Dave Raymond knows the West. The team he does play-by-play for, the Texas Rangers, not only competes in the American League West, their inter-league schedule this year comprises solely the National League equivalent. As a result, Raymond has been getting regular looks at two of the game’s most talent-rich divisions. In terms of powerhouse clubs and marquee players, the West is arguably baseball’s best.
How would Raymond rank the teams and players he’s seen this season? That was the crux of a conversation I had with the TV voice of the Rangers prior to last night’s game.
David Laurila: Which is the best team you’ve seen this year?
Dave Raymond: “I’ve been really impressed with the Padres. They looked really good against us [in mid-August]. We may have gotten them right on the way to their peak — and that might have been us headed right to the trough — but they were really impressive. They have so much great young talent. There are guys like Jake Cronenworth who are hardly even noticed in the shadow of Fernando Tatis Jr. I mean, Cronenworth has to be the top rookie-of-the-year candidate right now, and he doesn’t even stand out on that team.
“Even Manny Machado. It looked like the energy of some of the young players is lifting him a little bit. He made some plays against the Rangers that were were pretty neat. You got a glimpse again of that young Manny Machado who won a Gold Glove and was more of the all-round player.
“But here’s my thought about the Padres: if you look at that lineup, find me the homegrown guy. He’s not there. It’s made up of all these pieces that were plucked from different organizations in trades and free agent signings. In kind of a perverse way, it’s really remarkable. I don’t think anybody sets out to build a championship team almost exclusively from other teams, but that’s kind of what they’ve done. And we just saw them, at the trade deadline, going out and aggressively bringing in even more guys from other organizations.
“And then you have the Dodgers. It’s not exactly news that they’re really good, and they’re basically the opposite of the Padres — it’s all these guys that they’ve drafted and developed. Not exclusively, but man, at a pretty substantial rate. I was looking at the Dodgers rotation when they came through Arlington, and all six were either drafted by them or signed as international free agents. The Dodgers are really homegrown. So it’s struck me that there is a wild divergence of ways to get places, but those two teams are absolutely the class of the NL West.”
Laurila: What about the AL West?
Raymond: “Oakland would be the obvious bullies. And they’re really good, but something about them seems off to me this year. While they’re impressive in many ways, I don’t see them making that postseason run. That said, I should probably go George Costanza on this and go the opposite of my instincts. Maybe they really will make the playoff run, because I thought they were going to do it each of the past couple of years.
“But again, something seems off with them. Even defensively. I don’t think they’ve been as good as they’ve been in recent years, even though we’re talking about the same guys. They’re all impressive, but they just didn’t quite seem as sharp to me.”
Laurila: How many times have you seen the A’s this year?
Raymond: Multiple series: once at their place, and once at our place. The Padres we saw two [at home] and two [away]. The Dodgers we saw three games here.”
Laurila: Is any of your Oakland skepticism based on their starting pitching?
Raymond: “I don’t know that I would say that. Luzardo made his first big-league start against us, and at that moment I was like, ‘I’ll trade you every single thing we have for Jesús Luzardo.’ He wasn’t as good the second time we faced him, but I think Oakland’s starting pitching has some promise. They also just got Mike Minor, and that’s a nice add.
“If you look at the A’s offense, something like two thirds of the guys in the lineup have dismal numbers with runners in scoring position, with runners on base. When I’m watching them I can’t help but wonder ‘How do you generate runs?’ When you need that one run in extra innings, or just in a well-pitched game, you’ve got to be able to squeak something out. It’s like they’re just waiting for Matt Olson, or Stephen Piscotty, or Matt Chapman to run into one. That sort of seems to be the strategy now. I see the Padres and the Dodgers as being a little more versatile offensively.
“All that said, they have really good players. How can Chapman not be a big-name guy? How can Olson not be a big-name guy? It’s the Oakland factor. Marcus Semien has been unbelievable the last couple years. But they’re really not marquee names in the game. You don’t hear them talked about all the time on the various networks. They just consistently put together the pieces in a way that Oakland is consistently good. But their formula is to do it over 162 games, and while that’s great it just hasn’t worked in the postseason. And when I look at this team, I can see why that might not work in a postseason.”
Laurila: I don’t believe you’ve seen the Astros yet.
Raymond: “No. The Rangers start with them tonight, with 10 of their final 27 against Houston. And the thing is, it’s not like you can really draw on last year. When we last played them, their rotation was Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley, Brad Peacock, and Zack Greinke. The only guy out of that group who is in the rotation now is Greinke. Now it’s Brandon Bielak, Cristian Javier, Framber Valdez, and Lance McCullers Jr. joining Greinke. So not only haven’t we seen them, it’s a completely different team. There are all the injuries they’ve had. So I don’t have a strong opinion on them, except to say from what I’ve seen from a distance, they’re just trying to cobble it together.”
