Ah, the AL West. The truest representation about where we are as a nation. A division dominated by an organization that couldn’t wait to tell everyone how much smarter it was than everyone in the room, as it cheated, lied, smirked and mocked its way to triumph, only to be found out. And then they’ll win again because no one in a position to stop them is good or smart enough. Baseball is always a symbol of America, right?
The Astros still lord over the AL West, while the A’s gently paw at them to try and take them over with their “limited” resources and creative ways. The Angels and Rangers are scenery, and the Mariners continue to be whatever it is the Mariners are (none of it good), rightly tucked away deep in the corner where they can’t bother anyone.
While the world will be rooting against the Astros with their entire being, and even after losing their No. 1 starter Gerrit Cole, it sure feels like this is their division without having to breathe too hard. But maybe we can find a new answer.
2 / 7
COVID Response: Like anything in Texas would be good right now. Owner Jim Crane, he of the “I can’t see anything if I look with my ass” defense of his knowledge of the trash can scandal, less than a month ago was talking about having fans in the stands. This is in Texas, home of one of the worst virus wildfires in the nation. They did keep their employees on full-time pay and set up a fund for game-day workers. One player has tested positive but that was in June at their spring training site. A few more are out with “undisclosed” problems, and we’ll let you do that math. But their manager’s son was on point.
Staying Away: None So Far.
Oh, He’s Here Now?: Nothing really. You’d like to think players shied from the optics of joining the Astros during their days of shame, but it probably had more to do with the Astros trying to stay under the luxury tax, like every other high-end team in this furshlugginer league. Austin Pruitt do anything for you? Good, he’s hurt anyway. How about Blake Taylor? No, that’s not the catcher from Major League. That was Jake. Enough of this.
Where’d He Go?: Gerrit Cole was seduced like so many others by New York and the aircraft carrier of money they left on his lawn. Wade Miley also left the Astros rotation, but for Cincinnati. Will Harris pulled a mini-Marian Hossa and left the team that lost the championship series for the one that won it, as he’s in Washington now.
Oh, right, their manager and GM were punted off in an act of ass-covering. Dusty Baker takes over in the dugout, and while it’s fun for Giants, Cubs, and Nationals fans to imagine how he might crash and burn yet another team in the playoffs, the days of Baker being a nimrod in wrist-bands are basically in the past. He won’t get in the way, even if he doesn’t aid much.
What To Expect: Normally, when you lose the best pitcher in the league like Cole, you’d expect something of a regression from that team. But you might have forgotten that the Astros picked up Zack Greinke at the deadline last year (seriously, how did this team lose?) and he’s still here. He’s 36 but still put up a 2.93 ERA and 3.22 FIP last year, so in the rotation the Astros don’t really start far off from where they started last season. Lance McCullers Jr. missed all of last season through injury but returns to the middle of the rotation. Right now, Josh James and Framber Valdez are slated for spots four and five, and both could be just about anything. But the Astros will likely, artfully, use their pen on those days to shield them. They’re not going to lose enough games due to the back of their rotation to think they’re all that vulnerable.
The hope for most of the baseball world is that with all eyes watching and not having their various buzzers, screens, sounds, lights, drones, smoke signals, and dead-drops that the entire Astros lineup will become .260 hitters. It’s not going to happen. Even without Yordan Alvarez, who hasn’t been on the field yet during camp for undisclosed reasons (gee, what could that be?), the lineup is stocked. This is an outfit that slugged .495 as a team. Is the hope that it will drop to … .470 this year? My stars!. Kyle Tucker will get his full run-out this year, such as it is. Carlos Correa and George Springer might be auditioning for trades if the Astros are dead-set on keeping payroll down, but that probably won’t stop them from hitting. Yes, their home-road splits, even last year (.284 AVG home vs. .265 away), are curious, but even their road OPS last year would have ranked 4th overall over a full season.
This is a team whose worst 60-game stretch was still .580. It’s hard to see how they fall too far from that.
3 / 7
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of USA
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of USA
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of USA
COVID Response. Not great, Bob. Furloughed a good portion of their non-playing staff in June. Mike Trout was just about the most vocal about his apprehension to playing, though he hasn’t opted out as of yet. Julio Teheran is one of two Angels to test positive, and tells of the all-too-familiar unpleasantness of it.
Teheran “said he started feeling headache, cold symptoms, chills, fever, body aches, two days before he was supposed to travel to Anaheim for summer camp’’ and “didn’t want to risk getting on plane to travel,’’ according to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. Teheran subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.
Staying Away: No one yet, despite Trout hinting at it.
Oh, He’s Here Now?: The big change is at manager, where Brad Ausmus was given just one season to stare blankly at the field in front of him before he was replaced by Joe Maddon, your aging college history professor who constantly talks about the time he saw The Wall tour.
The Angels made a big splash in free agency by signing Anthony Rendon away from the Nationals, and the team provided a safe haven for Dylan Bundy from Baltimore. The former was scooped up to provide more support for Trout and Shohei Ohtani, and yet it still won’t be enough to crowbar Albert Pujols out of the lineup, even though he’s been clinically dead for five years.
Teheran was brought in for the rotation, but who knows when he’ll actually get into a game after dealing with COVID-19.
Where’d He Go?: Kole Calhoun left for Arizona.
What To Expect: Hard to know. Rendon helps but the lineup is still pretty spotty. It gets more spotty depending on how often Ohtani can actually hit while also pitching. The plan is to use a six-man rotation so he only pitches once a week and then is hitting three or four other days. But with only 60 games, if he’s only in 40 of them total, and 30-35 hitting, how much difference does that make? With only seven or eight starts? It would seem that a six-man rotation is the exact opposite of what you want to do in this season-in-a-can. If Justin Upton can bounce back from BABIP drudgery of last year then the Halos can go five or six deep.
