Now that the season is close to reaching the midway point in the schedule and the July non-waiver Trade Deadline is six weeks away, most teams have a pretty good idea of where they stand in terms of contention. That makes it a good time to take stock and ask
Now that the season is close to reaching the midway point in the schedule and the July non-waiver Trade Deadline is six weeks away, most teams have a pretty good idea of where they stand in terms of contention. That makes it a good time to take stock and ask some serious questions moving forward.
Teams in contention, or on the fringe of contention, are looking toward the second half of the season with anticipation, while teams that have fallen back are examining the future. No matter, every team in baseball has at least one pressing question.
Here are what the American League West teams are asking:
The question: Will they upgrade the bullpen?
The Angels have a few holes they could address, but none is more glaring than the bullpen. Their relievers have thrown the second-most innings (274 2/3) in the AL, behind only the Rays, and are tied for the Major League lead with 15 blown saves. Injuries to Keynan Middleton, Blake Wood and Jim Johnson have depleted the club's depth, and while the emergence of rookie Justin Anderson has helped, the Halos could use more reinforcements if they're looking to gain ground on the Astros and Mariners.
Two of the best available relievers -- Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera -- have already been scooped up by the Mariners and Nationals, respectively. Six weeks remain until the Deadline, but similar aggressiveness from the Angels could keep them from slipping even further out of playoff contention.
The question: Can the rotation keep up the workload?
Houston's rotation has been excellent so far this season, leading the Majors in innings pitched, fewest earned runs, most strikeouts and best ERA (2.89 entering Wednesday). The Astros have only had five starting pitchers take the ball -- Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton. Verlander and Cole are on pace to top 200 innings, and the other three could be pushing 200.
Houston is likely to make another push deep into the playoffs, which means manager AJ Hinch might have to be creative about monitoring the workload of his starters. He's already altered the rotation twice to keep Verlander on his preferred four days of rest. If the Astros have a huge lead in September and aren't playing for home-field advantage, they could rest some starters in September, but the battle for best record in the AL looks to be a season-long dogfight.
The question: Will they trade Jed Lowrie?
Arguably the team's most productive hitter, Lowrie has played his way toward All-Star consideration this year. But will he still be in an A's uniform when the league breaks for the Midsummer Classic? Lowrie's late-career revival -- which can largely be traced to health -- makes him a valuable asset for Oakland, which routinely wheels and deals ahead of the Trade Deadline.
With Lowrie readying to hit the free-agent market at season's end, the A's could utilize him as a bargaining chip to at least ensure they get a return on him. They have infield prospect Franklin Barreto waiting in the wings, after all. Sacrificing their No. 3 hitter is no easy decision, but Oakland will have to at least consider it, just as it did last year.
The question: Do they have enough rotation depth?
Seattle has been one of the biggest upstarts in MLB this season and has stayed on Houston's heels in the AL West with surprisingly strong contributions from young lefty Marco Gonzales and the veteran Wade LeBlanc as the fourth and fifth starters. But general manager Jerry Dipoto must decide if the current group is enough to carry the Mariners into the playoffs for the first time since 2001 and make some noise in October if it does land a postseason berth.
Veteran right-hander Felix Hernandez, long the staff ace, has been the least productive starter to date and Seattle will have to determine if it can get enough from him and fellow right-hander Mike Leake while also figuring how long the club can ride Gonzales and LeBlanc and whether lefty standout James Paxton can stay healthy for a full season for the first time in his career.
Should the Mariners go out and land another established veteran starter, who gets bumped out of the rotation? And how much would they have to give up from an already thin farm system? Those are the questions Dipoto is pondering, though he's never been shy about making moves and already has traded for Colome and Denard Span to fill holes in the bullpen and outfield.
The question: How deep will the sell-off be?
Texas is firmly entrenched in last place in the division and is clearly looking to the future. The Rangers are definitely looking for controllable players to acquire so the question becomes which veterans are out the door before the Trade Deadline.
Cole Hamels would seem to be the most desirable asset Texas has, although teams may not view him as a No. 1-2 starter as in the past. Hamels also has a no-trade clause and may insist a team pick up his option for next season before waiving it. The Yankees are the most obvious trade partner.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.