Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

Astros News

One looming question for each AL West club

@DKramer_
September 5, 2019

The Astros have had a 100% chance of winning the American League West for more than a month, according to FanGraphs’ postseason projections. But that’s not to suggest that there isn’t plenty of intrigue within a division that is still seeking clarity in many ways heading into the home stretch.

The Astros have had a 100% chance of winning the American League West for more than a month, according to FanGraphs’ postseason projections. But that’s not to suggest that there isn’t plenty of intrigue within a division that is still seeking clarity in many ways heading into the home stretch.

Houston has remained without one of its best players, which has to cast some alarm heading into October. The Angels appear all but certain to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year, but Mike Trout still has a shot at history. And the Mariners are still allocating Major League innings to a former All-Star who is utilizing them to audition for next year just as much to help Seattle win games.

All of that is to preface that a lot remains on the line in the AL West. Here is one looming question for each club over the final three weeks of the regular season.

ANGELS: Will Mike Trout reach 50 homers?

Trout scorched his 44th homer of the season in Tuesday’s loss to the A’s to extend his career high. Trout also moved into a three-way tie for the MLB lead with Cody Bellinger and Pete Alonso (who hit his 45th on Wednesday afternoon) in what’s become a hot race to the 2019 home run crown (also featuring Christian Yelich, who entered Wednesday with 43 home runs). Despite despite all of his accolades, Trout has never legitimately been in contention for the MLB home run title.

In a more Angels-centric perspective, Trout is aiming to become the first Halos player to reach the 50-homer plateau. The club record is 47 homers set by Troy Glaus in 2000. Trout is averaging a homer roughly every three games, and the Angels have 23 games remaining. Circumstance will obviously play into how things shake out, but the pace Trout is on suggests he will reach the milestone.

ASTROS: When will Carlos Correa return?

Houston’s All-Star shortstop has been sidelined since Aug. 19 when his lower back stiffened up on him in what felt like history repeating itself. Correa, who also missed 50 games from May 27-July 26 after fracturing a rib, battled back problems for most of last season and missed six weeks. He did return the final week of the regular season and started throughout the postseason, but it was distinct that Correa’s back was still bothering him throughout last year’s postseason, when the beleaguered Astros bowed to the Red Sox in five games during the AL Championship Series.

The Astros have soared to a 104-win pace despite significant injuries to Correa, Georgia Springer and Jose Altuve, but as they gear up for October, they are a far more potent lineup with Correa starting at shortstop.

ATHLETICS: Can Oakland capture a postseason berth with such a shaky bullpen?

At this time last year, pondering such a prospect would’ve been confounding. Oakland’s dominant relief corps was its catalyst in surging to MLB’s best record from June 16 on. But fast-forward 12 months, and the A’s season-long struggles in the bullpen remain a legitimate concern for a club that is still clinging to the second AL Wild Card spot and is just one game back of the top spot.

Oakland blew two costly saves at Yankee Stadium last weekend to bring its season total to an MLB-worst 27. Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino were the Majors’ best closer-setup tandem last season, but they’ve ballooned their collective ERA from 1.81 to 5.17. A.J. Puk, their No. 2 prospect, has flashed serious stuff, but he has all but three MLB games under his belt. Nonetheless, Oakland will need someone to step up and help take the heavy load off All-Star Liam Hendriks in the late innings.

MARINERS: Can Felix Hernandez pitch well enough to earn a job next season?

Hernandez has been a moderately pleasant surprise since returning to Seattle’s rotation from a three-plus-month stint on the injured list, having pitched well enough in each of his three starts to give the Mariners a chance to win.

Hernandez, 33, has made it clear that he wants to pitch in 2020, though given the stale climate of free agency the past two offseasons and that Hernandez has shown a steep decline since his peak, it wouldn’t be out of the realm to suspect that he might do no better than Minor League offers. Though if he continues to exhibit the polished aptitude he’s shown to get guys out without his overpowering stuff of yesteryear, perhaps Hernandez could find himself in a big league Spring Training with the chance to pitch his way onto a Major League mound -- much like he had to do during his rehab from shoulder issues in ’19.

RANGERS: Can Ronald Guzman show Texas that he’s its first baseman of the future?

Guzman is by far their best defensive player at the position, but he has to prove that he can hit. Over 71 games this season, he’s slashed .194/.288/.393 with eight homers and 30 RBIs – not exactly the production expected for among the most premium offensive positions. And his 29.2% strikeout rate would rank fifth-worst in the Majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.

Texas management plans to pursue pitching and possibly a third baseman this offseason, and doesn’t necessarily want to allocate its resources to also pursue a first baseman. But without another true first baseman in their farm system, the Rangers are banking that Guzman -- who will be given every chance to prove himself this month -- sparks an offensive uptick.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Seattle. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.