The pitching staff is completely weird and that’s even aside from Ohtani. No Angels pitcher threw over 100 innings last year, and 10 made starts as they resorted to an “opener” a lot of the time. But Maddon isn’t nearly as progressive as he wants you to think. They hope Griffin Canning can make good on his promise, the kind of promise that Andrew Heaney has had for like 12 years now. Maddon is going to have to be a lot more creative than he’s been with this group. And the pen isn’t even that good. Maybe Trout can carry a team solely over 60, and he’s going to have to.
Oh, He’s Here Now?: This is the A’s. They’re constantly turning their pockets out. They had a whole book and movie about it, for fuck’s sake. So a couple bullpen pieces, and Tony Kemp in the infield were just about the only additions. Because it’s the A’s, these will somehow work out better than anyone could have imagined.
Where’d He Go?: Brett Anderson and Homer Bailey ditched out of the rotation. Jurickson Profar was dealt to San Diego. Josh Phegley kept on wandering, as is his way, to the Cubs.
What To Expect: It’s still hard to think of the A’s as a team that’s won 194 games the past two years, but that’s the deal. Maybe it’s because they’ve spit it hard in consecutive wild-card coin-flips, and that might be their destiny again here. It’s essentially the same lineup that was the 4th-best in the AL last year (in wRC+) and there’s little reason to think they won’t hit again.
The rotation is weird, but the A’s rotation is always weird. They get Frankie Montas back after his PED suspension, though it’s unclear when renowned Astros whistleblower Mike Fiers will be able to go. He shouldn’t miss too much time. The wonderfully named and haired A.J. Puk is out with shoulder problems, and add that to Lazardo and the A’s are already going through the shelves for starters. But that’s kind of their thing.
The pen should remain a strength, and however teams decide to use a bullpen in a 60-game season, you can bet the A’s will be on the cutting edge. Hendriks, Soria, Petit, Trivino can all get big outs for the A’s. They can certainly cover most, if not all, the warts a banged-up rotation will produce.
Is it enough to haul in the Astros? It’s impossible to say for 60 games. The pen only needs to have two bad weeks to ruin the whole season’s work. But then the absences in the rotation might not matter as much with the pen not really getting overtaxed. It’ll be close, simply because 60 games is hardly enough for any team to get away too much. And the A’s will be desperate to avoid yet another coin-flip.
5 / 7
COVID Response: Meh. The Mariners did decide to pay their minor leaguers for the full season, but made some cuts in their non-playing staff salary-wise, as well as furloughs. A few players tested positive back at the end of June, but as of now no one is listed as being out due to the virus.
Staying Away: None so far.
Oh, He’s Here Now?: Not much. The Mariners are still at the ass-end of a rebuild, but they didn’t even really go for the tactic of signing some guys in order to trade them at the deadline. Though how that will work during this season is up in the air. Taijuan Walker was brought back home in the rotation, and Kendall Graveman was also added to the bullpen along with Carl Edwards Jr. and his high daily-implosion potential. Maybe they’re moved along for scraps at the end of August if they find a revival.
Where’d He Go?: No one of note, because are there any Mariners of note? Discuss.
What To Expect: The most deranged Mariners fan (redundant, I know) will tell you that the M’s started 13-2 last year and if they can do that again, they’ll be right in it. It fails to mention that they played .374 baseball after that. This season is basically about getting Justus Sheffield, Evan White, Jake Fraley, Shed Long Jr., and Kyle Lewis as many reps as they can get to either develop or prove that they need to be along for the ride when the M’s matter again. Seattle gets kind of screwed in that rebuilding teams like this need 162 games to get a real feel on what they have, and whatever happens here is still going to be an incomplete grade. Walker is the only impending free agent that could be moved, but what are teams going to pay for five starts after the Aug. 31 trade deadline? When they only have five starts of evidence? This is kind of just a stuck-in-neutral season for the Mariners.
All of this came either during or after the team employees anonymously leaking their treatment during the shutdown, or whatever it was and is in Texas. Multiple team employees tested positive but others were not allowed to work from home and in the offices mask-wearing was hardly common. And this is from an owner still counting on fans in August. Texas, man. You can’t beat it.
Staying Away: No one so far.
Oh, He’s Here Now?: The rotation has been rebuilt, as Corey Kluber was acquired in a trade, and Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles signed as free agents. Todd Frazier brings his home-runs-and-outs-only approach to third base. Robinson Chirinos took a one-year sabbatical to Houston last year but returns this year behind the plate.
Where’d He Go?: Hunter Pence, baseball’s most unathletic-looking athletic guy, went back to San Francisco, thus ruining the sendoff he got from them a couple years ago. Delino DeShields was part of the Kluber trade and is in Cleveland. Nomar Mazara was dealt to the White Sox.
What To Expect: Even more jokes about their new, Home Depot-ass stadium. Anything beyond that won’t be as entertaining. It’s hard to know what the Rangers think they’re doing, because they’re not good enough to be this old. Four-fifths of the rotation is over 30, and no one in the everyday lineup is under 25. The rotation should be good, even if Kluber is getting past it. Lance Lynn and MIke Minor were two of the best under-the-radar starters in the AL last year, and Gibson raises the floor.
Can they hit enough? Shin-soo Choo is 38. He’s the only other plus-hitter returning other than Joey Gallo (not the attorney from My Cousin Vinny). Frazier doesn’t really add all that much, and there are just too many holes for this sprint season. Maybe they can win enough games 3-2, but the pen doesn’t look strong enough to carry over the work from the starters. The Rangers will have to pick a direction for next season. They didn’t really pick one for this one even before it got the shrunk-the-kids treatment.