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AL West - the toughest division there is

The A's are 67-52; Texas is 66-52; and Anaheim is 65-54. Their remaining schedules are all equivalently tough. They've got 13 or 14 games against one another. The division is just too close to call, and with Boston making a nine-game West Coast road swing at the beginning of September, the fight for the Wild Card is just as tough. There are no more trades. Nothing can help. Two playoff spots -- four indistinguishable teams. If anything, Boston is a slightly better team, leaving a real dogfight for the other spot.

So how did we get here? Texas was supposed to suffer after losing A-Rod, and Anaheim's injuries were supposedly life-threatening.


1B: Darin Erstad is no longer the worst 1B in the majors. His 5.86 Runs Created/27 Outs is in the middle of the pack, ahead of Jeff Bagwell, Carlos Delgado, John Olerud, Rafael Palmiero, Shawn Green, Pedro Feliz and Doug Mientkiewicz. Though he has little power and doesn't walk, he has stolen 13 bases without getting caught, and has grounded into relatively few double plays.

Utility: Chone Figgins (.785 OPS) has hit better than anyone expected, though only average for a third baseman, his position of record this year. His performance, along with David Eckstein's .690 OPS and average fielding and Adam Kennedy's good glove/no hit, and Erstad's "revival" makes the Angels infield average overall, instead of a huge liability.

OF: Jose Guillen, Garret Anderson and Vlad Guerrero are one of the best combinations in baseball. The hitting of Robb Quinlan and Jeff DaVanon combined with Tim Salmon's injuries have made their 1B/DH/OF combinations even better.

Pitching: while the starting pitching has been a bit below average -- Bartolo Colon has given up 30 homers already -- and a lot below expectations, the relief corps has been among the best in the league.

In other words: Average Infield and Starting Pitching; Very Good Outfield and Relief Pitchers. That's all you need to keep you in the race.

Texas Rangers:

SS: Michael Young's continued development. With an .839 OPS, he's as good a hitter as any shortstop in the league, though his stats are inflated somewhat by playing in Texas, and his fielding is mediocre.

OF: Eric Young, Kevin Mench, Gary Matthews Jr., and David Dellucci have hit about 10 feet over their collective heads. Texas wasn't expecting this, and these four aren't even making $3 million between them! Still, the Rangers have given 11 guys at least 20 games in the outfield or at DH before settling on shuffling everybody every other game. Only 23-year old Laynce Nix was expected to play well this season.

C: Backup Rod Barajas stepped up when Gerald Laird got hurt and has filled in admirably. He too is hitting way over his head.

Pitching: The relief corps. Texas's starters have been a horror highlight reel. They've started 15 different pitchers this year -- only Ryan Drese and Kenny Rogers could stand a chance at making another contender. R.A. Dickey and Joaquin Benoit start regularly and have ERAs near 6.00! Let's put it this way: they would gladly take Brett Tomko off the Giants' hands. But the Rangers 9-man relief corps (yes, nine guys) has been the best in the AL.

For Texas: an excellent infield, above-average outfield, average catching, shameful starting pitching and an excellent relief corps have kept them in the race.

Twin Canadians?

The Minnesota Twins set a new record: they have three Canadians on their roster. This has never happened before. Corey Koskie and Justin Morneau are certainly the first two Canadians to start in the same infield. Unfortunately for Canada, Morneau's duties with the Twins pulled him away from his spot as Canada's cleanup hitter at the Olympics. In his place: Rob Ducey (I kid you not!).


While we're on the subject of the Olympics…Somehow, the US lost to Mexico in Olympic Baseball qualifying, while host team Greece made a bunch Americans with dubious Greek heritages into temporary Greek citizens. Seems like anything's possible, so I was wondering what would happen if California seceded. Here's a possible Team California:

C Jason Kendall
1B Jason Giambi
2B Jeff Kent or Bret Boone
SS Nomar Garciaparra
3B Eric Chavez
OF Barry Bonds, Garret Anderson, Jermaine Dye

Bench: Bret Boone, Troy Glaus, Hank Blalock, Milton Bradley, Mark Kotsay, Brian Giles, Marcus Giles and more.

P Randy Johnson, Russ Ortiz, David Wells, Dontrelle Willis, C.C. Sabathia, Ted Lilly, Steve Trachsel, Tim Worrell, Troy Percival. The list goes on but I'm too lazy to do the try-outs in my head right now. When are we going to have the real World Series anyways?