MLB AL West Preview & Predictions: Can Astros Justify Odds?

Alvarez: MLB AL West predictionsUSAbetting continues its MLB futures betting preview series by heading to the AL West.

This division is home to the Los Angeles Angels (+550 odds for AL West champion with Bovada for sports betting), Oakland Athletics (+230), Seattle Mariners (+12500), Texas Rangers (+1600) and baseball’s pariah, the Houston Astros (-170 favorite). Here is an analysis of the AL West, along with our predictions.

Houston Astros (+800 to Win World Series, +350 to Win AL Pennant)

Much has been made about the Astros elaborate sign-stealing scheme that may have stolen them a World Series in 2017. At the time, Houston winning was such a great story. It was the Astros’ first World Series in franchise history, the culmination of a several-year rebuilding project that began to take shape four seasons prior when the team moved from the National League to American League in 2013. The change of scenery in a manner of speaking was just what Houston needed as in 2017, the Astros lifted the World Series title for the first time. As it turns out, a change of scenery wasn’t the only thing Houston needed to win. They needed a trash can and some “bang bang.”

In their investigation of the scheme, MLB opted not to take the title away from the Astros when they levied their harsh punishment on the team. Several people, including Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch, as well as New York Mets’ manager Carlos Beltran, the lone player named in the investigation, lost their jobs. The Astros kept their title and now, in 2020, with a massive target on their back and universal hatred not often seen in sports, the Astros will be out to prove they came by their win honestly. Or at the very least, that they are good enough to claim the title without the aid of cheating.

Frankly, the team is good enough to find success the right way, as evidenced by their third best odds to win the World Series in 2020. If they do so, they will do it as villains but even bad guys can find redemption.

Offensively, the Astros, who finished runner-up to the Washington Nationals in 2019, are stacked with young, exciting hitters. Last year, the team had six players hit over .290 including Rookie of the Year Yordon Alvarez, who hit .313 in 87 games played. They had seven players hit over 20 home runs including Alex Bregman, who led the team with 41 and George Springer who had 39.

The Astros led the majors with a .274 batting average and .848 OPS and were third in home runs and RBI. Now, the caveat is even though MLB found no evidence of sign-stealing in 2019, all of the Astros’ positive stats are going to be questioned as to how good this team really is. That said, this is a talented lineup that the rest of the league would be foolish to underrate by nature of how inflated or not their stats may have been.

From a pitching standpoint, the Astros have a pretty good rotation, though it is notably missing one key player, Gerrit Cole, who left in free agency. The team still has Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander though and both of those pitchers are still performing well at this stage in their careers. Lance McCullers Jr. is recovering from Tommy John surgery but one benefit to this delayed season is the opportunity for that heal up. If he can return to the kind of numbers he posted last year, the Astros will be in good shape from the mound.

What it really might come down to is how well these young, talented hitters can get the voices out of their heads. Fans will boo. They will probably do so in 29 of the league’s 30 stadiums. This team won’t be welcomed by any stretch of the imagination. There is no doubt going to be tension there. It’s a season that will be marred by the controversy of the past and honestly, even the most talented teams could be expected to struggle under those circumstances. The Astros have the most talent in the division but they will be fighting themselves as much as they are fighting everyone else to keep that top spot. If they can put it all behind them and not let the controversy affect this season, don’t be surprised to see a New York Yankees/Houston Astros AL Championship. If the Astros can’t get out of their heads and lose focus, the Oakland Athletics may be primed finally to climb out of second place land.

Oakland Athletics (+2200 to Win World Series, +1200 for AL Pennant)

The Athletics have one of the smallest markets and lowest payrolls in baseball and yet, the team has managed to win 97 games in each of the past two seasons. Unfortunately, regular season wins haven’t translated to postseason success as the Astros have lost both years in the AL wild card game. Meanwhile, the Astros have won the division, being just a little bit better. As mentioned above, if Houston stumbles with the mental side of the game, the Athletics are certainly in position to take advantage and win their first divisional title since 2013.

Offensively, the Athletics are led by Matt Chapman, who continues to get better every year of his Oakland career and Marcus Semien. Semien led the team in doubles, hits and WAR and Chapman led in home runs. Overall, six Oakland players had 20+ home runs last season and three had 90+ RBI, as Matt Olson joined Semien and Chapman. Together, Olson and Chapman make up one of the best corner infield combos in baseball and both are a large piece of the puzzle as to why Oakland has been able to close in on 100 wins over the last two seasons.

