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AL West coming down to the wire

AL West
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

‘Tis the season for chaos. While the San Diego Padres are attempting a historic comeback in the NL Wild Card race, the AL West seems destined to come down to the final day of the season with three teams–the Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers–currently separated by just a half-game. According to MLB researcher Sarah Langs, “this is the first time that three teams in the same division were all within half a game or fewer of first place with all having ten games or fewer left to play, since divisions began in 1969.”

As we enter the second-to-last weekend of the regular season, the Astros are atop the division at 85-68, with Seattle and Texas each a half-game back at 84-68. Each team is playing roughly .500 baseball over their last ten, so nobody is running away with this thing.

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According to the playoff odds on FanGraphs, Houston has the highest odds to win the West at 50.8%, and the highest odds of the trio to make the playoffs (wild card spot included) at 90.3%. Seattle has the second-highest odds at winning the division (30%), but they also have the worst odds to make the playoffs at 64.6%. Texas has the worst odds at taking the AL West crown (19.1%), but they have a 68.3% chance to make it into the postseason.

In the AL Wild Card, the Rangers and Mariners are currently tied for the third and final wild card spot, with each team just a half-game behind the Toronto Blue Jays. There is a chance that all three teams from the West will make it to play meaningful games in October, but that would also entail the Blue Jays slipping just enough to give them an opening. We’re either going to end up with three teams from the East or the West in this year’s AL field.

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All of these teams are good and could theoretically go all the way, with the AL being kind of a crapshoot this season. If you can make it in, you have a shot at going all the way to the World Series. But who will make it, and which team is the scariest opponent come October? Let’s find out.

Remaining Schedules

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Houston Astros
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, the Houston Astros have the easiest remaining schedule, and that’s primarily because they have three games against the Kansas City Royals this weekend at home. Then again, the Royals took two of three last weekend in Kansas City, so nothing is a given. Last weekend Houston hung five earned on Cole Ragans across six innings in his worst start since being traded to the Royals back in June. Ragans has been one of baseball’s hottest pitchers in the second half, posting a 2.28 ERA and will be looking to rebound on Friday.

Following this weekend, Houston has three in Seattle and three in Arizona. The Astros are just 2-8 against Seattle this season and the Diamondbacks are 19-11 over their last 30 games. Arizona currently holds a two-game lead for the second NL wild-card spot, so there is a chance that they’ll be solidified in their position by the time next weekend rolls around, which could lead to a slightly easier series for Houston.

This is where things get really interesting. The Mariners and Rangers play three games in Texas this weekend, and then four in Seattle next weekend, with Seattle’s three game set against Houston at home in between. Both Seattle and Texas can control their own destiny with so many head-to-head matchups, although it may be more fun for baseball fans if they split those games to ensure more chaos.

The Rangers are 5-1 against Seattle this season, which, unsurprisingly, is the Mariners’ worst record against any team in the AL this season. In between series with the Mariners, the Rangers will get three games against the Los Angeles Angels. With a good weekend at home, Texas could find themselves in a great position heading into the final week.

Which team has the edge in tiebreakers?

The first tiebreaker in 2023 is team’s head-to-head records. As previously mentioned, the Astros are 2-8 against the Mariners, so regardless of how that series goes, Seattle will win the season series. That said, the M’s don’t want to just drop that series either, because they’re chasing Houston in the standings. If the two teams ended up tied in the West, Seattle would take the division.

The Rangers haven’t been quite as lucky against Houston this season, finishing with a 4-9 record against their intrastate and intradivision rivals. The tie would go to Houston in that scenario.

But what happens if one of these three teams moves into the second wild card spot and ends up tied with the Blue Jays for the final postseason berth?

Toronto finished the year 4-3 against Houston, so they would own that tiebreaker if the Astros falter against the Royals for a second consecutive weekend and continued to struggle against Seattle and Arizona.

The Rangers finished the season series 6-1 against Toronto, so they would own that tiebreaker.

The Mariners and Blue Jays finished their season series knotted at three wins apiece, so they’d move to the second tiebreaker, which happens to be intradivision record. Thanks to a 12-1 campaign against the Oakland A’s, the Mariners would easily take this one, going 29-13 against the West this season. Toronto was just .500 against the AL East at 16-16. The shorthand for this is basically if the Mariners end up tied with any team aside from the Rangers, they own the tiebreaker.

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Which team would be the toughest opponent in October?

The Houston Astros are the defending World Series champions and seem to turn it on once the postseason begins. They’re always a threat to win a series and shouldn’t be taken lightly. That said, they do look a little more vulnerable this season that in years past. If you’re another contending team, would you want to run that risk though?

The Mariners have (pardon my French) buttloads of pitching. Their 3.70 team ERA leads the Majors in 2023, and they’ve done it without a stack of household names. They also traded their closer at the Trade Deadline and tinkered with their roster construction ever so slightly and have gone 28-16 since those minor moves. Julio Rodríguez loves the big stage, and if he’s hot, the Mariners are a scary team.

Texas hasn’t been playing their best ball of late, going 12-18 in their last 30, and losing their grip on the West in the process. They’ve turned things around a little bit of late, going 9-11 in their last 20 and 6-4 in their last ten. In those last ten, their losses have come when they fail to score more than three runs, while in the wins they have put up run totals of 15, 6, 9, 10, 6, and 10. The Rangers need to score runs and hide their bullpen in order to have success.

The Blue Jays are one of the hotter teams in baseball over their last 30, going 18-12, which ranks sixth among all teams. After Toronto left their series in Oakland, taking two of three, Sportsnaut said that they needed to show some killer instinct and start sweeping teams after taking two of three from the Rockies and A’s. Since that article was published, the Jays have secured two series sweeps, one against the Royals and another against the Red Sox.

Ranking these teams one through four, the team that you probably wouldn’t want to see coming to town would be the Houston Astros. On the one hand, you could eliminate them before they reach the ALCS for the first time since 2016 on your own path to glory. On the other, they could make you a footnote in their own story like they’ve done to so many other teams in the past six seasons.

A close second has to be the Seattle Mariners with all of their arms. How scary they are depends on how many cylinders they’re clicking on, because if the answer is “all,” good luck.

Toronto is playing good baseball, rattling off series wins, and oh yeah, they have the second-best team ERA in baseball (3.71) behind Seattle.

Texas is beat up pretty badly and their bullpen isn’t great, but man can they score runs in bunches. They may not have the tools to make a deep run with all of their injuries, but they could win a short series. They’re ranked last here because good pitching generally beats good hitting in the postseason. On the other hand, in order to make it to October, they’ll have to win some games against the Mariners, which could prove that they could also have success in the postseason.

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