AL West race is historically close. Who has the edge?

August 31st, 2023

There’s still a full month remaining and much can happen or change in the grand postseason picture. But at this rate, it sure looks like the American League West race is going to come down to the very final games of the season. 

Entering Thursday, when all three teams were off, the Mariners and Astros were tied for first place, with the Rangers just one game behind, making this -- historically -- one of the tightest division races this late in the season. Seattle and Houston are also tied for the second AL Wild Card spot, 5 1/2 games back of the Rays, who hold the top spot, while Texas occupies the final playoff seed.

(Technically, Seattle holds a slight edge over Houston with a .571 winning percentage, compared to the Astros’ .570 while having played in two fewer games, but for all intents and purposes, it’s a virtual tie)

That said, this is the first time since the implementation of three divisions in the AL and NL in 1994 that three teams were within one game of first place entering September. Diving deeper, only twice prior since divisions were installed in 1969, when there were two per league, has there been at least three teams within that criteria (1980 NL East and 1969 NL West). (Special hat tip to’s Sarah Langs for the research to confirm these figures.)

Making this race even more exciting is that the season’s final 10 days will feature the Mariners facing Texas seven times and Houston thrice, a stretch that will almost certainly impact playoff seeding for all teams.

Before we look at each team, here’s an explainer on how a potential tiebreaker would work if all three finished with the same record after 162 games:

  • If one team finished with a better head-to-head record vs. each of the other two teams, then that team would be the AL West champion. As of now that’s not the case, which underscores just how close this race is. Texas leads Seattle, 5-1 (seven games remaining between these two), Seattle leads Houston, 8-2 (three games remaining) and Houston leads Texas, 6-4 (three games remaining).
  • If that were to remain the case, with each team holding a better head-to-head record over one another, then the tiebreaker would be determined by combined record amongst the tied teams. As of now, Texas is 9-7 (.563 win percentage), Seattle is 9-7 (.563) and Houston is 8-12 (.400). In this case, the Rangers would be the division winner, since they’re tied with the Mariners and currently have a better head-to-head record against Seattle.
  • If a Wild Card spot also factored into this three-way tie, then Seattle would receive that position because of its head-to-head-record vs. Houston.

Here’s an outlook on each team the rest of the way:


MARINERS (76-57)

Playoff odds (FanGraphs): 86.3%
Division title odds: 32.3%
Record vs. TEX: 1-5
Record vs. HOU: 8-2
Remaining schedule: 3 at NYM, 3 at CIN, 4 at TB, 3 vs. LAA, 3 vs. LAD, 3 at OAK, 3, at TEX, 3 vs. HOU, 4 vs. TEX
Strength of schedule: .524 win percentage (seventh-hardest in MLB)

After spending almost all of the first four months taking one step forward then another back, the Mariners have been the AL’s hottest team for over a month. Seattle spent 23 days this year at .500 -- which is still an MLB high -- but it hasn’t been even in the standings since July 24, when it was 50-50 and 8 1/2 games out of first and 5 1/2 games out of the final AL Wild Card spot.

Would the Mariners have preferred to get going earlier? Of course. But with a conviction to their process and longstanding trust between players and coaches, Seattle has not wavered.

“It's going to be a wild, wild race for sure,” manager Scott Servais said. “And that is fun. Every game means something. And you look back a couple of months ago, and at the time, you're thinking, 'Oh gosh, what do we have to do to get those games in September to be important?' Guess what -- we did enough to make them important, really important. ... That’s what baseball is about in September.”

The biggest component to their turnaround has been Julio Rodríguez playing like an MVP, hitting .429/.474/.724 (1.198 OPS) with seven homers, 10 doubles, 30 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in August. And a lingering nerve issue in his left foot that sidelined him the final two games of the month could hinge heavily on their postseason pursuit.


ASTROS (77-58)

Playoff odds (FanGraphs): 94.5%
Division title odds: 53.1%
Record vs. SEA: 2-8
Record vs. TEX: 6-4
Remaining schedule: 3 vs. NYY, 3 at TEX, 3 vs. SD, 3 vs. OAK, 3 at KC, 3 vs. BAL, 3 vs. KC, 3 at SEA, 3 at ARI
Strength of schedule: .459 win percentage (tied for third-easiest in MLB)

The Astros’ chances to win their sixth division title in the last seven years have improved with a five-game winning streak, which they capped with a sweep of the Red Sox on Wednesday. Following three games at home this weekend against the Yankees and a crucial three-game series at the Rangers beginning Monday, Houston’s schedule becomes really favorable.

The defending World Series champs have six games remaining against the last-place Royals, three games remaining against the last-place A’s and three games with the Padres, who are in fourth place in the NL West. They’ll host Baltimore, the first-place team in the AL East, during that stretch, but Houston won three of four in Baltimore in August.

The Astros battled injuries for much of the season with star offensive players Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez missing extended periods, and veteran outfielder Michael Brantley finally completed his return from shoulder surgery and made his 2023 debut on Tuesday. Houston is as healthy as it’s been all season and has been buoyed by Justin Verlander pitching like an ace in his return to the Astros.

“We’ve been there and done that for a long time, the past seven years,” closer Ryan Pressly said. “I think this is kind of when we turn it on. This team, we’re built to win championships and to go deep in the playoffs. We know what it takes to get there, and we’ve just got to string good innings and good at-bats together and just keep doing what we’re doing right now and things will take off.”

-- Brian McTaggart


RANGERS (75-58)

Playoff odds (FanGraphs): 71.1%
Division title odds: 14.6%
Record vs. SEA: 5-1
Record vs. HOU: 4-6
Remaining schedule: 3 vs MIN; 3 vs HOU; 3 vs OAK; 4 at TOR; 3 at CLE; 3 vs BOS; 3 vs SEA; 3 at LAA; 4 at SEA
Strength of schedule: .507 win percentage (15th easiest/hardest in MLB)

The Rangers’ largest lead atop the division rose to 6 1/2 games on June 23. But last week, following an eight-game losing streak, they fell behind for the first time since April.

Every team Texas plays in September except Oakland is theoretically still in playoff contention. The Rangers will need to play at the top of their game if they want to win the division for the first time since 2016.

“I'll be honest, I don't want to look at [the standings] because of how we're playing right now,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “Now, if you're winning, playing great baseball, you’re probably going to look a little bit more, but right now we have to worry about what's going on with us. And it hasn't been going very well, let's be honest.

“This has been a really tough stretch in all facets. So what's the point of looking at other scores, if we don't win? It doesn't matter. So we’ve got to win ballgames. But it's human nature to look, so I'm sure guys are looking. But it’s not going to do you any good if a team in your division loses and you can’t win a game.”

-- Kennedi Landry