AL West Report: Seattle Shows A Spark

The AL West race is gradually tightening up, not so much at the top, where Texas still holds a five-game lead on Oakland, but at the bottom, as the LA Angels and Seattle nudge to within  manageable distances of the leader. No team’s move has been sharper over the past several days than the Mariners.

Seattle just finished taking two of three from Texas to move to within seven games of the lead, even as the M’s sit in fourth place. Prior to the Ranger series, Seattle had swept reeling Colorado on the road in interleague play. Now in the midst of a four-game series with the Angels, followed by a return trip to Texas early next week, if Seattle ever intended on making some noise this season, now would be the time to show it.

Kyle Seagar has given the offense a boost, coming in at third base and finally giving the fans some relief from watching Chone Figgins post sub-.200 averages year after year. Seagar had a .379 on-base percentage/.455 slugging percentage, while Jesus Montero has caught fire again, posting .375/.550 numbers. With Ichiro Suzuki and Brendan Ryan also combining to hit .301, this otherwise anemic offense has been the fourth-best in the American League over the past week.

And then we come to the pitching. Kevin Millwood’s last three starts have seen him average over seven innings per, and he’s only given up one run combined in those three game. Two of the opponents have been the Yankees and Rangers, and the third was Colorado at Coors. Along with Felix Hernandez beating Yu Darvish earlier this week, the pitching staff also has a fourth-place ranking within the AL.

Seattle’s record is still a mediocre 21-26, even after the nice recent stretch, so I don’t want to overstate how well things are going.  They still have to get their young offensive players producing, from Justin Smoak to Dustin Ackley to Mike Carp. All three are important to the team’s long-term success and if they continue to struggle—particularly Smoak, who’s been getting regular major-league playing time since mid-2010—the organization is going to have to conclude the players never were “all that.” But for the time being, the Mariners have given their fan base a nice shot in the arm and even with a 3-0 loss last night to the Angels, still have a chance to keep themselves hanging around in the AL West.

A look at the rest of the division…

Texas (27-18): It was back on May 13 that the Rangers hammered Angel ace Jered Weaver on Sunday night baseball for a 13-6 win that won a three-game series. Since then Texas has gone 4-6 and the opponents have been the Royals, A’s, Astros and Mariners. Nobody’s getting on base with any consistency, as Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Michael Young all have on-base percentages under .300. Then let’s add in that Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison got hit hard their last time out, while Neftali Feliz has an elbow injury that will keep him on the DL until June. Texas took full advantage of their opportunity when everything was going smoothly to build up an early cushion. Now they’ve settled into a point in the season where they’re going to have a battle a little more.

Oakland (22-23): Josh Reddick has hit the skids lately, with only three singles in his last 17 at-bats and the lack of any help in the A’s lineup is being exposed. Seth Smith and Jemile Weeks continued disappointing seasons, and Yoenis Cespedes has been on the disabled list with a bum wrist. He’s taking batting practice again, but not likely to return when he’s eligible on Tuesday. Oakland hosts the Yanks this weekend and need all the offensive help they can get.

LA Angels (21-25): The gradual improvement being shown by Mike Scoscia’s team continues, as they just completed a series win over Oakland and got the aforementioned win over Seattle last night to start a four-game series. Dan Haren, who’s struggled through the early year, pitched a shutout. C.J. Wilson dominated Oakland with eight innings of one-hit ball. Jered Weaver bounced back from the Sunday night thrashing by Texas to manhandle weaker lineups in San Diego and Oakland. The bullpen has tossed 15 straight innings of scoreless ball. Is there anyone else of note? Oh…yes, Albert Pujols has gone 8-for-28, hit two home runs and drawn four walks. That’s the Albert we’ve been waiting for and reappears with his team in striking distance, at 6.5 games.