The Texas Rangers got six home runs last night, including three from Mark Teixiera, to beat the Orioles, 15-1. The Athletics got a home run from wild child Nick Swisher to beat the Red Sox, 5-4 in 11 innings. The Mariners and Angels both pick up where they left off tonight in their first action since the All Star break. The AL West is in for a helluva second half.
Before the season, the Athletics were the fashionable choice to win the division. After all, they were entering the season with a lot of young talent that was ready to officially make the jump and contribute. But, to borrow a terribly old cliche, that's why the games aren't played on paper. Oakland and Texas, after their respective wins last night, are tied for the division lead at 46-43 each. The Angels are 2.5 back and the last place Mariners are only 3 games away from the division lead. The only division even as close to competitive as the AL West is the left coast's NL crew, who sport a five game difference between first and last.
To win the division, Oakland will need better efforts from its rotation, which includes a healthy Rich Harden. They don't have a starter (including ace Barry Zito) who has managed to put too much distance between himself and .500. The pitching isn't getting any help from the lineup, though. Although they're enjoying a breakout season from Swisher; Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, and Bobby Kielty have all taken a step back this year. The Athletics do not have a single batter in their lineup hitting .300.
The Rangers are making it close with a patchwork rotation that is getting serviceable starts from Kevin Millwood and Vincent Padilla, but the offense of the grossly underrated Michael Young, Gary Matthews Jr., Hank Blalock, and Teixiera is pushing them over the top.
Much of the talk about the Angels has been revolving around Vlad Guerrero's lack of production this year, and though his numbers may fall short of his MVP standards, he's still contributed 18 home runs and 101 hits for a .299 average this season. Those are hardly unproductive numbers. The Angels have gotten surprising results from Ervin Santana (10-3, 3.96 ERA) and Jered Weaver (6-0, 1.12 ERA), who is proving himself to be the Johnny Drama of the Weaver family (and fellow Angels pitcher) Jeff Weaver (3-10, 6.29 ERA). With a typical second half for the now-healthy Bartolo Colon, the Angels should be a lock to take the division.
The Mariners are an intriguing story. They went into this year as if it were a transition -- a stop-gap between converting an aging Mariners team into a young group with potential. Except a funny thing happened -- the balance of old and new have pumped life into the M's, and instead of being sure-fire sellers at the trade deadline they might be in the position to deal for a veteran to push them into the playoffs. I don't see this happening, however. They're still in the process of calling up young talent, and when the division races get hot I'm not sure these players will be able to handle the pressure that older, more experienced teams like Anaheim are used to.
Oakland and Texas will need to acquire some talent if they want to make a push for a deep playoff run -- Oakland could use some bats and Texas another arm. But Anaheim has proven its ability to get hot at the right moment in the past, and they've stayed in the hunt all year without Colon, last year's Cy Young winner. I fully expect them to take the West when all is said and done.