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MLB End-of-May Check-in: AL West

A team that plays in Texas continues to reign out west, but it’s still not the one you likely expected two months ago.

Texas Rangers v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Every day, Pinstripe Alley offers updates on what the Yankees’ top American League opponents are up to through the Rivalry Roundup. The AL East is well-trodden ground there, but with the month of May coming to a close, we’re going to take a peak around MLB as a whole and check in with each of the other five divisions. Who’s surprising? Who’s underwhelming? Who’s simply mediocre at the moment? Read on and find out.

First Place: Texas Rangers (34-19)

Top Position Player: Marcus Semien (2.5 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi (2.4 fWAR)

Despite the loss of Jacob deGrom to injury in a start against the Yankees at the end of April, the Rangers have been able to stave off the Astros and keep hold of first place in the division. They have seven players sitting at or with more than 1.0 fWAR, and Corey Seager, who made his return to the lineup, is sitting at 0.9 fWAR with significantly fewer plate appearances. Adolis García continues to rake, sitting near the top of the American League home run leaderboards with 14 (though trailing Aaron Judge, of course).

Just as the Rangers were in the month of April, they’re getting more contributions from depth players in the batter’s box. Not only is García hitting balls out of the field of play, but of the players that have had 100 plate appearances at minimum, only one—Robbie Grossman—has a wRC+ under 110 through the beginning of play on Monday.

The Rangers are getting some fortune with the contact they’re making, as they sit second in MLB in BABIP at .324, but staying atop the division for this long is a good sign of things to come. The pitchers are doing their jobs while the ace is on the mend, with Nathan Eovaldi making a Cy Young case in his own right through a 2.60 ERA and 2.47 FIP in 10 starts, and the hitters are continuing to do what they did through the first month and a half of the season. They sit with the best record in May (17-8) for a reason.

Second Place: Houston Astros (31-22)

Top Position Player: Yordan Alvarez (2.1 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Framber Valdez (2.0 fWAR)

It didn’t feel right seeing the Astros sit around or even below .500, and they eventually put those concerns to best, sitting with a 16-9 record through the month of May. The best outcome come from this month is the return of Jose Altuve. In just 36 plate appearances, he’s registered a 0.5 fWAR and is sitting with a 202 wRC+ after a grand slam yesterday. The Astros have lost just twice with him in the starting lineup since his return on May 19th.

Framber Valdez took over the lead in pitching fWAR from Hunter Brown, who is still cruising along at just about a 3.10 xFIP, 3.05 FIP, and 3.12 ERA (though they did lose Luis Garcia to Tommy John surgery and Lance McCullers Jr. remains indefinitely sidelined). Naturally, their bullpen is doing well, too, sitting fifth in MLB in fWAR among relievers, along with third in ERA and second in xFIP.

The scary part about the Astros is that some of their players still aren’t hitting up to snuff. Alex Bregman, for example, sits with a 98 wRC+. However, that’s bound to regress due to a .240 BABIP and a slugging percentage well below his career average. (Jose Abreu surely won’t have a 52 wRC+ all year long either.) So, the team is only going to get better when a couple of hitters in the lineup start to get into a groove.

Third Place: Los Angeles Angels (29-26)

Top Position Player: Mike Trout (1.9 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Shohei Ohtani (1.3 fWAR, plus 1.0 fWAR at bat)

The Angels are...well...the Angels. Ohtani and Trout are doing their thing while the rest of the team is just kind of meh, though 2022 first-round pick Zach Neto is at least turning in a nice rookie year so far (106 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR in 40 games). With Ohtani’s uncertain future, there is a lot to be decided in the upcoming months, but as of now, the Angels are doing just about what everyone expected them to do with two of the best players in baseball and a lineup that is still generally mediocre.

The one part about the team that isn’t mediocre is the bullpen. Not only did the Angels just call up one of their prized pitching prospects in Ben Joyce, who was clocked throwing 105 miles per hour at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, but their bullpen, in general has been one of the league’s best. They’re eighth in reliever ERA, seventh in xFIP, and fourth in fWAR, keeping up with the likes of the Astros and the Mariners.

The Angels are 14-12 in the month of May to this point, which is on par for what they’re doing overall in 2023. They’re nothing remarkable, as most every baseball fan believed they would be, but with their prized two-way player potentially headed out if the team isn’t in contention, there’s much more on the line.

Fourth Place: Seattle Mariners (28-26)

Top Position Player: Jarred Kelenic/Cal Raleigh/Julio Rodriguez (1.5 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Luis Castillo/Logan Gilbert (1.9 fWAR)

The Mariners might be the most interesting team in the AL West. Their record isn’t very impressive, and they’re sitting in fourth place, which many (including myself) didn't expect. They’re a team lauded for their excellent pitching staff. They’re first in pitching fWAR, first in starter fWAR, fifth in reliever ERA, and first in reliever FIP and xFIP; I could go on and on about just how remarkable their pitching has been this season. However, it’s the hitting that still hasn’t fully come around.

The Mariners are 14th in hitting fWAR, and their wRC+ is a slightly below-average 99. Although Jarred Kelenic is still hitting like a monster (138 wRC+), and there are other people still pulling their weight in the hitting department, the lack of production from names like Eugenio Suárez and Teoscar Hernández is certainly hindering the ability of this team to break through. Julio Rodríguez’s 115 wRC+ isn’t bad by any stretch, but Seattle likely needs him to be closer to his 146 wRC+ bat from his AL Rookie of the Year-winning 2022.

There is lots to like from the Mariners up to this point in this season, but some key players need to get it going for them to hit their full potential. I don’t expect them to hover around .500 for the entirety of the season, but baseball is a game in which that can happen.

Last Place: Oakland Athletics (11-45)

Top Position Player: Ryan Noda (1.4 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Mason Miller (0.6 fWAR)

Unfortunately, the A’s haven't had a miracle comeback in the AL West and still sit in last place by a very wide margin—18.5 games behind fourth place and 24.5 games behind first place. Brent Rooker is no longer the team’s leader in fWAR, although he’s close, and he’s just behind Noda in wRC+ (147 to 146), and they’re tied in wOBA at .374.

There isn’t much else to report on for the A’s, who only just snapped a horrid 11-game losing streak yesterday with an improbable 7-2 win* over the NL powerhouse Braves. The bullpen and pitching overall is still pretty awful, although Mason Miller has been fun to watch, so if there’s a chance to tune into his starts when he returns from injury, I would recommend it. But the 6.50 bullpen ERA, 5.77 bullpen FIP, and 5.66 bullpen xFIP is hard to overcome!

*Winning by five is nice but wouldn’t be remarkable for most teams. However, it’s Oakland’s biggest margin of victory of 2023, which probably tells you something on May 30th.

The future continues to look grim for both the team and the organization as a whole. All A’s fans can do is watch or—perhaps more wisely—look away in protest.