These are emerging trends in the AL West

June 10th, 2021

Believe it or not, the All-Star Game in Denver is a little more than a month away, meaning that summer isn't just heating up on the baseball calendar, but also, the caveat of "small sample sizes" is no longer an effective barometer in determining what's real and what isn't at this stage of the season.

That brings us to the theme of this week's divisional notebook: What are the most notable trends that have emerged in this now-not-so-young season? There are quite a few that have stood out in a wide-open American League West.

Here's a look at one for each club:

ANGELS: Using the long ball to their advantage
Led by two-way star Shohei Ohtani's 17 blasts, the Angels ranked seventh in the Majors with 80 homers through their first 62 games, entering Wednesday. Veteran left fielder Justin Upton has hit 14 homers, while first baseman Jared Walsh has gone deep 13 times. It's helped the Angels make up for their pitching staff's struggles this season, and it’s a major reason why they've won 11 of their past 16 games despite missing Mike Trout, who has been out since May 17 with a right calf strain. It’s also even more incredible considering fellow star Anthony Rendon has yet to find his timing at the plate this season and has gone deep just three times. But others, such as catcher Max Stassi and right fielder Taylor Ward, have been heating up and contributing to the club’s power numbers. Trout is slated to return at some point in July, and he will bring even more punch to the lineup. -- Rhett Bollinger

ASTROS: The bullpen’s struggles continue
Despite having one of the highest-scoring offenses in baseball and a pitching rotation that’s been solid, the Astros have spent much of the season looking up at the first-place A’s in the AL West. That’s because their bullpen has been shaky, ranking 18th in the big leagues entering Tuesday with a 4.24 ERA and 10 blown saves, which was tied for third most in the AL. Their big offseason bullpen addition -- veteran Pedro Báez -- has been a bust, considering he's yet to pitch because of health, and Joe Smith has struggled after sitting out last year and now on the injured list with right elbow soreness. Ryne Stanek, another free-agent signee, is averaging nearly six walks per nine innings. The young arms who got their feet wet last year in empty ballparks as rookies have taken their lumps, too, including Enoli Paredes and Andre Scrubb. They've both battled injuries, along with lefty Blake Taylor, who also made his debut in 2020. The Astros moved starter Cristian Javier to the bullpen to provide some stability and have been getting terrific work from closer Ryan Pressly, but they've too often not been able to get him the ball. The Astros will be players in trade market. -- Brian McTaggart

ATHLETICS: Living -- and dying -- by the long ball
Entering Thursday, The A’s were 27-5 when outhomering the opposition. That’s the good news, considering they have the fourth-most home runs (77) in the AL. On the flip side, they are 3-15 in games in which they are outhomered. Since the long ball isn’t always going to be present, these two stats show that there is a need for Oakland to find ways to win games in other ways. That starts with situational hitting, something the A’s have struggled with at various times throughout the season. Moving runners over and cashing in on opportunities with runners in scoring position will be vital to the A’s chances of making a deep postseason run. -- Martín Gallegos

MARINERS: Is the run differential a cause for concern?
Seattle hung on to an epic 9-6 win on Wednesday thanks to a stellar, snowcone home-run robbery by Jake Fraley in the bottom of the ninth. The Mariners then went on for an offensive rally in extras, plating five in the 11th. But even after that victory, which sent them to 31-32 -- impressive, given that they have the most players (13) on the injured list in the American League -- the Mariners' offense has a few yellow flags, most notably their minus-53 run differential, the sixth-worst in the Majors. The other teams behind them? The Pirates (minus-78), D-backs (minus-71), Orioles (minus-59), Tigers (minus-59) and Rangers (minus-54), all of whom are among the cellar dwellers in the MLB standings. Again, Seattle has many of its key contributors sidelined, most notably reigning American League Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, one of its top run producers. But some of the offensive shortcomings the Mariners have had to this point in the under-the-hood numbers could be cause for concern come the dog days of summer. -- Daniel Kramer

RANGERS: Pitching holds its own at the new yard
For all of Texas’ struggles this season, the squad has been feasting at home, posting a 15-16 record at home compared to a 9-23 one on the road. But the pitching staff in particular has thrived in Arlington. Texas arms own a 3.87 ERA at Globe Life Field, the sixth-lowest home ERA in the AL (behind the White Sox, Rays, Yankees, Astros and Tigers). The staff has posted a 5.23 ERA on the road, where they’re enduring a 15-game road losing streak responsible for the bulk of their losses. The Rangers’ road woes are well-documented and the pitching staff is not the only part of the team’s concerns, but the vast difference between the road and home splits on the pitching end show there is a connection. Offensively, the splits are almost identical, with the Rangers slashing .228/.294/.369/ with a .663 OPS at home and .227/.301/.369 and a .671 OPS on the road. -- Kennedi Landry