The AL West has not been quite the contentious rollercoaster this season that most analysts predicted it would be. There are numerous reasons for this, the first of which has to do with how polar opposite the two division favorites, the Rangers and Angels, played in during the first month of the season.
Texas rolled off the starting line like it had a Gibraltar-sized chip on its shoulder, blowing up their competition for a 17-6 clip. Yu Darvish was competing for the league lead in wins and everybody was hitting well, especially Josh Hamilton. On the other side of the West played the Angels, and the story for the first two months of the season in Anaheim was not like it was in Arlington. Jered Weaver will always be Jered Weaver, but everyone around him was detonating, including new blue chip free agent Albert Pujols (fresh off defeating the Rangers in the World Series). And, after a 6-14 showing Angels manager Mike Scioscia called up Mike Trout because, why not?
A simple and quick retrospective shows that Mike Trout probably should have started the season at the Major League level. Either way, Trout immediately produced, and has continued to produce at an alarming rate. The Angels likewise responded by posting the best record in the Major Leagues from April through July.
However, it is now August and Rangers' ace Colby Lewis is out for the reason with a torn flexor tendon in his elbow, and young fireballer Neftali Feliz is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Yu Darvish is having control issues and Josh Hamilton has disappeared. Meanwhile, Trout continues to make a case for both Rookie of the Year and MVP, and there is of course the trade deadline acquisition of Brewers ace Zack Greinke.
The two teams met last week and Texas was able to find its diminished power to even the series after getting trounced in the first two games.
There is a very interesting thing happening in the AL West. Texas has been playing its worst baseball of the season at precisely the time that Los Angeles has been its best, yet the Angels have not been able to gain any significant ground on Texas, which has held 1st place every single day of the season. The closest the Angels have gotten is 2.5 games and, despite their turnaround, remain 7 games behind Texas. Now, Oakland has emerged out of nowhere as a threat to keep Anaheim from reaching the playoffs in this, the first of the new format that adds a team for each league to playoffs.
It appears that Josh Hamilton has returned to form in the last few days. If so, it would put a cap on the worst slump of his career, as he posted a .167 batting average in the month of July.
The next two months are going to be very exciting for a lot of baseball fans. While Texas' division lead might be comparatively substantial (the largest in baseball), the competitive fire between this budding Rangers/Angels rivalry will surely grow.
It looks to be the start of something beautiful out West