The Athletics’ quality rotation also contributed to the team’s success as both Mike Fiers, Brett Anderson and Chris Bassitt all picked up 10+ wins and pitched over 140 innings. The three kept their ERAs under 4.00, which in the American League is indicative of a pretty solid season. Now that being said, none of these guys are real innings eaters from a standpoint of whether or not the bullpen will play into things. It will and Oakland’s BP does leave some areas to be desired especially after losing Blake Treinen in the offseason.

Los Angeles Angels (+2500 to Win World Series, +1500 for AL Pennant)

The Angels are a formidable offensive squad but one who, despite just signing Mike Trout to a 12-year extension last year, looks like their best opportunity finally to win a World Series is starting to fade away. Albert Pujols, the Angels’ last long-term signing, just turned 40 and his last three seasons have been far from the Hall of Fame numbers he put up during the bulk of his career.

Where Pujols may be declining, the Angels brought in arguably the biggest free agent in the offseason in Anthony Rendon, who was the key offensive reason why the Nationals won the World Series in 2019. With Trout and Rendon, hitting back-to-back in the order, this lineup is scary good at the heart of the order. The Angels are built to win now and they will be hoping that new manager Joe Maddon can bring with him the same success he did with both the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs.

Of course from the mound, the biggest name on the Angels is two-way player Shohei Ohtani. A two-way player in baseball is rare enough these days but add the fact that Ohtani is in the American League where pitchers aren’t allowed to hit, it makes his role even more unique. Ohtani should be expected to take the mount every fifth day but in between his starting outings, he will be plugging in as the team’s DH. He is that good, both as a pitcher and as a hitter. Figuring out where best to suit him is a good problem for LA to have.

From the mound, Ohtani is joined by Dylan Bundy and Julio Tehran, two solid arms. Neither are Cole, who the Angels aggressively pursued in the offseason before losing him to the Yankees. If the Angels can avoid any major issues to their rotation, this group could hold together well enough. After all, they won’t have to worry too much about giving up runs as the Angels offense should help lessen that burden.

Texas Rangers (+8000 to Win World Series, +5000 for AL Pennant)

The talent in the AL West really drops off when it comes to the bottom two teams in the division but the Rangers have some promise throughout the team. It will just be a matter of staying healthy and having their best players manage to put it all together. If the Rangers can get that combination, this is a dark-horse team who could sneak into one of the AL wildcard spots.

The Rangers are led by Joey Gallo, who was an MVP candidate last year when he was healthy. Gallo only played half of the season and it really hurt the Rangers when he wasn’t in the lineup. Gallo has been a project for Texas but last year it felt like he really turned a corner and displayed the offensive prowess the team long hoped to see. If Gallo can continue to build off this success, he should have a very good season and that should bode well for the Rangers. So too would the breakout of Rougned Odor. A frustrating player by most accounts, when Odor is good he is really good but when he’s bad, he’s really bad. Last year he hit 30 home runs but only hit .205 from the plate. Odor certainly has the talent and is still just 26 years old, but 2020 really could be a make or break year for him as far as his future with the Rangers goes.

From a pitching standpoint, the Rangers have a veteran rotation which has its pros. With older pitchers also comes the fear of breakdowns. Last year, Corey Kluber injured his arm and was never the same pitcher afterwards for the Cleveland Indians. The Rangers will certainly hope to get more out of him in the 2020 campaign. Kluber joins Mike Minor and Lance Lynn in the Rangers rotation, both of whom finished among the top 20 of pitchers in WAR last year. It is a great one-two punch and if Kluber can return to the numbers he put up in 2017 and 2018, that is a deep rotation that should yield good results. Again, these are all veteran pitchers and should any spend significant time on the DL, it will be tough for the Rangers to get past it.

Seattle Mariners (+30000 to Win World Series, +15000 for AL Pennant)

The Mariners are probably going to lose 100 games this year, which is something no team wants to do. It is the reality that comes about thanks to the combination of a tough division in the AL West and tough American League schedule overall. The Mariners know they aren’t here to compete this year as they are in a rebuild. It has been a while since Seattle has been on top but they are hoping the steps they are making now will help get them in that direction soon.

The Mariners will look for Justus Sheffield to emerge as the top prospect they traded for him to be. And Sheffield has the tools, he will just need to continue to improve them. Kyle Seager was great for Seattle but he has got a long career ahead of him and one that likely won’t see him stick around in a Mariners jersey. Seager is a valuable commodity who should demand a decent trade value to help Seattle get some additional pieces to help them contend in the future. Otherwise, this is going to be a season of more downs than ups. But the good thing for Seattle is they are committed to a rebuild whereas the rest of the division is just kind of going with what they have. That won’t payoff yet but it could come to play in the Mariners’ favor down the line.