With just over a week left in the 2023 regular season, most of the division races around MLB have already been decided. The AL West, however, has very much not — in fact, it’s shaping up to be quite possibly the tightest division race in the history of divisions:
LOOK AT THE TOP OF THE AL WEST— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) September 20, 2023
This is the 1st time that 3 teams in the same division were all within half a game or fewer of first place with all having 10 games or fewer left to play, since divisions began (1969)
h/t @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/b7PqtEk63R
The Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers were all off on Thursday. As they all get set to kick off their weekend series on Friday, here’s where things stand: Houston, thanks to its wild walk-off win over the Orioles on Wednesday, leads by a half-game at 85-68, while both the Mariners and Rangers both sit at 84-68 after series victories earlier this week. The race almost literally could not be tighter — but which team is going to come out on top when the dust settles? Who should be considered the favorite with just 10 games to play? We’ll be taking a look at all three teams’ paths to an AL West crown, starting with the reigning champs in Houston.
How Houston Astros can win the AL West
Despite an 8-10 record so far in September, the Astros, who’ve won this division six times in the last seven years, remain the odds-on favorites to make it seven of eight. Fangraphs’ playoff odds give Houston a 50.8% chance of winning the West, compared to 30% for the Mariners and 19.1% for the Rangers. Some of that comes down to the schedule: The Astros welcome the Royals to town this weekend, then travel to Seattle for a huge series next week before wrapping things up on the road in Arizona next weekend. The Mariners and Rangers, by contrast, play each other seven times over their last 10 games — while one of them could certainly get hot and separate, it seems more likely that Seattle and Texas beat each other up a bit, which could be to Houston’s advantage.
Any hope the Astros have of winning the division almost certainly involves taking at least two of three — and preferably a sweep — from the Royals this weekend. While Seattle and Texas are trading blows, Houston has a chance to gain some much-needed breathing room against a bottom-feeder — although the Astros did just lose two of three in Kansas City last week, and the Royals have won seven of 10 games (plus, lefty Cole Ragans has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the second half).
Still, take care of business there, and that almost assuredly buys you a little breathing room heading into the season’s final week. Then comes a trip to Seattle, a team that Houston is just 2-8 against this season. The Astros are likely hoping that Texas gets the better of their two series against the Mariners, if only because Houston would own the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Rangers. Texas’ lineup is finally starting to snap out of its funk at just the right time, but rotation questions remain. From there, an uneven D-backs team — which has played well of late but has still largely overachieved relative to its talent level and negative run differential — awaits.
AL West prediction
In the end, I do think the Astros get it done. K.C. and Arizona are two eminently beatable teams, and it’s crucial that Houston has this weekend to bank some wins and likely gain bit of separation (barring an unlikely sweep by either the Mariners or Rangers in Texas). If the Astros find a way to get through the next two series at 4-2 — say, by sweeping the Royals and then just taking one of three in Seattle — that should put them in great shape on the season’s final weekend. Hunter Brown, JP France and Cristian Javier all struggling to find it at the same time gives me some pause, but I think the Mariners and Rangers are just going to beat each other up a bit too much to catch the reigning champs.