The AL West, which has taken a back seat to its National League counterpart, may be about to get interesting.
With a big spurt in the month before the All-Star Game, the Texas Rangers seemed to take control of the division, which they now lead by seven games over the Los Angeles Angels.
To bolster their pitching staff, the Rangers traded for Cliff Lee. Though Lee is obviously a very good pitcher, that acquisition comes with a big question mark because Lee has repeatedly said that he hates pitching in the Rangers’ home park at Arlington. He’s not alone. The park is very hitter-friendly and the Rangers usually have impressive hitting stats while their pitching stats are, well, not so much.
To counter that, the Angels traded for Dan Haren, sending 2008 All-Star Joe Saunders to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Haren, the one-time A’s pitching leader, has struggled with the Diamondbacks this season, but he’s probably become discouraged because the Snakes can’t see the rest of the NL West teams with a telescope. I expect him to regain his winning form with the Angels.
The A’s won’t make any moves to add players, as they used to do before the trading deadline because the Lew Wolff-John Fisher ownership group has a clear operating plan: Keep attendance and revenues low to qualify for revenue-sharing money from high-revenue teams and make a profit.
It’s probably better that they don’t make a move. The one clear need for the A’s is a big bat, but they struck out on two acquisitions last year with Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi.
Holliday hit well in Colorado, in a hitter-friendly park and surrounded by good hitters, and he’s hitting well in a similar situation in St. Louis, but he was not mentally equipped to be the leader for the A’s. Giambi might have helped if he’d just been the DH, but playing him at first caused him to break down physically.
A’s GM Billy Beane said three years ago he was going to build a team which could be a consistent contender again, and it’s probably best to continue on that path.
There have been encouraging signs from the two hitting prospects at Sacramento, Michael Taylor and Chris Carter. Both were hitting around .230 earlier, but Taylor recently had a 17-game hitting streak which has raised his average to .266. Carter has gotten only to .244, but he’s hitting for power, with 23 homers and 73 RBIs.
Neither is likely to be up before rosters are expanded in September, so the A’s will have to continue to win with their new formula: pitching, good defense and a running game. They are third in the American League, fourth in baseball with 81 steals and lead everybody in percentage, with 81 percent success.
With their good young pitching, the A’s have crept to within 7½ games of Texas, only half a game behind the Angels. They’ve won three straight series against teams with winning records: the Red Sox, Twins and White Sox.
They still have 13 games left with the Rangers, starting tonight in Arlington. If they start beating the Rangers, that race could get very interesting.
A’s vs. Rangers
WHEN: Today, 5:05 p.m.
WHERE: Rangers Ballpark, Arlington, Texas
TV: Comcast SportsNet California
RADIO: KTRB (860 AM)