A.L. West Mid-Season Report Card: Recap, Predictions and Analysis
The grades are in as we approach the halfway mark of the 2010 season.
What teams have lived up to the hype in the American League West, and which have laid an egg and why?
Here is a team-by-team breakdown recapping the first 81 games (almost), and what to watch for in the second half.
Who will be the movers and shakers in the second half?
What moves should teams make going forward?
Which will be buyers and sellers at the trade deadline?
Who is in the running for individual awards?
Who are the biggest disappointments and surprises?
Who will ultimately win the division, and who will fade into the abyss?
The Texas Rangers: A+
So far, the Texas Rangers have lived up to the hype.
I can't see how they could be playing much better than they are.
They rank first in the majors in batting, third in RBIs and hits and 10th in homers—the primary reasons why they have gone an incredible 15-3 in their past 18 games. They also walked away with the best inter-league record in baseball this year.
Vladimir Guerrero should easily win the Comeback Player of the Year Award as long as he stays healthy. That is a big if with Vlad, who looks like he is about to snap his spine in two every time he swings out of his shoes for a pitch 10 feet out of the strike zone.
It's hard to argue with the results. This future Hall-of-Famer is coming off one of the best months of his storied career in May, when he batted .339, with 10 HR and 31 RBI.
He has followed May up with a June, where he sported a "paltry" batting average of only .404.
The exclamation point on his first half came last night, when he hit a two-run homer against his former Angels team at the Big A— a bomb that deflated the crowd and almost brought the Rangers back from a late 3-run deficit.
In another great story line, Josh Hamilton, the player that almost never was, is on the verge of being the first Triple Crown winner in 43 years. His ridiculous .343 batting average, 18 HR and 58 RBI have been somewhat overshadowed by the resurgence of Vlad and Robinson Cano's amazing first half.
If I had to choose between Cano continuing his torrid pace in the second half and Hamilton, my money is on Hamilton all the way. He just extended his hitting streak to 22 games last night—a streak that includes 11 multiple hit games and a five-hit performance.
Hamilton is currently batting .457, with nine HR, 31 RBI and an OPS of 1.301 for the month of June. He is definitely my AL MVP for the first half.
Elvis Andrus has emerged as one of the best shortstops in basesball.
Colby Lewis is an ace for that rotation, which was really the biggest question mark coming into the season.
The best reliever in baseball nobody wants to talk about is Darren Oliver.
Oliver, who the Angels let walk to their division rivals for a lousy $3 million solely based on the 39-year-old's age, has been nothing less than spectacular.
Oliver is having one of the best years of his career with a 1.51 ERA and 0.87 WHIP. He also has a dominating 40 strikeouts to nine walks over 35.2 innings.
The big question mark going forward for the Rangers continues to be the pitching on the back end of their rotation. I'm still not convinced the likes of Dustin Nippert and Scott Feldman are going to hold up in the August heat of Arlington Stadium.
Look for the Rangers to make a strong play for Roy Oswalt before the trade deadline. If they can manage to thieve Oswalt from Houston strictly for prospects, look for the Rangers to not only win the division, but the whole, damn thing.
If not, the only way the Rangers are going to win their fourth divisional title and first since 1999 is if they mash their way to it.
If they do take it away from the L.A., the Angels will be left scratching their heads as to how they let Oliver and Guerrero sign with their divisional rival so cheaply.
The Los Angels Angels of Anaheim: B
It has been a tale of two seasons for the three-time defending divisional champs.
Based solely on their first two months, they would be getting a D.
However, despite playing about as bad as they could possibly play over that span, plus several key injuries and the woeful play of Brandon Wood, the Angels are only 3.5 out of first place.
How is that possible?
One word: Depth.
The Angels have been showing their depth off since stars like Kendry Morales, Jeff Mathis and Eric Aybar were placed on the DL. In fact, they've played better without them.
Since May 25, the Angels have had the best record in baseball—going 28-11 in that span.
How many other teams in all of baseball could lose their best hitter, best shortstop and best defensive catcher—only to post a record like that?
The naysayers before the season gave the Angels no chance to win their fourth consecutive division title before the season started—citing the losses of ace John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Guerrero and others.
However, the Angels have proven they were as deep as General Manager Tony Reagins thought they were.
You had to know the Angels were not going to continue to hit .230 as a team for the entire year, and now they are turning it around in a big way.
Not only do the Angels have more home runs than Texas, they were the third best hitting team in the AL in June and have climbed to fifth best for the year.
Similarly, you had to know their starting rotation would not struggle all year long. They moved from having the worst ERA of any team in the majors, to seventh best in the AL in one month.
Jered Weaver has distinguished himself as the ace of the staff in that time—leading the league in strikeouts and quality starts in the process.
Joel Piñeiro, who many thought was a poor attempt at replacing Lackey, has more quality starts, more innings pitched, more complete games, a better ERA and a better WHIP than Lackey.
Not bad for a guy that makes $10.7 million less than his counterpart.
Ervin Santana is having a huge rebound year—posting numbers that rival Weaver's.
Even Scott Kazmir has gotten it together as of late—winning four-out-of his last five starts and posting a 3.71 ERA for the month of June.
Unfortunately for the Angels, Texas just won't lose.
They are hoping a series win against the Rangers this week may be the ying to their yang. A turning point in their season.
That might be too much weight to stick on a series being played in the last week in June, but beating Texas straight up seems like the best bet for the Angels to gain ground.
The biggest question mark for the Angels going forward is still their bullpen.
It has struggled mightily all season. It looked like K-Rod 2.0, a.k.a. Francisco Rodriguez, was about to ride in on his white horse and be the cure, but he too has been getting lit up as of late.
