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AL West Roundup: First Half Recap

A look back at the first half and likely roster moves for the second.

The All-Star Game is complete and the MLB is gearing up for the second half of the 2022 season. While baseball’s brightest stars got their moment in the LA sun, the rest of the league had a chance to rest and prepare themselves for another two months of baseball.

In the AL West, the two big stories of the summer are the immolation of the Angels and the surge of the Mariners. Los Angeles looked like a serious playoff contender at the beginning of the year but suffered a 14-game losing streak from May 25 to June 8, fired manager Joe Maddon, and never found their way back to .500 after that.

The Mariners went in the opposite direction by stumbling their way through May, putting together a respectable June, and then knocking out 14 wins in a row to climb nine games above .500 and into the thick of the Wild Card chase.

Even with the M’s impressive display, the Astros retain a commanding nine-game lead in the division. The Rangers show sporadic life and flashes of their future potential, while the A’s biggest victory so far this season was to overcome another hurdle in their quest for a new ballpark.

To usher in the second half of the season, we’ll take a look at each team’s highlights from the first half and identify the roster moves they’re likely to make as the trade deadline on August 2nd approaches.

 

AL West Standings as of 7/20/22

 

The Houston Astros

 

First-half recap: Houston was a preseason favorite to be a World Series contender. The Astros were coming off a runner-up performance in 2021 and had all the tools they needed to get over the hump in 2022. They struggled out of the gate but found their stride by mid-May. There’s no reason to believe they won’t continue their dominance in the second half and cruise to a top seed in the playoffs.

Player highlights:

  • Rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña made Astros fans forget about Carlos Correa in a hurry
  • Starting pitcher Justin Verlander leads the league in wins and hasn’t missed a beat after losing 2021 to injury
  • DH Yordan Alvarez established himself as one of the game’s premier hitters and earned his first All-Star appearance

In it to win it or throwing in the towel? In it. Very much in it.

Holes to fill: Houston is about as well-rounded as a team can get. Their starting rotation has the second-best ERA in the league through the All-Star Break, per Fangraphs. Their relief corps holds the best ERA in the league compared to other reliever groups. Astros hitters are top five in the league in wRC+ (114), home runs hit (126), and walk rate (9.7%) — the prime example of a three-true-outcomes approach that gets results.

On top of that, they’re a great fielding team. They rank second in the MLB in Baseball Reference’s Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average. All that is to say that Houston isn’t likely to make a huge splash at the deadline because they don’t really need to, but every team can get better.

Arguments are being made that the Astros should focus on acquiring a replacement for first baseman Yuli Gurriel (93 wRC+ and -0.3 WAR in 2022, per Fangraphs), with Josh Bell, Christian Walker, and Nathaniel Lowe all potentially available. It’s more likely that Houston will make lower-profile moves to add to their positional depth off the bench.

The upshot is that even if they sit on their hands, they’re well positioned for a deep playoff run.

 

The Seattle Mariners

 

First-half recap: The Mariners started the season off on the right foot by taking the lead in the division heading into May. Then, somewhat inexplicably, they fell below .500 and tinkered their way through May and most of June trying to get things back on track. Now they’re the hottest team in baseball, having won 22 of the last 25 games they played heading into the All-Star Break.

Player highlights:

In it to win it or throwing in the towel? The way they’re playing now proves they can make serious noise in the fall.

Holes to fill: The Mariners are short on starting pitchers. Robbie Ray, Marco Gonzales, Logan Gilbert, and Chris Flexen have pitched heroically to get the M’s in the position they’re in, but they are at risk of being overworked if a permanent fifth starter isn’t acquired.

The Mariners experimented with several young arms in the first half. Matt Brash looked promising through several starts but was ultimately demoted before finding his way back up in a bullpen role. George Kirby has also shown potential, but concerns about his workload may limit his ability to serve in a full-time starting role across another 80 games.

That means the Mariners will look to the rest of the league to bolster their pitching staff. There are a plethora of good options Seattle can reel in to provide some stability. The question will be whether they try to reel in one of the premier arms that could be on the market (Luis Castillo, Carlos Rodón, and Frankie Montas being top of mind) or settle for a less flashy but serviceable alternative (e.g. Paul Blackburn or Merrill Kelly).

 

  The Texas Rangers

 

First-half recap: The Rangers have yet to break .500 on the season but there are signs of a bright future peaking through. Big offseason acquisitions Marcus Semien and Corey Seager showed their quality over the past month and a lot of younger players like Leody Taveras and Josh Smith got extended looks.

