Earlier this week, I took a look at how the American League East has performed over the first half. While the Red Sox and Rays will prove formidable opponents down the stretch, the division looks in good shape. The Yankees, however, face some big competition throughout the rest of the American League, especially in the race for home-field advantage.
Back in May, at the quarter-mark of the season, I checked in on the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, the Seattle Mariners, and the Los Angeles Angels, as these were the teams who were in the strongest positions in their divisions. Much has changed since then: the Mariners have emerged as one of the worst teams in baseball after their strong start and have already begun to sell off assets, while the Oakland A’s have played themselves into relevance.
Now it’s time to see where things stand at the midway point.
Los Angeles Angels (47-46, .505, 11.0 GB, 5.0 WCGB)
The Angels have been consistently inconsistent this year, with multiple hot and cold streaks that have helped bring about their nearly-.500 record. They’re not a good team, and will struggle in a division that contains the Astros, Rangers, and A’s. That said, they’re not a truly bad team either, with a lineup led by Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout. The bottom half of the lineup, however, is remarkably weak, particularly with the injuries to Brian Goodwin and Tommy La Stella.
Even once these players return, however, the pitching staff will make it hard for the Angels to go anywhere. They rank bottom-five in the American League in just about every metric, and lack a single starting pitcher with an ERA under 4.43. Hansel Robles and Ty Buttrey lead a bullpen that has done its best to try and pick up the slack, but the rotation has just simply been too bad.
Texas Rangers (50-43, .538, 8.0 GB, 2.0 WCGB)
The Rangers rank fourth in the American League in runs scored with 485 despite having six starters with an OPS+ under 100. They’ve even been giving significant at-bats catcher Jeff Mathis, who has an OPS+ of 10. This is due in large part to the performances of Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Gallo, and (when healthy) Hunter Pence. Even Elvis Andrus has returned to form as a .300 hitter with a decent eye and some pop.
Much like the Angels, the Rangers’ pitching staff has been holding them back, although not nearly as much. Behind All-Star Mike Minor and former Yankee Lance Lynn, the Rangers have no starting pitchers that inspire confidence. They would do well to add a starter or two at the deadline if they want to make a serious push for a Wild Card spot.
Oakland A’s (52-41, .559, 6.0 GB, leading Wild Card)
The Athletics are quietly one of the best teams in the league, and would get a lot more notice if they weren’t in the same division as the Astros. With a deep lineup led by Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, they have the sixth-best offense in the AL. The rotation, meanwhile, led by Mike Fiers and Brett Anderson, holds the league’s fifth-best ERA and sixth-best FIP.
The A’s have a lot of pieces to make them strong contenders. They will likely need to add a reliever or two at the deadline—Liam Hendricks is the bullpen’s only sure thing—but they have put themselves in a strong position to make a run at another Wild Card berth.
Cleveland Indians (50-40, .556, 7.5 GB, 0.5 WCGB)
On June 1, the Indians were 29-29 and looking at their worst season in recent memory. Since then, they have gone 21-9 and have put themselves within striking distance of the divisional race and in a strong position for the Wild Card.
Their pitching staff, even with Cory Kluber’s injury and Carlos Carrasco’s leukemia diagnosis, has been among the best in baseball, led by Trevor Baeur and Shane Bieber. Brad Hand anchors a bullpen that continues to be one of the team’s strengths with new pieces, with Nick Wittgren, Oliver Perez, and even Tyler Clippard finding success for Terry Francona.
The offense, which started out the season among the worst in all of baseball, has been on the upswing. That’s thanks to strong seasons by Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor, as well as a breakout campaign by Roberto Perez. Unless Jose Ramirez can emerge from the slump he has been in since last September, however, the bottom of this lineup will continue to keep this team from taking advantage of its strong pitching.
Minnesota Twins (58-33, .637, leading division)
This year’s nominee for “Who the hell saw this coming?”, the Minnesota Twins have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the American League. Every single member of the starting lineup, led by Jorge Polanco, Nelson Cruz, and Jason Castro, boasts an OPS+ over 100. They also have a strong bench, giving Minnesota an immense amount of depth that has powered them to 509 runs, tied for most in the American League.
Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi lead a rotation that has outperformed expectations and challenges the Indians for the best in the AL Central. Nonetheless, look to see them try and add at least one starter and reliever, as the back of the rotation rests on the shoulders of guys like Michael Pineda. The bullpen needs one more back-end guy to add to Taylor Rogers, Ryne Harper, and Trevor May to have enough depth for a playoff run.
Houston Astros (58-35, .624, leading division)
The Astros continue to be a super-team, with a top-10 offense led by Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and George Springer. They also have a a top-three pitching staff led by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. The lineup, already lacking a true tough out, has gotten deeper with the breakout of rookie Yordan Alvarez, who is still only 22. Plus the bullpen is anchored by the trio of Roberto Osuna, Will Harris, and Ryan Pressly.
Even so, however, the Astros are apparently on the lookout for starting pitching, as their pitching staff is not as strong as usual behind Verlander and Cole. They have the prospect depth to acquire another ace or multiple impact relievers, which would make this team even more of a threat.