By the time Memorial Day rolls around, Major League Baseball teams are beginning to get a clearer insight into the nature of their hopes for the season. It's difficult to gauge anything based upon April alone, but another month of game action helps to give a stronger indication of whether you and your fanbase should let hopes build or face the grim realities of another season lost. With Memorial Day just behind us, this critical juncture in the baseball schedule is where we stand.
At this point, the American League West is a perfect illustration of divisional parity, still offering great hope to the four franchises within the division. With only four games separating first place from last, all four teams remain well within striking distance, and with two-thirds of the schedule remaining, have enough opportunity to fix what ails them in order to make a charge towards the pinnacle of their division.
Defending American League Champions, the Texas Rangers, flying high from their first-ever World Series appearance last season, have charged out to the division lead, despite losing Cliff Lee and injuries to stars Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Neftali Feliz. Buoyed by a strong home record and a dynamic offense, even in light of the injuries to two of their biggest sluggers, Texas aims to repeat their divisional dominance of last year.
Mike Scioscia's Angels, weathering the loss of their greatest slugging threat, Cuban first baseman, Kendrys Morales, as well as new recruit Vernon Wells, have turned in strong starting pitching performances to mitigate their middle-of-the-road offensive production. They have also received surprising production from a few young players, thrust into action due to injuries or lack of production from more established veteran players.
The Oakland Athletics, preseason favorites of many, have struggled out of the gate, currently sitting in fourth place. As far as starting pitching is concerned, they rank among the elite in baseball, however, injuries to closer Andrew Bailey and dissension amongst the relieving corps have caused mild issues within the clubhouse in Oakland. Though they have experienced bullpen issues recently, the relievers have still produced, thanks to a stable of quality arms built over the offseason. What's truly dragging the A's down is their anemic offense.
Seattle, headlined by Felix Hernandez and Ichiro, were not expected by many to do much this year, with the consensus being that they were likely a few seasons away from blossoming as a unit. The 2011 season started out keeping aligned with those expectations, as the Mariners limped out to a woeful start, hitting rock bottom on May 13, losing to Cleveland and dropping to 16-23 on the year. Perhaps mercifully, the next two games of the series were washed away due to inclement weather, and the Mariners were able to leave Cleveland and start anew. Since that messy weekend in Ohio, the Mariners have been one of the hottest teams in baseball, owning an 12-4 record since, and leaping into second in the AL West.
With roughly one-third of the season in the books, let's take a closer look at the offensive and pitching components of each team, ranking them according to performance thus far. Analysis of the bats and arms on each squad may provide us a clearer view of what to expect as the season progresses toward the "dog days of summer."