The secret weapon of each AL West team
Three weeks into the season, things are starting to shake out in the American League West. The Astros are on a run, rising to the top of the standings after a slow start. The Mariners have dropped back after their surprising 13-2 burst out of the gates.
And the Rangers, A’s and Athletics are all hovering near the .500 mark in what -- initially, at least -- is the most competitive division in the Majors.
Every team has shown their strengths and weaknesses. But there have been some surprises as well. Here’s a look at what might be considered a “secret weapon” so far from each of the division’s teams:
Angels: Rookie reliever Ty Buttrey
The bullpen has been a strength for the Angels this season as their relievers have combined to post the fifth-best bullpen ERA in the Majors, and Buttrey has served as their unsung anchor. Manager Brad Ausmus said he’s using the 6-foot-6, 240-pound right-hander in a role similar to what the Indians did with Andrew Miller.
Buttrey can be deployed at any time between the fifth and eighth innings and has yet to allow a run this season in 7 1/3 frames. The 26-year-old has struck out 12 and walked one while allowing one of his eight inherited runners to score. -- Rhett Bollinger
Athletics: Shortstop Marcus Semien
When the A’s lost Jed Lowrie to free agency, manager Bob Melvin said changes were coming to the lineup. The hole at the No. 3 spot meant some players might have to hit in spots they weren’t used to. Thus after batting leadoff or second for the majority of 2018, Semien has had to bounce around the lineup between five different spots already this season.
Not only has the shortstop embraced the lineup versatility, he’s thriving in it as he is off to a hot start as the A’s top hitter with a .316 batting average. And in a lineup full of power threats like Khris Davis, Matt Chapman and Stephen Piscotty, Semien’s six RBIs with runners in scoring position and two outs are second only to Davis on the team. -- Martin Gallegos
Astros: Versatile right-hander Brad Peacock
Peacock, the longest tenured pitcher on the club, brings steady versatility to the pitching staff with his ability to start and relieve. The 31-year-old works in the shadows of high-end starters Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and dominating relievers Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna, but he’s every bit as important. In 2017, he was 10-2 with a 3.22 ERA in 21 starts and then saved a game in the World Series.
Last year, Peacock made a career-high 61 appearances (60 in relief) and struck out 96 in 65 innings. He started this year in the rotation and pitched well before being moved to the bullpen when the Astros opted to temporarily employ a four-man rotation. The Astros are comfortable using him as a starter, in long relief or in a high-leverage situation as the ’17 World Series proved. -- Brian McTaggart
Mariners: They don’t just bash
Seattle leads the Majors in home runs with its revamped lineup, but the Mariners aren’t just mashers. They also rank second in the Majors in stolen bases and that ability to run -- with speedsters Mallex Smith and Dee Gordon at the top and bottom of the lineup and even big Domingo Santana in the middle -- will be an important weapon when the homers aren’t flying out.
Gordon has stolen seven bases already and Smith -- despite a slow start offensively after missing most of camp with an elbow injury -- is right behind with six. Smith stole 40 bases -- third in MLB -- last year with the Rays. Gordon, who led the Majors in stolen bases three of the previous four years before slipping to 30 in an injury-plagued 2018, is back to full speed this year and could be a big catalyst again if he remains healthy. -- Greg Johns
Rangers: The ability to bunt
The Rangers love to bunt for a base hit. Delino DeShields drove in the go-ahead run from third base with a two-out bunt single in an 8-7 victory over the Athletics on Sunday.
Since the beginning of 2015, the Rangers have 109 bunt hits, the most in the Major Leagues. DeShields has 40 of those, second most of any player, while Rougned Odor is fourth with 30 bunt hits in the past five seasons. Elvis Andrus can drop a bunt if needed and even Shin-Soo Choo has a base hit off one this year. Joey Gallo did it twice last year to beat the shift. -- T.R. Sullivan