The biggest question in the American League West is which of the three teams in contention -- the Astros, Athletics or Mariners -- will advance to the postseason.That's always the overriding issue in September. But whether they are in contention or not, each of the five teams has at least
The biggest question in the American League West is which of the three teams in contention -- the Astros, Athletics or Mariners -- will advance to the postseason.
That's always the overriding issue in September. But whether they are in contention or not, each of the five teams has at least one remaining question that must be answered this month.
Here's a look at each of the five teams:
The question: Will Taylor Ward do enough to show that he's a viable starting option at third base?
Ward, a former first-round Draft pick, enjoyed a breakout season in the Minors after making the transition from catcher to third base this season, prompting the Angels to give him his first extended look in the big leagues. Though he got off to a hot start, Ward has cooled off and is now batting .211 with a .629 OPS and three home runs over his first 20 games with the club.
The Angels will have vacancies at second and third base in 2019, though Zack Cozart is expected to fill one of them. Ward will have the final month of the season to continue to make his case for the other.
The question: Can they find consistency on offense?
The Astros' offense has been hit or miss this season. Injuries have been a large issue, but now that the club is healthy heading into the stretch drive, it's looking to become more consistent. That means getting a little bit better with their selectivity at the plate. When Houston's at-bats are connected and its players are selectively aggressive, the Astros can be really tough.
Houston manager AJ Hinch would like to see his team continue to focus on putting up good at-bats and not overcompensate for part of the order that's not swinging well, or each individual guy trying to do too much. The expanded rosters should allow for Hinch to utilize more guys and keep the regulars a little fresher in September. The Astros can put pressure on teams with good at-bats and good baserunning.
The question: Can the A's muster enough starting pitching?
The Athletics' climb into postseason contention has been remarkable, especially considering their rotation has been crushed by key injuries. Left-handers Sean Manaea (shoulder impingement) and Brett Anderson (strained forearm) were both placed on the disabled list at the end of August. The trio of Mike Fiers, Trevor Cahill and Edwin Jackson have done an admirable job holding it together, but the A's have been forced to try their hand at bullpenning in between, twice using reliever Liam Hendriks as an "opener."
Reinforcements will soon be on the way in Frankie Montas and Chris Bassitt, and Oakland also has two more starters -- Daniel Mengden and the just-reacquired Aaron Brooks -- at its disposal in the bullpen. The A's will attempt to clear the finish line with these parts, which should be made easier with a formidable bullpen.
The question: Where will Robinson Cano play in the future?
When Cano returned from his 80-game suspension in mid-August, he no longer was assured his long-time spot at second base. Dee Gordon filled that position extremely well in Cano's absence, and Gordon is clearly more comfortable at second than in center field. Gordon is under contract for two more years, plus a team option for a third. The initial thought was that Cano would play a lot at first base, but Ryon Healy has hit so well in the past month that he's kept himself in the lineup. Healy is under team control for four more seasons as well, so the Mariners have to figure out exactly who fits where going forward.
With five years and $120 million remaining on his contract, the 35-year-old Cano eventually figures to be targeted more at first base or designated hitter. The obvious opening next year could be DH, as Nelson Cruz could exit via free agency. But Cruz has remained one of Seattle's best hitters, even at 38, and he is a popular leader on the club. Bottom line: The Mariners need Cano's bat in their lineup, but where exactly he fits in the field is a question that figures to continue playing out over the final month of 2018 and into the offseason.
The question: Are the Rangers happy with Delino DeShields in center?
This is not the season that DeShields hoped to have for the Rangers. His defense has been superb in center, but he has struggled offensively. Two trips to the disabled list and one short demotion to Triple-A did not help matters. Texas loves his elite speed, but he has not been able to use it as much offensively as everybody expected. This is a guy who set a goal of scoring 100 runs this season, and he is not going to come close.
DeShields is finishing his fourth season in the big leagues. The Rangers have Carlos Tocci, but he doesn't have DeShields' speed, his offense hasn't been any better, and he could use more development time in the Minor Leagues. Texas has many pressing needs in the pitching department without having to spend the offseason looking for a center fielder. It will be interesting to see how the Rangers feel about DeShields when the season is over.
T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.