This is the first edition of our AL West Division Roundup, where we provide updates on the teams in the division and insight into the key developments and injuries that will shape the race for the title going forward!
No clear frontrunner has emerged after two and a half weeks of the 2022 season, but we’ve seen enough to get a feel for each team’s character. For this edition of the roundup, we’ve homed in on (yes, it’s homed in, not honed in) players that are unexpectedly outperforming expectations and others that are underperforming for each team. Let’s get straight to it!
The Mariners are continuing their ascent from 2021. They’re leading the division thanks to consistently good outings from their starting rotation and hot starts at the dish from Ty France, J.P. Crawford, and the much-maligned Eugenio Suárez.
The starting rotation is shouldering an impressive workload. As a unit, they’ve pitched 93.2 innings through 17 games with a collective 2.98 ERA. Logan Gilbert proved he’s a bona fide ace by posting a 0.40 ERA and 0.85 WHIP with 22 strikeouts in 22.1 innings across four starts. 2021 AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray and veteran Marco Gonzales both got roughed up in early outings but recovered well in their next respective starts. Rookie Matt Brash still needs to improve his command but shows enormous potential. Chris Flexen currently sports a very solid 3.63 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.
Put those starters together with a bullpen that’s allowed the sixth-fewest runs to date and a lineup with a collective .741 OPS and you’ve got a recipe for success. This was a very good team in 2021 that got better in the offseason, and it’s showing.
Biggest surprise: The aforementioned Matt Brash is one to watch as the 2022 season continues. He needs to improve on his 17.2% walk rate, but he’s shown an ability to battle his way through jams and earn strikeouts with truly nasty breaking pitches.
Biggest disappointment: Jesse Winker, another of Seattle’s big off-season acquisitions, has yet to make an impact. After he finished last season with a .305/.394/.556 slash line and 24 home runs, the Mariners expected big things. What they’re getting so far in 2022 is an anemic .158/.329/.175. However, Winker’s BABIP currently stands at .182 (compared to a 2022 league average of about .280), and he’s walking in 22.2% of his plate appearances — roughly three times the current 2022 average. That discipline at the plate should start converting to a better average before long.
- Outfielder Mitch Haniger was placed on the COVID-19 IL on April 16. Catcher Luis Torrens joined him on April 19 and relief pitcher Paul Sewald followed suit on the 20th.
- Relief pitcher Sergio Romo is on the 10-day IL with shoulder problems.
- Outfielder Kyle Lewis is on the 10-day IL with a knee injury.
The burning questions for the Halos going into 2022 centered on how their stars would perform after recovering from injury. Thankfully for Angels fans (and baseball fans more generally), Mike Trout definitely looks like his usual self — he’s hitting .347/.458/.776 with five home runs. Anthony Rendon, on the other hand, still hasn’t returned to his 2019 form after missing the majority of 2021 to injury. He’s hitting .226/.354/.396 with two home runs.
For his part, Noah Syndergaard is throwing sliders at roughly the same rate as he was in 2018 (the year before he suffered injury that ultimately forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery). In his brief appearance back in the majors at the end of 2021, he had to stay away from the breaking stuff. The fact that he’s using the same pitch mix as before the surgery is great news for the Angels, as it means he can attack batters with his full arsenal.
The key for Los Angeles moving forward will be consistency in their pitching. Shohei Ohtani, Patrick Sandoval, and Syndergaard have all turned in gems, but they’re interspersed with clunkers. The bullpen has been a weakness so far as well, with a 4.18 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 71 innings pitched. The Angels are putting runs on the board, but they need to get better at prevention to fully overtake the Mariners.
Biggest surprise: A number of Angels are overperforming in the early going, but Brandon Marsh sticks out as being most worthy of the “surprise” label. After slashing .254/.317/.356 in 236 major league at bats last season, he’s started this year with a line of .308/.396/.538. He’s also matched his entire 2021 total for home runs (two) in the first two weeks of the season.
Biggest disappointment: Anthony Rendon has plenty of time to turn it around with the Angels, but the organization’s big investment in him is not looking good at this point. He still has plenty of time left on his contract to turn things around, but Angels fans must be suffering from flashbacks of Albert Pujols‘ time in LA.
- Shortstop David Fletcher is on the 10-day IL with a hip injury, but may return this week.
- Starting pitcher Griffin Canning remains on the 60-day IL with a back injury.
- Relief pitcher Jose Quijada is on the 10-day IL with a strained oblique.
In the first two weeks of the season, the A’s worked their way to a 5-5 record after navigating a road trip through Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Toronto — a respectable accomplishment, given the quality of those teams. They were able to overcome a significant hit from COVID-19 and climb above .500 by taking three of four from the Orioles in their opening homestand, but the holes began to show in their next series against the Rangers. They scored a total of three runs over three games, and dropped two of the three.
The A’s managed to capitalize on several strong outings from starters Paul Blackburn, Daulton Jefferies, Frankie Montas, and Paul Blackburn in April, but the offense has only come in spurts. So far, they’re averaging a middling 3.89 runs per game (against a league average of 4.02) and rank at the top of the league in strikeouts with 160. Still, despite trading all their best players in the offseason, they’re hovering at .500 and staying competitive in the division.
Biggest surprise: After repeated trips between the A’s and the minors the past four seasons, Paul Blackburn is making a strong case to stay in Oakland in 2022. In three starts to date (against Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Baltimore), he’s managed a 1.80 ERA with a 0.80 WHIP with only one walk allowed. The most remarkable thing is that, as someone who pitches to contact (36% sinker usage with an 83.3% GB rate so far in 2022), he’s still managing a very respectable 25.5% strikeout rate. With Frankie Montas likely to be traded at some point during the season, the A’s will need another legitimate ace in the starting rotation, and Blackburn has looked the part in the early going.
