect him to figure things out sooner rather than later. Langford's ability to be a key contributor is a bit more up in the air, though finding a new DH isn't the most difficult thing to do at the trade deadline. To separate themselves in the AL West, it seems to me the Rangers need both the guys already on the roster to be better (Carter, Seager, etc.) and some help from the outside (another starter and a few bullpen arms would go a long way). And if deGrom and Mahle and Scherzer come back and make an impact, great! Counting on them to solve everything is quite the dice roll though.