Midseason TPS report: AL West is best
JUL 11, 2014 1:20p ET
First, let me get this out of the way: I did not predict a first-place finish for the 2014 Oakland Athletics. I had the Angels winning the West. My postseason teams were the Rays and the Red Sox (oof), along with the Angels and the Tigers and ... well, now I don’t remember for sure. Either the A’s or maybe (in a bout of wishful thinking) the Royals.
I liked the A’s well enough, but I worried that losing two of their projected starting pitchers (A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker) would be just enough to drop them into second place. Of course I had no idea about Jesse Chavez, or that Drew Pomeranz would thrive (before he, too, got hurt; or rather, before the knucklehead hurt himself).
But if you want to gig me for not predicting the A’s would be really good, go ahead. Just don’t tell me you (or anyone else) had the A’s with the best run differential in the majors, twice as good as the second-best team. Don’t tell me you had the A’s leading the majors in scoring. And please don’t tell me Derek Norris was on your list of preseason All-Stars.
Granted, there was a moment when it actually looked like the Angels might catch the A’s. In fact they still might. Baseball’s funny that way. The Angels are just three-and-a-half games behind the A’s, which is obviously a deficit that could disappear within a week.
Well, not this week. Because of the All-Star break. But you know what I mean. I don’t think it will happen, because C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver have been gimpy lately and because the bullpen’s a little thin, too. But with C.J. Cron replacing Raul Ibañez in the lineup, the Angels are solid from one through nine. And who knows, maybe they’ll get Cliff Lee.
With the Astros still rebuilding and the Rangers making lots of doctors rich, the wild card (figuratively and maybe literally) in the division is the Mariners. Granted, the M’s have little chance of catching the A’s; they’re just too far behind. But with the fifth-best record and the third-best run differential in the league, they’re obviously serious postseason candidates. And I can’t quite figure out why.
Yes, Robinson Cano’s power has gone AWOL but he’s still been a huge upgrade. In terms of additions, though, that’s about it. Corey Hart’s been awful and rookie James Jones has been just fair. The M’s are 12th in the league in scoring (and it could be worse).
So it’s mostly about the pitching. Felix Hernandez is pitching better than ever, which isn’t easy. Chris Young’s somehow 8-5 with a 3.08 ERA. Hisashi Iwakuma’s been tremendous, again. And the Mariners’ bullpen has a collective 2.39 ERA, easily the best in the whole league.
Here’s what seems likely: Chris Young and two or three relievers find their true levels, and there’s just nobody around to make up for that. Hernandez and Iwakuma can’t pitch better, and there’s just nobody in the lineup who figures to suddenly start hitting better. All those great prospects? Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley now seem like lost causes. Among the latest generation – Mike Zunino, James Jones, Nick Franklin, and Brad Miller – none have been even league-average hitters. Jesus Montero’s down in Triple-A doing well enough, but his star potential has winked out.
Which leaves only Kyle Seager, who’s going to the All-Star Game. Good for him, but the Mariners need two more just like him. And I’m not seeing them anywhere. Not this summer, anyway.
Still, there’s a distinct lack of competition in the American League. With six teams essentially dead and two or three more on life support, there just aren’t a lot of serious competitors for the second wild-card slot. And so it’s most likely to come down to the M’s and the second-place team in the East.
Or not. Derek Norris has something to teach all of us.