Player highlights:

  • 31-year-old starting pitcher Martín Pérez pitched his way to his first All-Star game
  • Catcher Jonah Heim slugged his way to 124 wRC+ per Fangraphs, one of the best marks for any catcher in 2022

In it to win it or throwing in the towel? Throwing in the towel… This year. It will be interesting to see which players Texas holds onto and which ones they let go as they gear up for the coming seasons.

Holes to fill: The Rangers, like the Mariners, are short on starting pitching. Pérez vastly outperformed expectations and offseason acquisition Jon Gray has recovered from a rough start to the season, but the rest of the rotation needs to improve before the Rangers will be ready to compete.

It’s unlikely that Texas will hold a comprehensive fire sale given the long-term contracts proffered to Seager, Semien, and Gray in the offseason, but many of the team’s veterans could end up on the table to make room for team-controlled prospects — Kole Calhoun, Brad Miller, José Leclerc and Charlie Culberson spring to mind here.

The rest of 2022 may be a slog for Rangers fans, but they should keep an eye on the prospect list and make it to games when new faces are in town. They may get sneak previews of what the team can do once its rebuild gets closer to completion.

 

The Los Angeles Angels

 

First-half recap: Suffice to say 2022 started off looking like the season that Mike Trout would finally have a legitimate shot in the postseason but turned into a series of articles about him and Shohei Ohtani needing to be rescued from LA. All the players and coaches claim they can turn it around in the next three months; we all hope that’s true, because their descent has been a hard fall to watch.

Player highlights:

  • Shohei Ohtani continues to dazzle both on the mound and at the plate
  • Rookie Reid Detmers threw the season’s first solo no-hitter on May 11. However, his season is emblematic of the Angels as whole. He was optioned down to Triple-A six weeks after throwing his no-no. He’s back with the Angels now, and will look to take a step forward in the coming months

In it to win it or throwing in the towel? When asked, the rote answer from Angels players is they’re 100% committed and excited to turn things around in the second half. Their performances suggest otherwise. They limped into the All-Star break having lost 12 of 14 games. The next two weeks will dictate whether they can make a run at a Wild Card spot or need to look towards next season.

Holes to fill: GM Perry Minasian blames his team’s poor performance on a lack of offensive depth. A look at the stats shows he may have a point. The Angels offensive vulnerabilities were covered over by red-hot starts from players like Taylor Ward and Brandon Marsh.

Since May 25th (the beginning of the team’s 14-game losing streak that marked the season’s turning point), the only two players with at least 80 plate appearances who have a wRC+ above 100 are… Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani (per Fangraphs).

The loss of Anthony Rendon and David Fletcher to injury partly explains their offensive anemia, but not all of it. Minasian will need to find MLB-ready bats at a price that can accommodate the contracts of Ohtani, Trout, and Rendon while speeding the development of a host of pitching prospects.

Baseball fans the world over should hope he figures it out, because it would be a travesty for Trout and Ohtani to miss out on any more postseasons in the prime of their careers.

 

The Oakland Athletics

 

First-half recap: The A’s shipped off the core of players that got them to the postseason in three of the last four seasons this spring. Their intent to cut payroll and stock prospects for another rebuild was made clear from the outset, and their results this season have reflected the phase they are in.

Player highlights:

  • Paul Blackburn is having a breakout season and earned his first All-Star nod. He pitched a clean inning with a punchout in his first Summer Classic.

In it to win it or throwing in the towel? The towel was on the mat in March.

Holes to fill: This is really a case of who they have left to trade for prospects. They got an early start ahead of the trade deadline by shipping catcher/infielder Christian Bethancourt to the Rays.

No one is off the table, but the most likely candidate to go next is starting pitcher Frankie Montas, who is a bona fide ace and should get plenty of interest from contenders in need of another rotation arm. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the team sell high on Blackburn as he enters arbitration next season.

Catcher Sean Murphy will also be eligible for arbitration next year. It’s not a stretch to imagine Oakland trading him for the right prospect haul given the level Shea Langeliers is competing at for Triple-A Las Vegas. Outfielder Ramón Laureano can provide a team with plus defense and some pop, while Chad Pinder and Tony Kemp could fill in as utility-men for teams that need depth.

At some point in the future, the A’s will be a scrappy team full of young talent that will navigate them to a championship. 2022 is not the year that will happen.

 

Feature image artwork by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)

Colin Fong

Colin lived near Cooperstown and collected signatures from Hall of Famers for his Dad's collection every summer as a kid. He thought it was super boring at the time, but thinks it's incredibly cool now. He's an A's fan and loves writing about the beautiful, absurd, infuriating, and inspiring world of baseball.

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