Consistency is key in baseball. There are certain players you feel comfortable penciling in numbers for before one regular-season game is even played. But every once in a while, we get the reminder that there are no guarantees in this sport.
Sometimes a reliever goes from automatic one year to unstable the next. Sometimes you get a surprise power outburst from a player who was considered “light-hitting” throughout their career. We can use our expertise to get things right most of the time, but as the saying goes, “Conventional wisdom is not always good wisdom.”
As we get down to the final two weeks of the regular season, here’s one thing we got wrong about each club in the American League West.
Angels: The bullpen will be a strength
The Angels have had issues with their starting rotation for years now, but this season the bullpen was supposed to help make up for their lack of starting-pitching depth. The Halos have been averse to allowing their starters face a lineup three times through the order, leading to heavy bullpen usage this season. Angels relievers have shouldered the load with the second-most innings in the Majors behind the Rays, but they've also combined to post a 4.72 ERA that ranks 21st in MLB and 11th in the AL through Tuesday. Combined with a starting staff that has posted the fourth-worst ERA in the Majors, it's led to another disappointing year for the Halos, who haven't reached the postseason since 2014.
Astros: The back end of the bullpen is fixed
Last summer, the Astros rebuilt their bullpen on the fly by trading for right-hander Ryan Pressly and closer Roberto Osuna. Everybody said Houston was in great shape at the back end of its 'pen, and things clicked for the most part in the first half. Pressly was untouchable early, but a right knee injury forced him into surgery that cost him more than a month. Osuna has also had a spotty second half and looks more vulnerable than he did prior to the All-Star break. Will Harris has been Houston’s best reliever, but closing out games is not such a sure thing.
Athletics: Liam Hendriks will be used in low-leverage situations
Hendriks had a solid final month of the 2018 season, with his success as the A’s opener enough to position himself as their starter for the '18 AL Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium. Surely the right-hander had elevated his status in the bullpen after getting designated for assignment earlier that year, but nobody expected him to overtake Blake Treinen as the closer. Treinen's struggles this year led to a demotion, one year after putting together a history-making '18 campaign, but even as he’s improved in recent weeks, Hendriks has made sure to keep a stronghold on the closer role by leading the Majors with 19 saves since taking over for Treinen on June 21.
Mariners: The backstop pop
After trading Mike Zunino to the Rays and acquiring Omar Narváez from the White Sox to fill the catching role, the belief was the Mariners were swapping Zunino’s considerable power -- but low batting average and on-base percentage -- for a guy whose offensive strengths were the complete opposite. But while Narvaez has indeed been one of Seattle's leading average and OBP hitters all year, he’s also hit 19 homers and needs just one more to join Zunino as the only Mariners catchers in club history with 20 in a season.
The Mariners went far beyond just that level, however, when they traded for backup Tom Murphy at the start of the regular season. Murphy has hit 17 homers while also batting in the .270 range this season. Through Wednesday, the combination of Narvaez and Murphy has helped the Mariners post the highest batting average in MLB for catchers this year at .287 and the second-highest OBP (.347) and slugging percentage (.524), while their 36 homers are tied for the fourth most in Major League history for a season from the backstop position.
Rangers: Recovering Tommy John pitchers will become useful starters again
Pitchers come back from Tommy John surgery all the time and are as strong as ever. Rangers pitcher Lance Lynn is exhibit A. But Texas was 0-for-3 this year with Shelby Miller, Drew Smyly and Edinson Volquez. They looked good throwing in the offseason, and were fine in Spring Training. But once the season started, all three struggled. Miller and Smyly were cut loose and Volquez missed almost the entire season with a sprained ligament in his right elbow and is now being used as a reliever in September before he plans to retire after the season.