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See who to add and drop
Through last Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays had lost six of their last nine games and I started to get the feeling that we’d be able to have a debate about who should be the number one team, especially with the footsteps from the Dodgers (hello 2020 World Series, even though I’ve tried to erase everything from that year from memory). It was a bit exciting to contemplate even having the discussion. Then the Rays reminded myself and everyone else why they’ve been the easy and obvious number one for well over a month by taking two of three from the Brewers while the Dodgers lost three of four in St. Louis.
This means there wasn’t much meat to pick from that bone, so we needed to turn elsewhere.
We’ll start with the defending champs. They’ve earned it. To the victor go the spoils, right? Sometimes there’s a little more going their way in terms of moving into the next season.
I know that sometimes in sports, it can get frustrating when a saying is applied in the absence of actual analysis, but there really is something to the ol’ World Series hangover. Think about how much deeper into the year teams have to extend themselves to win the World Series. That means more physical toll is taken and there’s a shorter offseason in which to recover. There’s probably something to maybe, possibly dialing it a bit back with the offseason workout regimen, too, just from a mental standpoint (being slightly less hungry as a player than if you were coming off a loss, for example). Then the Astros had the departure of Justin Verlander along with injuries to the likes of Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley and Lance McCullers Jr.
It was only natural they’d get off to a slow start. Not too long ago, the Astros were 17-18 and outside playoff position. Well, they’ve won 10 of their last 11 since that point. They are currently riding a seven-game winning streak. They are one of the best teams in baseball and I expect them to remain in that mix the rest of the season.
We can’t leave the Texas Rangers behind, though, because the Astros are still looking up at them. The Rangers have been in first alone or tied every day but one this entire season. They haven’t dropped below .500 at all. Thanks to a potent offense and capable pitching staff, they’ve been toward the top in run differential all season (+108 right now is second to the Rays).
It’s not as if they have avoided adversity, either, as Corey Seager has only played in 15 games and Jacob deGrom has only made six starts. While we’re here, there certainly has to be something behind the presence of Bruce Bochy in the dugout as manager. We could nitpick strategy all we want, but at the end of the day, managers like Bochy, Dusty Baker, Terry Francona et al are just always around winning and it’s not a coincidence.
Given the roster construction (injury-prone and streaky pitchers, for one), I’m expecting some upcoming ebbs and flows, but there’s every reason to believe this is a legitimate playoff contender.
It’s possible there are going to be four contenders in this division for a bit, too, so let’s discuss the others.
The Angels are seemingly a perennial tease and while they haven’t been great by any stretch, they have hung tough right around the line of contention. At this point, we’re all trained to wait for the proverbial other shoe to fall, but maybe they’ll have staying power this time around? They certainly have enough talent.
And, of course, there are the Seattle Mariners. They won 90 games last season and advanced to the ALDS. They had a rough first month of the season, but have been better and now return home from a rough trip with the opportunity for a big week. They’ll host the A’s for four games and the Pirates for three and there’s potential for some damage to be done.
Heading toward the end of May, the two Texas teams are obviously division contenders while the Angels and Mariners aren’t far off and are, at bare minimum, serious factors in the Wild Card scrum.
Plenty of focus will remain on the AL East while many out West would want to look toward the Dodgers or whatever is going on with the Padres and all of those things remain worth watching. Let’s keep another eye fixed on the AL West, too, though, because it is shaping up to be a lot of fun.
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