Biggest disappointment: Other than team owner John Fisher tightening up his wallet and forcing GM David Forst to ship a bunch of good players to other teams, A’s fans were hoping for more from Kevin Smith (3B) and Billy McKinney (1B/OF). Smith and McKinney arrived from Toronto in return for third baseman Matt Chapman, and are slashing .161/.212/.226 and .108/.195/.189, respectively. Smith faced a further setback on April 20 when he was sent to the IL due to a bone bruise on his left ankle. Oakland will need both players to step it up as the season continues.
- Starting pitcher James Kaprielian is working his way back from a shoulder problem.
- Infielder Jed Lowrie, relievers A.J. Puk and Kirby Snead, closer Lou Trivino, catcher Austin Allen, and outfielder Stephen Piscotty were all placed on the COVID-19 IL from April 15th to April 18th.
- Catcher Stephen Vogt was placed on the IL with an MCL sprain in his right knee.
- Third baseman Kevin Smith was placed on the IL with a bone bruise in his left ankle.
- Outfielder Skye Bolt is on the IL with an oblique injury.
- Outfielder Ramón Laureano continues to serve out a suspension from 2021 for a positive PED test.
After beginning the year at 6-8, the odds-on favorite to win the division hit a rough patch. They lost four in a row to the Angels and Blue Jays, getting shut out once and amassing a total of seven runs in that stretch.
The slide coincides with Jose Altuve’s departure from a game against the Angels on April 20, which subsequently resulted in a stint on the IL. They’re also suffering from an unexpectedly slow start from Kyle Tucker and are struggling to get production from Yuli Gurriel, Aledmys Díaz, and Chas McCormick.
Houston’s pitching started the year off strong, but they’ve also turned in several clunkers, and their ability to win games was hampered by poor run support. A glaring issue they need to address is Jake Odorizzi struggling to fill in for the injured Lance McCullers Jr. — he carries an ERA of 6.00 and an ugly 1.67 WHIP through four starts, although his six innings with one hit and one earned run against Texas on Tuesday is a big step in the right direction. The Astros also faced a setback to their relief corps when closer Ryan Pressly was forced to the IL with knee inflammation.
It’s too early for Houston to panic, but they need their stars on both ends of the ball to turn things around before they get in too deep of a hole.
Biggest surprise: Jeremy Peña had big shoes to fill when he took Carlos Correa’s spot at shortstop, but so far he’s delivered. The rookie is slashing .246/.323/.491 with three home runs, three doubles, and a triple so far in 2022. The power he’s put on display is a welcome surprise for a team in desperate need of runs.
Biggest disappointment: Kyle Tucker is off to an abysmal start. He’s hitting .175/.246/.317 with a 21.5% strikeout rate and a 5-game hitless streak from 4/17 to 4/22. However, there’s a silver lining to this news: Tucker’s expected stats show that his woes partially stem from bad luck, and he was able to snap his hitless streak by simply donning batting gloves. It’s certainly not the April that the Astros or Tucker wanted, but we will likely see him return to 2021 form before long.
- Lance McCullers Jr. remains on the 60-day IL with a forearm strain but has begun throwing again
- Jose Altuve is on the 10-day IL with a hamstring injury
- Ryan Pressly is on the 10-day IL with knee inflammation
The question for Texas entering 2022 was whether or not their pitchers could keep them competitive. The answer so far is no. As a unit, the starting rotation sports a 5.82 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over 68 innings pitched. To make matters worse, Jon Gray, who represents the one big off-season addition the Rangers made to their pitching staff, was forced to the IL with a knee sprain on April 21.
The relief corps has not fared much better than the starters — they’re sitting on a 4.11 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. In a reflection of how poorly the starting rotation has fared, Texas relievers have already put in 81 innings of work — 13 innings more than the starters.
While it’s not a huge surprise that the Rangers’ pitching is a mess, it’s disappointing to see how much they’ve struggled offensively as well. Even on nights when the pitching staff limits the damage done, the offense is prone to disappear. Corey Seager and Marcus Semien haven’t looked like their formidable selves. Adolis García is still swinging and missing, but doesn’t have the power numbers to make up for the high strikeout rate. The numbers are ugly up and down the lineup.
The Rangers have an uphill battle ahead of them, but it’s a long season and they have the offensive firepower to do damage if their bats wake up. Maybe they can follow Shohei Ohtani’s lead and try CPR.
Biggest surprise: If there is any bright spot to the beginning of the season for the Rangers, it’s Nathaniel Lowe’s performance. The first baseman is slashing .364/.408/.470 with a home run and four doubles. Last season was his first as a regular starter, and he finished the year with a very solid .264/.357/.415 line to go along with 18 homers. Texas fans can hope his breakout persists as the season continues.
Biggest disappointment: Texas committed $500 million to the contracts for second baseman Marcus Semien and short stop Corey Seager this offseason. They are hitting .176/.247/.235 and .258/.306/.318, respectively, with a single home run between them. This isn’t to say that’s not money well-spent — both are phenomenal players who will rebound as the year continues — but Rangers fans were surely hoping for more in April.
- Starting pitcher Jon Gray was placed on the IL with a knee sprain on 4/20.
- Relief pitcher Josh Sborz was placed on the 10-day IL on 4/16 with elbow soreness.
Artwork by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)