In 162 games, all baseball teams will identify the things that are going right and the things that are going wrong. Some teams have few to celebrate and some have few to complain about. The Oakland Athletics put themselves on the map last year and are looking to stay as the top dog that can’t be forgotten. The Texas Rangers are looking to move on from the departure of some important bats to their offense and the Los Angeles Angels are hoping the money spent to take Josh Hamilton from the Rangers will pay off soon. Lastly, the newcomers to the AL West are the Houston Astros. They will do their best to determine who is a future project and who is a trading chip. Here is the good and bad of the five AL West teams.
(Statistics as of games on July 13 via baseballreference.com)
The 5’5″ second baseman of the Houston Astros is certainly not a large person but his abilities on the field could make him as big as any of his peers. The 23-year-old Altuve was an All-Star last year but didn’t make the cut this year as there were numerous second baseman having fantastic seasons. With a .280 average, he leads the team just like he did last year. The recent extension given to Altuve for four years worth $12.5 million and two club options suggests that he will be a member of their bigger plans and someone they want as a centerpiece to their offense.
Of American League catchers, Jason Castro is second with 12 home runs. Hitting .269, Castro is good enough for fourth best in the American League. He’s second best on the team to Altuve. There’s no telling what the Astros long-term plan is for Castro but he has progressed forward since debuting in 2010
Tied for the major league lead with 123 strikeouts, Chris Carter’s first year as designated hitter of the Houston Astros has not been great. While he does lead the Astros with 18 home runs and 47 RBI, the 26-year-old Carter had 334 plate appearances meaning he struck out nearly 37% of the time that he steps to the plate.
The 26-year-old Brett Wallace has yet to break through and be a run-producing corner infielder in his four years with the Houston Astros. His slow April, hitting .042, got him demoted to AAA quickly but he would be recalled in late June and slowly his numbers have improved. He hit .351 in July going into the All-Star break and raised his average to .222 while hitting four home runs and 13 RBI. He is a young talent that the team is likely looking to build around. He will need to improve to assist the team’s improvement.
Los Angeles Angels
What sophomore slump? With a .322 average, Mike Trout is second in the American League for the batting title. Improving or even matching his rookie campaign would be a stretch. History hardly repeats itself twice, much less for the same person. He hit for the cycle at 21 years old and is putting together a great sophomore campaign. He started slow and just got better as the season got deeper.
With a .310 average, Howie Kendrick has the second highest batting average for second basemen in the American League and second on the team behind that Mike Trout guy. The quantity of quality second baseman in the American League forced a snub of Kendrick from this year’s All-Star Game but he’s having a career year. He’s hitting better than his career average of .293 and is on pace to exceed his career average of home runs and RBI. He currently has 11 home runs and 40 RBI at the all-star break.
With a 2-12 record, Joe Blanton currently has the worst record in the American League. He also leads the league in home runs allowed with 23. With 11.9 H/9, he also has reached a career-high hits allowed. Injuries and some other ineffectiveness have forced the Angels to keep the 32-year-old Blanton in the rotation. He certainly isn’t going to be a long-term solution for the Angels but a veteran arm has some value.
Despite 14 home runs and 39 RBI, Josh Hamilton is not living up to his 5 year, $133 million contract. He had a slow start in his first season with the Angels but he got a hit in seven of his last 10 games and including four home runs. He had two home runs against the Cubs and raised his average after steadily hitting around .200. He and his recently high paid teammate Albert Pujols have improving to do if the Angels want to contend for the division title.
With Manny Machado breaking out and Miguel Cabrera being Miguel Cabrera, a guy like Josh Donaldson slips under the radar. The 27-year-old third baseman is having a breakout season with a team-leading .310 batting average. He’s tied for the team lead with 16 home runs and team-leading 61 RBI. In the first two years in the majors, Donaldson averaged five home runs and 18 RBI. Clearly he’s on pace to do bigger things to help the Athletics stay atop the West.
The switch-hitting Jed Lowrie was acquired from the Astros in the offseason for Chris Carter. With the Astros, Lowrie was a home run hitter, producing a career-high 16. Now on the Oakland Athletics, he is not hitting 16 home runs, he only has 7. But he has almost brought in as many runs and is hitting a career-best .295 and it is always better to play for the best of a division, not the worst. Lowrie may have more opportunities to show his value with a team capable of reaching the postseason.
