Three teams in the American League West will be in postseason contention entering the final weeks of the regular season, with a pair of them -- the defending champion Astros and the third-place Mariners -- set to get a couple of key players back from injuries.Teams can expand their rosters
Three teams in the American League West will be in postseason contention entering the final weeks of the regular season, with a pair of them -- the defending champion Astros and the third-place Mariners -- set to get a couple of key players back from injuries.
Teams can expand their rosters to 40 players on Saturday, and the Astros will welcome back veteran catcher Brian McCann after he missed two months following right knee surgery. The Mariners hope the return of ace James Paxton on Saturday will help them make up ground on the A's in the AL Wild Card race.
But perhaps the biggest name to keep an eye on is Shohei Ohtani, the Angels' two-way sensation who could return to the rotation in September for the first time since June. Here's a look at a player each team in the AL West is banking on returning in September:
Move to watch: Ohtani's return to the mound
Ohtani hasn't pitched for the Angels since June 6 because of a Grade 2 sprain of his right ulnar collateral ligament, but he completed a 50-pitch simulated game on Monday, and he said he is confident he'll return to the club's rotation before the end of the season. Ohtani dazzled on the mound before the elbow injury halted his two-way endeavor, logging a 3.10 ERA with 61 strikeouts over 49 1/3 innings in nine starts for the Halos.
A pitching comeback in September -- coupled with his 15 home runs and .901 OPS in 261 plate appearances as a left-handed slugger -- could also enhance Ohtani's chances of challenging the Yankees' Miguel Andujar for the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
Move to watch: McCann coming off DL
McCann was the glue that held the Astros' pitching staff together last year, catching all but one-half inning of the entire postseason in 2017. He slumped badly at the plate in June this year and underwent surgery on his right knee in early July, and he now says the knee feels better than it has in three years. That should pay dividends at the plate and behind the plate, where he'll pair with Martin Maldonado for a formidable catching duo. If a rested and healthy McCann can contribute at the bottom of the order, Houston's lineup will be tougher than ever. He's set to be activated Saturday.
Move to watch: Dustin Fowler getting recalled
Fowler made his highly anticipated A's debut on May 9 and hit .231 in 59 games, but just .176 in 16 games in July, leading to his demotion. Ramon Laureano was subsequently awarded an opportunity in center field, and he's ran with it, dazzling on both sides of the ball with his speed and athleticism. Fowler will be back as a September callup when rosters expand Saturday; just how much playing time he's afforded down a crucial stretch remains to be seen. But Oakland will surely have ample speed at its disposal -- and perhaps a difficult postseason roster decision to make, should Fowler play his way into the conversation.
Move to watch: Paxton coming off DL
What could be more important for the Mariners than getting their No. 1 starter back for the final month? How about getting their No. 1 starter back for the final month and just in time to face the A's team they're chasing in the AL Wild Card race this weekend in Oakland?
Paxton (10-5 with a 3.68 ERA in 24 starts, including a no-hitter at Toronto in May) was nailed in the left forearm by a line drive two weeks ago in the first inning of an outing in Oakland, and he is just now ready to return for the stretch run. He'll come back against the same club that KO'd him on Aug. 14, targeted for a likely Saturday start at the Coliseum. If the Mariners are going to make a move to catch the A's, they're going to need a strong finish from their big lefty.
Moves to watch: Outfielder Willie Calhoun getting called up from Triple-A, Delino DeShields activated off DL
The Rangers are going to have a crowded outfield in September, with Calhoun and DeShields joining Joey Gallo, Carlos Tocci and Nomar Mazara. Shin-Soo Choo has also been playing the outfield while Adrian Beltre has been used at designated hitter. Gallo has been playing center field, suggesting that a configuration that consists of him, Calhoun and Mazara could be a part of their future. DeShields has been Texas' center fielder for much of the season, but he has been held back by injuries. He has been better defensively than on offense, but the Rangers still love his speed. Tocci has shown some offensive improvement and can also play defense. Calhoun is an offensive player who is still improving defensively.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.