Here are the current American League West standings:
- Rangers — 21-13
- Athletics — 18-18 (4.0 GB)
- Mariners — 16-19 (5.5 GB)
- Angels — 12-22 (9.0 GB)
- Astros — 10-25 (11.5 GB)
Last Spring the Angels fell as low as 7.0 full games behind the Rangers in April, an early-season start that effectively eliminated any chance they had at reaching the postseason. In 2013, Anaheim is a full 2.0 games worse than the unclimbable hole they put themselves in last April, which is exacerbated by the fact that it’s nearly the middle of May — giving them less time to make up the difference.
The Athletics started the year 9-2 after 11 games, and 12-4 through 16 — which included a perfect 6-0 record against the lowly Astros. It was the best start of any team in the American League. But since that point they’ve gone just 6-14, including their most recent 4-game sweep in Cleveland in which they were outscored 21-8. Since April 12th, Oakland has lost 6.0 games in the standings to the Rangers.
Since I don’t envision a scenario where the Mariners or Astros are competitive in 2013, I’m just not going to talk about them. So there you go.
If you need a direct correlation as to why each team in the West is in the position they are currently in, look no further than pitching. Out of 30 MLB teams, here is how the AL West stacks up in terms of FIP-wins (or fWAR):
2. Rangers (+7.0)
13. Athletics (+3.3)
19. Mariners (+2.4)
28. Angels (+0.2)
29. Astros (-0.8)
And by ERA:
2. Rangers (3.22)
21. Mariners (4.08)
26. Athletics (4.31)
28. Angels (4.66)
30. Astros (5.60)
To quantify these numbers into a thesis that can be easily understood, we can say something along the lines of — Yeah, well, the pitching in the AL West pretty much sucks, but the Rangers have been one of baseball’s best pitching staffs.
What I find most ironic about the data is that all of Oakland, Anaheim, and Seattle are historically run-suppressive ballparks, while the Rangers play half their games within the confines of arguably MLB’s most liberal run-scoring environment.
If I’m a fan of the Angels or A’s, what I find most disconcerting is that there hasn’t been a heavy amount of luck — or in this instance, bad luck — adversely skewing results. Oakland’s xFIP (what their ERA should be) is 4.18; in reality it’s 4.31, which is a finite difference.
The Angels’ ERA, on the other hand, is 4.66, but their xFIP is 4.34, which suggests it should come down at least little bit. Eventually the Angel offense is going to punish American League pitching again. There’s just too much talent in that lineup for it not to turn around. The key to their turnaround has to be better pitching, but at this point (a) it looks like a successful year will be making it into the playoff field as one of the two Wild Card teams, and (b) they’ll mostly have to do it with what they already have, because they possess one of the worst farm systems in baseball.
If you are a fan of the Rangers, it’s hard not to like the position they are in. Yeah, first place 4 game lead blah blah blah that’s all cool, but it’s the means by which they are winning — the process — that’s important. Good offense flashes in and out like a fart in the wind, but pitching doesn’t die.
Right now Ranger pitching is almost a full run better than anyone else in its division. That’s substantial and, after a 35-game sample, not at all a fluke.