The 26-year-old rightfielder had a breakout season in 2012, his first year with the Oakland Athletics. He hit 32 home runs with 85 RBI but his average was at .242. In 2013, Reddick he got off to a slow start with 11 hits, and somehow had 13 RBI. He worked up from his .139 batting average in April to a .218 batting average heading into the All-Star break. The team is on top of the West but if they want to maintain it, Reddick will need to be a better contributor.
Second on the Athletics with 15 home runs, Yoenis Cespedes is likely on pace to exceed his home run total from last year. He’s more than halfway towards his RBI total of his rookie campaign. But he is also on pace to exceed his strikeout total from last year. His average and on-base percentage have declined. Unlike Trout of the Angels, it appears Cespedes has fallen into a bit of a sophomore slump. If he picks it up in the second half of the season, the Athletics will have a better chance of winning the division.
With a 10-4 record, Felix Hernandez finally gets his win-loss record to reflect his effective pitching. With an average run support of four this year, his 2.53 ERA is more than good. Entering the All-Star break, the 27-year-old Hernandez has the best ERA in the American League. He’s likely going to be in contention for his second Cy Young award. So far the Mariners’ 7 year, $175 million investment looks to be a great deal as Hernandez could be the face of the franchise for years to come while they look to get better with time.
Speaking of better with time; Raul Ibanez, the 41-year-old outfielder has seemingly turned back the clock by 10 years. With a team-leading 24 home runs, Ibanez is making the 1 year, $2.75 million contract look like a tremendous discount. There’s no telling what Ibanez intends to do after this season. But if he can maintain at least half of the offense he’s been providing, look for him to get at least another one-year contract, maybe with a contender.
Currently dealing with a torn meniscus, Jesus Montero has not paid off quite as the Mariners had hoped when trading power right-hander Michael Pineda to the Yankees. Before he got the injury, he also got demoted to AAA while he was hitting .208 with just three home runs. His inabilities behind the plate have not helped him keep his spot in the majors either. He’s going to need to improve a lot before he pays off in the prospect trade.
The 25-year-old Ackley has shown good flashes of what he’s capable of but seems to have taken a step in the wrong direction this season. In 2011, Dustin Ackley hit a career-best .273. Then in 2012, his average dipped to .226 but he hit a career-high 12 home runs and 50 RBI. Ackley showed capabilities to hit for average and hit for power but neither is evident in 2013. In the first half of the season, Dustin Ackley has just one home run with 11 RBI and is hitting a career-worst .205. He was demoted around the end of May and returned at the end of June. He hasn’t shown much improvement but the Mariners are hoping there will be improvement sooner than later.
After a great rookie campaign, Yu Darvish came into his sophomore season with intentions to improve even more. Through the first half of the season, he has succeeded. With 157 strikeouts in 119.1 innings, Darvish leads the league in strikeouts. He’s on pace to walk less than he did in his rookie season and he’s established himself as the ace of the Rangers’ staff. The back injury he suffered going into the All-Star break may have slowed him down but he could respond with a great second half to put the Rangers in the thick of the AL West race.
The consistent third baseman, Adrian Beltre, is doing it again. He has 21 home runs and 55 RBI at the All-Star break. He’s 10th in the American League for home runs. With big bats like Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young out, the Rangers were going to depend on players like Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre to be the focus of the offense. They have both stepped up and will help contend for the division title with the Oakland A’s.
Colby Lewis (elbow surgery) is expected to return soon in the second half of the season and Neftali Feliz (Tommy John surgery) is also expected to return some time in the second half. Matt Harrison (lower back surgery) is out until August at least. These three starting pitchers accounted for 27 wins in 2012. To make up for their absence, the Rangers turned to some rookie arms. Justin Grimm (7-7, 6.37 ERA), Nick Tepesch (4-6, 4.85), and Martin Perez (3-2, 3.00) have been put into the rotation. So far, they are one game under .500. The return of their injured starting pitchers will be a big plus and will fill in the biggest hole in their team.