Will Mariners’ AL West rivals turn it around? Morosi weighs in

May 30, 2024, 9:21 AM

Seattle Mariners Julio Rodríguez Houston Astros Jose Altuve...

Julio Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners talks with Jose Altuve of Houston on May 29, 2024. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners are in first place in the American League West and entered Thursday with largest advantage over second place of the three AL divisional leaders.

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However, that isn’t necessarily indicative of stellar play by a Mariners team that’s had its ups and downs this season. Seattle is benefitting from playing in what’s been the worst division in baseball in terms of wins and losses.

After featuring the World Series champion, both American League finalists and having three teams win at least 88 games last season, the AL West currently has only one team with a record of .500 or better – the Mariners at 31-26. Only the second-place Rangers (plus-one) sport a positive run differential, and the perennial powerhouse Houston Astros are a disappointing 24-32 and 6 1/2 games back after dropping three straight to Seattle.

Is the West destined to be the softest division in the AL like the Central has been in recent seasons? Could one or both of the two teams many thought would win the division this year turn it around? MLB Network insider Jon Morosi discussed the state of the division and more when he joined Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob on Wednesday.

“It is probably the weakest division in baseball right now, but there’s still a lot of schedule left,” said Morosi, who also noted how good that is for the Mariners. (The M’s missed the playoffs last year while finishing with a better record than the AL Central winner).

Morosi said he’s confident that the Rangers will start playing better. Texas has dealt with a slew of injuries this season and hasn’t had arguably its three best starters – ace Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Tyler Mahle – throw a pitch this season. All three are expected to return at some point in 2024, which would greatly bolster a banged-up rotation that’s underlying numbers suggest has been lucky early this season. Texas ranks 12th in MLB with a 3.67 starter ERA but is 21st with a 4.10 xFIP.

The Rangers’ lineup is also missing some key pieces. All-Star third baseman Josh Jung hasn’t played since April 1 and is slowly beginning the road a rehab assignment from wrist surgery. Texas was also without rookie and top prospect Wyatt Langford for just over three weeks. Langford returned from a hamstring injury Tuesday, only for 2023 playoff star Evan Carter to take his spot on the injured list.

“I think Texas is going to bounce back and is in the process of doing that,” said Morosi, who highlighted the expected returns of deGrom, Scherzer and Mahle. “… I think that team is just a lot better than what their record indicates.”

Morosi doesn’t feel the same about the Astros, though.

The Astros, winners of six of the past seven AL West titles, have been one of the better hitting teams in MLB, ranking first in batting average (.261), fourth in slugging percentage (.415) and tied for fifth in home runs (65) and wRC+ (113).

However, Houston’s pitching has been a major issue due to a combination of injuries and struggles from both the starters and relievers. Ace Justin Verlander missed the first month of the season and left-hander Framber Valdez and right-hander Cristian Javier have spent time on the IL as well. Closer Josh Hader, who signed a five-year deal worth nearly $100 million in the offseason, had an ERA of 7.45 and recorded just two saves in the month of April. Additionally, usually reliable high-leverage relievers Ryan Pressly and Bryan Abreu have struggled at times throughout the year.

“I’m worried about the Astros,” he said. “I really am, and I know that I’m not going to get a ton of sympathy here for the Astros from the Seattle listenership, but I think that they’re a team that has some fairly fundamental issues right now.”

Morosi pointed out that Houston has an aging roster. Many of the Astros’ key contributors like José Alutve, Alex Bregman, Hader, Pressly, Ronel Blanco, Jon Singleton and Valdez are in their 30s, and Verlander is 41.

“If they’re honest with themselves, they need to hit the reset button on that team, in my opinion,” Morosi said. “Now I’m not saying that’s how (Astros chairman) Jim Crane sees it or how (senior advisor) Jeff Bagwell sees it or how (general manager) Dana Brown sees it, but that team, in my opinion, needs to really have a change. We’ll see how the next month goes, but that’s just what I’m seeing right now.”

Find the full conversation at this link or in the audio player near the top of this story. Tune in to Wyman and Bob weekdays from 2-6 p.m. or find the podcast on the Seattle Sports app.

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