That opens the door for Reagins to possibly make a move before the trade deadline.
The best available option might be Cleveland's Kerry Wood. However, with a contact of over $10 million and sub-par numbers, Wood might turn out to be a more expensive version of what they already have.
It would be a gamble, but it might be one the Angels would be willing to take if there are no other options. They might still be able to win the division as things stand right now, but they don't figure to go far without improving their pen.
The novelty of winning a four-team division is starting to wear off on the fans. The Angels have become the West Coast equivalent to the Atlanta Braves. A consistently good team that has never taken the next step into greatness.
Still, I like the Angels starting rotation better than Texas, and the Angels have a lot more upside than Texas looking toward the second half.
Texas has played about as well as they can, and they did not take advantage of the Angels' early struggles like they should have.
As the Angels get healthier, they are going to only get better and they should be able to overtake the Rangers at some point.
Regardless, the Wild Card picture is looking more and more like a western proposition. These are both loaded, playoff-worthy teams.
The Oakland Athletics: C
If it were up to me, I would give the Executive of the Year Award, every year, to Oakland G.M. Billy Beane just out of principle.
In fact, I would probably re-name it the Billy Beane Award and announce that no other candidates need apply.
Has there ever been anyone who has done more with less in all of sports than this guy?
Oakland ranks 27th in payroll and yet they are only two games below .500.
That is AFTER they blew $10 million to sign starting pitcher Ben Sheets—in the hopes he would rebound from injury and return to All-Star form.
It hasn't exactly worked out that way for Sheets, who is 3-7 with an ERA over 5.00.
I am sure Beane will try to move him before the trade deadline for prospects, as he always does in these situations. It may have even been the plan when Oakland signed him, since nobody realistically thought the A's would win the division this year.
However, the best thing the A's could do moving forward doesn't involve a trade for prospects.
It involves becoming the San Jose Athletics.
I recently watched a game against the Angels at Oakland where only 7,500 fans showed up. That was the announced crowd, but it looked even smaller. Half of those in the stands appeared to be wearing red.
Keep in mind, this was a rivalry game at a time when the A's were playing well and fighting for first place.
I have attended AAA games that drew more than that.
Their 17,500 per game average is only better than Cleveland and Florida.
It has always amazed me that the San Francisco Giants, who have never won anything, consistently sell out. Meanwhile, the A's, who have won four World Series titles since their move to the Bay Area in 1968, have always struggled to draw.
Granted, the Giants play in the nicest ballpark in baseball now, but for years they played in that cold, windy pit called Candlestick Park.
It didn't matter. They still outdrew the A's.
Frankly Oakland, you don't deserve the A's.
I am sure that is hard for the 7,000 loyal fans that actually bother to show up for the games to hear, but moving to San Jose might be the best thing that ever happened to A's fans.
Most people do not realize that San Jose has more than a million people.
It's the 10th largest city in the United States.
It is the biggest and richest of all the Bay Area cities and its residents have the largest discretionary spending income in that geographic area.
If San Jose supports the A's like their Sharks from the NHL, look out.
The rest of baseball will have to deal with a very dangerous concept.
Billy Beane with money to spend.
The Seattle Mariners: F
I would like to take a moment to congratulate the Seattle Mariners on their shrewd, off-season acquisition of Cliff Lee.
He has single-handedly kept you from receiving an F-minus.
How does a team manage to spend this much money, acquire this many new players and be substantially worse than they were the previous year?
Seattle is on pace to win 21 fewer games than they did in 2009.
Here is my three-step plan for recovery, Seattle:
1. Fire the entire coaching staff.
How manager Don Wakamatsu still has a job is one of the great mysteries of life. It's right up there with crop circles and those mysterious statues on Easter Island.
2. Fire G.M. Jack Zduriencik.
I wouldn't make another move until I got a general manager that actually knew what he was doing. You are just going to make a bad situation worse if you keep letting the people who got you into this mess make more decisions regarding the future of your franchise.
3. Release Chone Figgins outright and trade Cliff Lee.
In what I said at the time was the stupidest free agent signing of the off-season, Seattle signed a lead-off slap hitter to an $8.5 million contract, when they already had the greatest lead-off slap hitter of all time in Ichiro Suzuki.
Unless they planned on Figgy stealing his way from first to home every time he got on, I'm not sure what the thought process was in getting him.
Seattle has a grand total of 45 homers all season, and nobody has more than seven. Who exactly did they think was going to knock these two rabbits in? Milton Bradley?
If Seattle drops the un-tradeable Figgins, they might actually stand a chance of getting out of that horrific contract and picking up some prospects if he is claimed off waivers.
Why did I have a feeling the same guy who choked under the pressure of the playoffs every year, would choke under the pressures that came with that contract?
Seattle obviously needed to add power to their line-up if they had any plans of making a playoff run, but they opted for the likes of Casey Kotchman. Kotchman is hitting a whopping .188, with three homers.
Still feeling bad about giving him up for Mark Teixiera and a chance at a ring, Angels fans?
As for Lee, I can only imagine how great the prospects were that they gave up to get a talent of his caliber.
The sad thing is, Lee is the only reason to keep going to Mariner games this season. He should be the front runner to win the Cy Young this year, but he probably won't as long as he plays for Seattle.
Seattle better start shopping him now, before teams decide to take a pass and try to get him outright in free agency.
This is so vital to the future of this franchise. To not get anything for him after giving up the prospects they did to get him could spell disaster for many years to come.
You have to feel a little sorry for Seattle's fans, who came into the season with such high hopes just to see this train wreck unfold.
Shame on you, Seattle Mariners. There is no way you should be this bad.