Astros lead, but AL West race far from over

Astros lead, but AL West race far from over

The Astros are no longer baseball's pleasant, plucky surprise of 2015, and the Angels and Rangers know it all too well. So does the rest of baseball, in fact. Houston's ownership of the top spot in the American League West now and for much of this season proves it. So does the team's aggressive maneuvering at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

But the Angels and Rangers are not giving up and have the talent to make noise down the stretch. Seattle and Oakland have the horses to possibly get into the Wild Card picture with torrid play late in the year. Wilder things have happened, and the 2015 AL West has been all kinds of wild.

As of now, however, it's likely that the division crown will go to the Astros or the Angels. Houston seems to have the advantage, with a three-game lead over Los Angeles entering Wednesday and the July trade haul of starters Scott Kazmir and Mike Fiers and outfielder Carlos Gomez for the stretch drive. The Angels are in the mix for the West and for a Wild Card, but they need to get healthy -- literally and figuratively.

What changed at the Trade Deadline?

The Astros opted to get more seasoning and experience to augment a young and talented core. Enter Kazmir and Fiers, who fit the Houston mold of power arms, and Gomez, who is an offensive catalyst when right. The Astros are now loaded with a multidimensional and versatile roster built to compete in October.

The Angels needed an upgrade in the outfield and will try to get it from any of the three players they acquired at the Deadline: David Murphy, Shane Victorino and David DeJesus. The possible season-ending injury to starter C.J. Wilson is a blow, but the looming return of Jered Weaver could be a big help.

Hamels' Rangers debut

The Rangers, meanwhile, made the biggest deal of the bunch, landing ace Cole Hamels from the Phillies for a package of prospects in hopes of competing next year and beyond if they don't make up enough ground late this summer. Seattle and Oakland went into sell mode, with the A's trading Ben Zobrist and Kazmir and the Mariners saying goodbye to J.A. Happ, Dustin Ackley and Mark Lowe.

Who might still make a move?

The Mariners and A's got into a bit of dealing, signaling that they might be looking to 2016 and beyond, so don't be surprised if they look to trade away more of their movable pieces. Given the Wilson situation, it would not be a shocker to see the Angels try to add more pitching.

Trout's RBI triple

Player to watch

Who else? It's gotta be Mike Trout. The consensus best player in the sport, well into another MVP-caliber year, will be called upon more than ever to help spark his team to a second consecutive October appearance. The Angels have struggled recently and have health concerns, so they'll need Trout's wizardry to show up almost on a nightly basis.

Wild Card

Houston has the upper hand in the division, the bold Deadline moves and the emergence of rookie shortstop Carlos Correa, who has been a staple of the lineup since his callup. That said, the Angels have talent and the veteran leadership and experience the Astros lack, which makes this race far from a runaway. Texas isn't out of it, either. A spark from Hamels and continued resurgence from Adrian Beltre and Rougned Odor could help the Rangers rally to a Wild Card berth or better.

Series to watch

Astros @ Angels, Sept. 11-13
Astros @ Rangers, Sept. 14-17
Angels @ Astros, Sept. 21-23

Where does it go from here?

The Astros' longest road trip for the rest of the season, a 10-game journey in mid-September, could tell the tale for how the West is won. Houston must finish that jaunt with seven games against the Angels and Rangers.

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.