Astros seeking to hold off flourishing Mariners in AL West


Thirty seasons after making his managerial debut with the Giants, Dusty Baker finally lifted his first World Series trophy in 2022. All roads to a championship will continue to go thru Houston, but after breaking a 21 year postseason drought the Mariners are poised to stake their claim as the best in the West.

This is the fifth of six division previews in the lead-up to opening day on Thursday March 30th

Houston Astros

Yordan Alvarez further established himself as one of the most feared sluggers in the game, belting a career high 37 home runs and finishing third in MVP voting to help lead the Astros to a World Series title.

Houston won the World Series in 2022, their second in the past six seasons. Their 106 wins were second in baseball to the Dodgers, and the Astros managed to reach the ALCS for a remarkable sixth consecutive season. Led by homegrown stars Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker, the Houston attack was punctuated by Yordan Alvarez, whose 37 HRs and 306/.406./.613 led the team. Alvarez had several key postseason moments, but it was rookie Jeremy Pena who claimed the MVP Awards in both the ALCS and World Series, hitting a combined .345/.367/.638 with 4 HRs and 8 RBIs in Houston’s 13 playoff games. The majority of the lineup will return in 2023, though Houston allowed Yuli Gurriel to depart while bringing in Jose Abreu to replace him at first. The Astros pitching was solid in 2022 as well, as the ageless Justin Verlander went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA to win the AL Cy Young Award, his third. Framber Valdez was 17-6 with a 2.82 ERA, and will be relied upon to replace Verlander atop the Astro rotation after Verlander signed with the Mets in December, but the Astro bullpen is the secret weapon of their franchise. After having the best pen during the regular season, the Houston relief corps set a postseason record for dominance, allowing just five earned runs in 54.3 innings, and their 0.83 ERA and .126 batting average against were the best ever for a bullpen. Most of that unit returns in 2023, and if history is any indicator, the road to the AL pennant will run through Houston.

Seattle Mariners

22-year old Julio Rodríguez ran away with the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2022, belting 28 homers while stealing 25 bases, the first-ever 25-25 debut season, to help lead the Mariners to their first postseason appearance in 21 years.

The Mariners broke the longest postseason drought in American professional sports, qualifying for the Wild Card in 2022 with a 90-72 record that helped Seattle forget the 20 years of failure that preceded it. Led by AL Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez, Seattle found enough offense to win games, and added ace starter Luis Castillo at the trade deadline to bolster a strong rotation. The Mariners saw homegrown products Cal Raleigh, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby play key roles in their run to the postseason, and President of Baseball Operations Jerry DiPoto traded to acquire Teoscar Hernandez and Kolten Wong this offseason to augment an already dangerous lineup. The club signed both Rodriguez and Castillo to long term contracts, providing hope and stability for a franchise that is on the way to being a perennial threat to win the pennant after two decades of futility.

Los Angeles Angels

The most diverse and exciting player in the game, Shohei Ohtani enters his walk season with the Angels coming off a year where he was the runner up in AL MVP voting while also finishing fourth in the Cy Young race. He recently helped lead his native Japan to the championship of the World Baseball Classic.

Shohei Ohtani followed up his 2021 AL MVP Award with a season that was arguably as good:
He hit 34 HRs and drove in 95 runs at the plate, and led the rotation with 15 wins, a 2.33 ERA and 219 strikeouts. His efforts to lead the Angels to the playoffs were supported by superstar Mike Trout, whose 40 HRs and 1000 OPS paced the lineup, and were assisted by breakout system product Taylor Ward, who chipped in 23 HRs of his own with a .360 OBP. Despite their heroics, the Angels outscored only the wretched Tigers and A’s in the American League, and suffered to a 73-89 finish, 33 games back of the Astros in the AL West. Los Angeles spent their offseason trying to provide some help for their iconic stars, importing Hunter Renfroe, Brandon Drury and Gio Urshela to upgrade their roster. With free agent lefty Tyler Anderson being added to the rotation behind Ohtani, the Angels may finally provide their stars with the support they need to showcase their immense talents in the postseason.

Texas Rangers

Corey Seager’s first year with the Rangers saw him bounce back nicely from an injury plagued 2021, setting a career high with 33 home runs on the way to 83 RBI’s and his third All-Star berth.

No team has outspent the Rangers over the past two off-seasons. GM Chris Young has been aggressive in trying to build a winner in Texas, and the franchise has invested nearly $800 million in their roster over the past two seasons. After spending more than $500 million last offseason to bring in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien (among others), Young rebuilt his rotation, importing Jacob deGrom from the Mets on a five-year, $185 million dollar deal. deGrom is arguably the best pitcher in the world when healthy, and he gives new Rangers manager Bruce Bochy an ace to send to battle against the best in the American League. Young also added Nate Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney as free agents, and retained last year’s ace, Martin Perez via the qualifying offer. If breakout hitting star Nate Lowe can repeat his second half (.339/.399.556 with 15 HRs) and top prospect Josh Jung can claim the third base job, Bochy might have a team that he can take back to the postseason, where he would be seeking his fourth World Series ring.

Oakland Athletics

There wasn’t much to like about Oakland’s roster during last season’s 102 loss campaign, but Paul Blackburn established himself as a reliable starter and represented the team in the All-Star game.

The A’s franchise is battling with the city of Oakland to get financial support to build a new stadium in which to play, stating the obvious that their current situation does not allow them to compete with larger market clubs. To help illustrate that point, the club has traded away virtually every player on the roster making a significant salary over the past few seasons, and a team that went to the playoffs three straight seasons from 2018-2020 and won 86 games in 2021 finished 60-102 in 2022. This year’s club might not fare as well. The 2023 edition will enter the season without Sean Murphy, arguably last year’s best batter, and without Cole Irvin and Frankie Montas, their two best starters, all of whom were traded since last years deadline. The prospects received in those deals (and the trades made the year before) have failed to impress the pundits who rate minor league talent, who propose that Oakland’s system is no better than the 24th best in the game (Baseball America). With little to recommend the product on the field, and nothing exciting bubbling up through the farm system to provide hope for the future, it’s difficult to imagine that the loyal fans of the franchise will be motivated to watch the debacle that unfolds in their decrepit stadium in 2023.


AL East: Toronto
AL Central: Minnesota
AL West: Houston
Wild Cards: New York, Cleveland, Seattle
ALCS: Seattle over Toronto

About J.A. Schwartz

J.A. Schwartz is a reporter and columnist for the Martinez Tribune. He's also a licensed professional in the health care field when he's not opining on the world of sports and culture for the benefit of our readers.

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