Well – here we are. Roughly a third of the way into the 2020 MLB season. While a few teams have barely seen the field as a result of dealing with COVID outbreaks, the majority of the league has managed to play about 20 of their games (give or take). This seems like a good time to start reflecting on what has been, and what may be. After all – the playoffs are right around the corner in this most unique of seasons.
Every few weeks we’ll be checking in on each team as they navigate this 60 game race to the postseason. While there’s plenty to talk about off the field, this series will focus primarily on the games and how the season is shaking out. So, let’s dive in, shall we?
Today: The American League West
With only 60 games this season, a 4 game lead for the Oakland Athletics is a significant separation from the rest of the division. Only the Cubs lead their division by a greater margin (5 games).
The rest of the pack is all within a game and a half of each other, but if someone doesn’t step up and go on a run, Oakland could roll to their first AL West title since 2013.
The Athletics have loved life in August, starting the month off with a nine-game winning streak, including sweeps of Texas and Houston, their main competition for the division. As usual, the A’s have shown a penchant for winning close, low-scoring games, as seven of their wins have been by one or two runs.
Oakland needs to win their games with pitching and defense because they have been pretty woeful at the plate. The A’s have struck out an AL-worst 184 times and are batting just .214 on the season, but they also have taken the 2nd most walks (87) in the league.
The Matt-Matt combo (Olson and Chapman) have combined for 13 home runs and 30 RBI, though Olson is hitting just .153, worse even than his career .253 clip.
When not having their dugout invaded by charging opponents, the Astros have stumbled to five losses in the last week, as their first road trip of the year was a disaster (3-6). Houston also lost both of their games against the Dodgers, which probably hurt their morale even more than it did their place in the standings.
We wondered whether Houston would be able to put their heads down, ignore the inevitable retribution, and perform up to the talent on their roster. Instead, they have been thrown off of their game just by players sticking out their tongue at them.
At the plate, Jose Altuve is hitting just .175 with only two doubles, George Springer is hitting .200 with three dongs, and Alex Bregman is hitting .257, though to be fair, it’s hard to hit the ball when it’s sailing behind your head.
This is gonna come down to mental toughness for the Astros, and frankly, I don’t think they have the stones to win it this season.
Texas dug themselves a hole by starting the season 3-8 but since then have won four of five to jump ahead of Houston for second place in the division.
The Rangers struggles might have a lot to do with their .217 batting average. Up and down the lineup you can find players who are not getting the job done.
Lance Lynn is turning in an ace-of-the-staff pitching performance so far this year, with a 3-0 record and a 1.11 ERA, while Jonathan Hernandez has been solid out of the Rangers bullpen (3-0, 1.64 ERA). The rest of the starting pitchers have combined to go 4-9. The rotation is a bunch of cast-offs who are past their prime, which was mediocre to begin with.
At 7-14, it’s not looking good for the Mariners to break their 18-year playoff drought.
Seattle has one of the worst pitching staff in the league this year, with an ERA of 5.85, which begs the question “why do I own two of them on my fantasy team?”
It’s no surprise that they also have the worst run differential (-46) in the league. The Mariners started out the year allowing six or more runs in each of their first six games.
If there is a glimmer of hope for the Mariners, it’s that they are about to play a majority of their games on the road. So far this year, Seattle is 4-8 on the road and 3-7 at home. It’s really a very small glimmer.
Speaking of fantasy teams, guys like Dee Gordon and Mallex Smith are two guys that someone takes a flyer on because, even though they are going to hit .210, they might swipe 30 bases in a year. Unfortunately for Seattle, who rosters both of them, neither is hitting better than .143, and together they have stolen two bases.
Seattle, however, does lead the American League with 20 stolen bases, which is good because they don’t make much contact, striking out 184 times, tied for 12th in the big leagues.
Did you realize that the Angels have only been in the playoffs once in the last ten years? They haven’t won a playoff game since 2009, despite having 3x MVP Mike Trout.
The Angels are always one of those teams that should be better than they are, and this year it looks like deja vu all over again.
Trout, now a daddy, has blasted eight home runs and is slugging 1.048, though he has yet to steal a base this year.
Outside of Trout, the Angels lineup has been a dud.
The Angels rotation is no great shakes either, but Dylan Bundy has been a revelation in his first year on the West Coast. The 27-year old is 3-1 with a 1.57 ERA and leads the league with 28.2 innings pitched. Bundy has struck out 35 and walked only three, and his K/BB (11.67) is among the league’s best.
Could there be a playoff chase in the AL West?
By the middle of the season, it’s possible that we will see Oakland very close to clinching the division if things continue to trend this way.
Even with the expanded playoff format this year, Texas and Houston will be hard pressed to make the postseason, needing teams like the Indians, White Sox, Rays and Tigers to all fall off of the wagon.
If someone gets hot, though, it might not take more than say a 7-2 stretch to change the entire landscape of this season.
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