With 31 games to go, the American League West race is as crowded as a covered wagon heading west for gold. Except in this westward gold rush, there might be just enough riches to go around.
Six games separate the West's trio of contenders -- Los Angeles, Oakland, and Seattle--while the A's and Mariners are currently slotted into the Wild Card positions. It is not hard to foresee all three teams making the postseason, two of whom would face off in a one-game, winner-take-all, pitching death match (King Felix vs. Lester, anybody?).
But in such a tight race (LA, Oakland, and Seattle have three of the best four run differentials in baseball) what is each of these left coast teams doing to improve their playoff chances? Let's look at each of the three westward postseason contenders.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels, with a snug one-game lead in the West, play 14 of their last 31--almost half--against Oakland and Seattle, their playoff-hunting AL West brethren. The Halos recently lost Garrett Richards, by all accounts their best pitcher, and only yesterday the team designated lefty Wade LeBlanc for assignment.
This leaves a massive, Bartolo Colon-sized hole in the Angels' pitching rotation--but it doesn't appear LA is particularly thrilled to pursue a trade for Colon. The Angels have Randy Wolf waiting in the wings, but "Randy Wolf waiting in the wings" never has inspired confidence. But hey, like that old saying goes, "If you have Mike Trout, you're, umm, really good."
The A's have been busy bees this month, desperately hoping to solidify the division crown and avoid the aforementioned pitching matchup from hell (*cough* King Felix *cough*). Baseball's best team for much of the season (+164 in run differential), the Athletics now sit a game back in the standings with just over thirty to play.
Things that look good for them? Their schedule, for one--though they play the Angels and M's 13 times, their remaining 18 are against Houston, Chicago (AL), Philadelphia, and Texas. The other golden lining for the A's? Their non-Angelic injury problems. Sure, Oakland will miss Sean Doolittle out of the pen for a while, and John Jaso has concussion, and it would be nice if Jed Lowrie shored up shortstop, but the A's have mostly avoided any major injuries that would prohibit a playoff push.
Are we supposed to be shocked that they're still in this thing? We're too busy standing slack-jawed and watching their pitching to tell. After nabbing Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia, the Mariners have been pretty quiet on the western front in the last month, relaying on a fantastic trio of starting pitchers (Felix, Hisashi Iwakuma, and the revelation that is Chris Young), and a bullpen that has been, at least ERA-wise, baseball's equivalent to the Legion of Boom.
With only a half-game lead over Detroit for the second wild card spot and 13 more match-ups with the West's best (plus this weekend's three-game set with Washington), the Mariners' perch seems the most precarious. Will Seattle really be rewarded for standing pat and watching Dustin Ackley bloom into a beautiful, bearded, baseball-smashing flower? We're about to find out.