In terms of the divisions in the American League, the AL West looks like a foregone conclusion from an odds standpoint. With the favorites in the +170 to +190 range in the AL East and AL Central, the West looks a lot different. This was a captivating division race last season between the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers. Texas won, drawing the heavy-hitting Toronto Blue Jays in the first round. They opened up a 2-0 series lead, but couldn’t close the deal. The Astros, meanwhile, were four outs away from eliminating the Kansas City Royals when a Game 4 bullpen meltdown sent the series back to Kauffman Stadium, where the storybook season came to an end.
The only team in the American League perceived to have no chance at the playoffs resides in this division, so that is something that has skewed the division odds a little bit. One storyline to watch throughout the year will be to see if the window is closed for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels made six playoff appearances in eight years from 2002-09, but they only have one in the last six seasons. Despite what the odds say, anything can happen in this division, which is basically the theme for the American League in 2016.
In terms of division winner odds, here are the prices from BetDSI Sportsbook (click the team name for Adam Burke’s MLB season win total analysis):
Houston Astros +130
Texas Rangers +240
Seattle Mariners +360
Los Angeles Angels +516
Oakland Athletics +1655
The Houston Astros built a team based on analytics and it worked. No team in baseball has had a bigger leap over the last three seasons than the Houston Astros. In 2013, the Astros lost 111 games. They improved by 19 games in 2014 and then 16 more games in 2015, finishing at 86-76. Houston’s inability to beat Texas (5-14) was the kiss of death for the division, but they went and won the Wild Card Game and then had Kansas City on the ropes. With just about everybody back, including full seasons of Carlos Gomez and Carlos Correa, the Astros are a deserving favorite here in this division. It doesn’t hurt to have the reigning Cy Young Award winner in Dallas Keuchel either.
As somebody that doesn’t believe a whole lot in the impact of managers, it’s hard to argue with what Jeff Bannister did last season. The Texas Rangers won just 67 games in 2014, but an 88-74 season and two chances to close out Toronto at home, represented a pretty strong season. In 2014, 64 players appeared in a game. In 2015, that number dropped to 50. Health is, and has always been, the biggest key for teams over 162 games. The Rangers were a lot healthier last season, even without ace Yu Darvish. Now, Darvish has a partner in crime in Cole Hamels and the Rangers have to be considered a strong candidate to win this division.
Robinson Cano’s torrid second half should inspire a little bit of confidence in the Seattle Mariners. Lloyd McClendon is out and Scott Servais is in as the manager of the Mariners and some front office restructuring brought Jerry Dipoto to the Pacific Northwest. Dipoto made significant strides in upgrading the team’s defense, adding players like Leonys Martin and jettisoning players like Brad Miller. The Mariners should make some big improvements defensively and that will help a talented, high-upside pitching staff and a really underrated lineup with guys like Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager. The addition of Wade Miley gave the Mariners a reliable starter in a sea of uncertainty with oft-injured or inconsistent guys like Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton. There’s a lot of hope here.
Mike Trout is a once-in-a-generation type of player and is a great building block for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who seem to be in purgatory. The trade for Andrelton Simmons is a sign of going for it, but the cost of Sean Newcombe, a promising left-handed starting pitcher prospect, is a concerning development for the future with some aging starters like CJ Wilson and Jered Weaver. Mike Scioscia always seems to get the most equity he can out of the hands that he has been dealt, so there is a lot of hope in that respect. Garrett Richards is throwing 100 now with his bowling ball sinker and solid slider as the anchor of this rotation.
The Oakland Athletics are literally the only team that nobody is giving respect to in the American League. The other 14 teams have some “if” scenarios with regards to making the playoffs, but nobody is hinting at the glass being half full for Oakland. The A’s spent most of last season with a positive run differential, but no results, and finally caved in September. An intriguing rotation with Sonny Gray, Kendall Graveman, Jesse Hahn, and Chris Bassitt doesn’t seem to be enough to move the needle for bettors or oddsmakers because of a lackluster offense and a set of unknown commodities in the bullpen. Sean Doolittle is the closer after missing most of last season with significant injuries, including a shoulder problem.
Pick: Houston Astros
The Astros have the highest ceiling of any team in the American League. If Dallas Keuchel can avoid heavy regression, while Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers continue to improve, the Astros could really run away and hide for the best record. The lineup is loaded if everybody can stay healthy, especially George Springer. Carlos Correa is one of the game’s most exciting budding stars and this is a very young team that just gained a ton of experience.
Best Value Pick: Oakland Athletics
Look, anything can happen. The A’s were putrid in one-run games last season and should see some positive regression in a lot of sequencing stats. The rotation is certainly good enough to win at home. The lineup isn’t all that exciting, but there are several platoon parts that can combine to form a serviceable, league average group. It’s clearly a long shot gamble, but luck and variance can always make things interesting.