Laurila: How would you rank the Western Division teams?
Raymond: “The Dodgers would be one, and from what I’ve seen, San Diego would be two. Oakland would be three — they’re clearly a dangerous team — and Houston would be four. Coming into the year, Houston was going to be dealing with more than just playing the games, and losing Gerrit Cole isn’t exactly insignificant. Now, with Verlander going down… I don’t care how good the rest of your guys are, that’s hard to overcome. And Jose Altuve hasn’t played well. To me, Oakland is definitely number three, ahead of Houston.”
Laurila: Who would be number five?
Raymond: “That would be the great question. The West is just… I mean, in our division the Mariners and the Angels haven’t played well at all. So I guess it would have to be Colorado. I see them as better than the Giants, and Arizona has been really disappointing. So the Rockies, but there’s a big chasm between four and five.”
Laurila: Which team in the West has been the most disappointing?
Raymond: “I can’t help but think the fans in Southern California have to be mystified about the Angels. I’m not saying that they were going to compete for second in this division, but how do you go out and bring back Joe Maddon, get Anthony Rendon… and Shohei Ohtani was supposed to be back healthy. And they’ve got Mike Trout. Albert Pujols is on the back end of an incredible Hall of Fame carer, but while there’s been a pretty drastic drop-off, that’s because the first half of his career was… well, goofy. He was that good. And David Fletcher is a great player. Dylan Bundy has been out of his mind.
“How are they not a better team? How do they keep finding ways to lose? I mean, it’s amazing to me. I would think that Angels fans would have to be terribly disappointed. You can’t spend more money. You can’t get together a greater group of talented hitters. I just can’t figure it out. There’s something weird about the Angels. They’ve got to be the most disappointing team in the two divisions.”
Laurila: What about the team you broadcast for?
Raymond: “I think it’s been a pretty big disappointment, for sure.
Last year was an 11 game improvement over the previous season, and they went out and added Corey Kluber to the mix. I liked what Todd Frazier added to the team. I couldn’t have predicted that Lance Lynn would come back and be even better this year, but I did think they would get more out of the Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson signings than they have thus far. So I thought the team would be better. I thought they’d be .500 or better — a smidge better than .500 — and it just hasn’t played out that way at all.”
Laurila: We did the top teams. Who are the top players in the West?
Raymond: “Wow. There’s Trout, Betts, Bellinger, Tatis, Machado, Rendon… oh, gosh. Joey Gallo is really good, but he couldn’t make this list. I’m a big George Springer fan, but he can’t make the list either. Bregman. Arenado. Story… who am I missing? There are so many candidates, and that’s without considering pitchers. I’ll leave pitchers off here.
“The West, by the way — those two divisions — is something we’ve talked about a lot about this season. If you had to get stuck in one of the three [East, Central, or West] and watch these teams every night, wouldn’t you want to be in the West? There are so many talented guys, and they’re all-around talents, too — they’re not just one-trick ponies. There are some unbelievable players in the West.”
Laurila: So, your rankings would be…?
Raymond: “Well, Trout would be number one. Betts would have to be number two. My next two guys… how am I going to rank them? Man. OK, my next two guys are going to be Tatis and Arenado. Bellinger was MVP last year, right? That’s awesome. Bellinger can’t even make my top four. I mean, really. The reigning NL MVP can’t even make my list.”
Laurila: He can if we go five deep.
Raymond: “OK, Bellinger would have to be fifth. And I’ll go with Arenado three, and Tatis four. Actually, you know what? I think I have to go with Tatis third. So my list would be 1. Trout, 2. Betts, 3. Tatis, 4. Arenado, 5. Bellinger. And like I said, there are some others who are really good, too. There is a lot of talent in the West.”
Laurila: And as you alluded to earlier, many of those players are under-appreciated nationally because of the time zone differences.
Raymond: “That’s 100% right. As incredible as Trout is, I don’t think the aura of greatness resonates for him nationwide the way it does for some other guys. I don’t understand why that is, other than to say that he’s tucked away on the West Coast and people just don’t get to see him at night.”
Laurila: Tatis is getting quite a bit of buzz, though.
Raymond: “That’s true. Trout does it in a little bit of a businesslike manner; he just goes out there and grinds out two hits and a bomb every night, and plays good defense. And maybe it’s because his team never wins, too. There’s probably something to that. But Tatis… there’s definitely some flair there. There’s a lot of excitement watching that guy. Betts has some personality and flash to him, too. But Trout is the best player. And I’d have to say that the Dodgers are the best team.”