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Astros or Angels? Take your pick

The American League West has a race on its hands. Before the 2015 Major League Baseball season began, most would have predicted that the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners would be atop the standings, looking like a pair of World Series contenders. Instead, it is the Houston Astros who are leading the way, with the Angels simply trying to keep pace.

Houston has been nothing more than a punchline for most of this decade, but 2015 has brought a different club to the mix. The Astros were able to piece together an excellent start behind a lineup with plenty of power and a starting rotation that had Dallas Keuchel and not much else. However, general manager Jeff Ludnow was aggressive at the trade deadline, acquiring both southpaw ace Scott Kazmir and center fielder Carlos Gomez. With those two stars infused into the team, Houston appears more dangerous than ever.

After the conclusion of play on Aug. 5, the Astros find themselves two games ahead of Los Angeles, but can they keep the lead and win their first AL West title?

At 60-49, Houston has a lineup that features only four players who has more than 300 at-bats. Of those men, Jose Altuve is the only one with an average over .245, hitting at a .294 clip. The diminutive second baseman has dealt with a bit of a down year from 2014 when he won the batting title, but he remains a spark plug at the top of the order. Altuve has shown a nice blend of power and speed, hitting nine home runs and swiping 28 bags.

Meanwhile, the middle of the order is producing in terms of power if not on-base percentage. Chris Carter and Luis Valbuena are the poster-children for that type of hitter on the Astros. Carter is hitting an atrocious .181 with 17 home runs and 47 RBI, while Valbuena has somehow crushed 20 homers but is hitting .208 with a .290 on-base percentage. Jason Castro has 10 homers and Evan Gettis has 17, but they are posting averages of .221 and .245, respectively.

This group is trying to hold off the unstoppable tandem of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. The New Jersey native is hitting .303 with 32 home runs and 68 RBI, leading the Angels in every category. Meanwhile, Pujols is only hitting .257 but has 30 homers and 66 RBI in a rebound campaign. Kole Calhoun is also having a nice season with 15 blasts and 59 RBI.

The problem is a rotation that might not be playoff quality. While Garrett Richards is an absolute stud, C.J. Wilson might be lost for the year and Jered Weaver has either been injured or terrible. Hector Santiago has been picking up a majority of the slack, leading Los Angeles’ starters with a 2.78 earned run average.

Ultimately, Houston’s lineup is begging for regression. Yet the Astros are the smart bet with Keuchel and Kazmir at the top of the rotation.

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