When we last discussed Western United States Junior Circuit baseball, we marveled and wondered at the various and sundry ways the four teams were traveling toward .500 records. Since then, the Mariners, Rangers, and Angels have somewhat held course. However the A’s, after spending the first several weeks of the season staying in the race, have plummeted to the depths of the division the past few weeks.
A recent 10-game losing streak for Oakland resulted in several changes. The club outrighted Kevin Kouzmanoff to its Triple-A club in Sacramento and placed pitcher Brett Anderson on the 15-day disabled list with elbow problems. Anderson’s elbow was among a series of injuries to the starting rotation. Unfortunately for the A’s, that starting rotation was pretty much the only thing keeping the team afloat early this season.
Change hit the leadership role as well when General Manager Billy Beane dismissed his manager (and friend) Bob Geren. Bob Melvin has taken Geren’s place and will try to turn around a team that is in a freefall. Melvin won the 2007 National League Manager of the Year award while with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
While the 2011 version of the AL West may already be down to a three-team race, upcoming seasons come with the possibility of realignment for MLB. Talks are only beginning, but there are a couple of different ideas that seem to be gaining traction quickly.
One idea that has supposedly been bandied about, a small change centered on one franchise going from the NL to the AL, could mean a big change for the baseball’s only four-team division.
Labor talks between MLB and the player’s association have included the possibility of moving a team like Houston or Florida to the American League, which would bring each league to 15 teams total. Such a decision could mean the end of divisions all together, which could obviously have a negative affect on current divisional rivalries.
The downside for AL West teams is that they’d have to finish better than as many as 10 teams as opposed to three. Another possibility may see MLB moving the Astros to the AL West, which would bring every division to five teams.
If the changes do come, Oakland, Texas, Seattle, and Los Angeles of Anaheim each would have longer odds against making the playoffs simply because the days of finishing first of only four teams would be gone.
Right now, Houston seem to be a good fit geographically. They also seem to be a good fit as they have a terrible offense, because everyone in the division besides the Rangers does, as well. Perhaps those abysmal offenses should serve as the focus for the rest of this recap.
As painful as it may be, we’ll keep our gaze fixed on the A’s for just a moment longer. They have a first baseman (Daric Barton) who has a .267 slugging percentage as of June 15. They have Hideki Matsui, the primary designated hitter, who has spent much of the year batting in the middle of the order, sporting a line of .221/.271/.349 through 54 games played.
Let’s think for a moment how bad that is. The A’s, by the virtue of being an American League team, have the good fortune of sending a designated batter in for their pitcher. This can be any hitter on the team, and should be someone who is actually, you know, a pretty good hitter.
Now here’s our point of reference: Dexter Fowler is an athletic centerfielder for the Rockies. There’s talk that Fowler, a switch hitter, should give up hitting left-handed. This is because in his career, Fowler has hit .243/.339/.380 as a left-hander.
In summary, Fowler is hitting .242/.341/.338 this season as a lefty and may give it up from that side because some of his employers think that stinks. Matsui bats left-handed naturally, and has fallen short of that line this season as the designated hitter for the A’s. Also, Albert Pujols could beat Matsui’s line batting left-handed with a used popsicle stick.
As a team, the A’s are last in the American League in homers. As of June 15, they are tied with the Mariners for second-to-last in runs.
Turning now to those Mariners, we find some similarly wretched offensive numbers. Their third baseman (Chone Figgins) has a line of .192/.240/.256 through June 15. Ichiro Suzuki, who has a career .328 average, is batting .265 this year.
Ichiro’s line drive percentage is down just a little from his career norm. Conversely, his groundball percentage is up about the same amount. At age 37, Ichiro may finally be slowing down to the point where his infield hits will continually decline, which would drain his OBP that has always been dependant on his batting average. The Mariners are 12th of 14 AL teams in homers and last in hits.
Compared to the A’s and Mariners, the Angels look like an offensive force. Compared to the rest of professional baseball, they are not. As with the previous two teams, they rank in the bottom third of the AL in homers and runs. The Angels hit for average, but don’t have much power, and Vernon Wells continues to make Angels management look like lunatics for taking on his contract. His season line of .192/.235/.329 was actually boosted a couple of days ago by a two-homer game.
All three of these teams have bright spots at the top of their pitching staffs. It is their inability to hit that leaves them with little chance of overtaking the Texas Rangers. If it makes them feel any better, Houston wouldn’t be able to, either.
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