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Thanks to the A’s and Mariners, the AL West is suddenly up for grabs

The Mariners swept the Astros while the A’s surged, and suddenly, the AL West is the league’s most fascinating race.

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

The Astros were running away with the American League West. The Mariners weren’t a real threat anymore, and defending champion Houston looked to be an match to the AL East juggernauts of the Red Sox and Yankees. That was then, though, and now, halfway through August, things are a little different for the West.

The Athletics leapfrogged the Mariners for one of the two AL wild card spots, but they haven’t stopped their: now, Oakland is just two games behind the Astros, as Houston has lost four in a row — and lost all of those games to the Mariners, who are just 2.5 back of the A’s for a wild card spot and now just 4.5 back of the Astros for the AL West crown.

With the Red Sox up in the East by 10 games and the Indians 12.5 up on the Twins, the AL West is giving us the only intriguing division race in the American League. The Mariners were eight games back of the Astros themselves before beginning their four-game series last Thursday, but that gap has narrowed, and the only reason they’re now 4.5 back is because they lost to the A’s on Monday night to kick off that series. Just 4.5 games separating three teams is nothing, and when you throw in that the third-place Mariners have a better win percentage than anyone vying for the NL West crown — the only other division where the standings are this close — and the stakes ratchet up that much more.

The Mariners are still just 16-20 since July began, so we might not have this kind of closeness all the way down the stretch. Then again, though, Seattle was 53-31 prior to July, so it’s not as if they haven’t shown an ability to win this year: they’re still hanging around in large part due to their early success. Maybe they don’t deserve to have all of those wins — their expected win-loss record, based on their run differential, pegs them as being a sub-.500 team — but those early wins are in the bank.

And it works both ways, too: Houston’s expected record has them with 81 wins, or, eight more than they possess. The Astros might be the better team, but they’ve underperformed, and the Mariners have overperformed. Just like you can’t take away the wins the Mariners already have, the Astros can’t get back the wins they were supposed to have. And by the time the season ends, it’s entirely possible that Seattle will be ahead of Houston in the standings because of it.

Will we see that happen? Will the A’s rise to the top of the West, and the Mariners outlast the Astros because of their opposing positions on the luck spectrum? I don’t know, and neither do you, and that’s what’s going to make what’s left of the 2018 season fun for all of us.