It may be the middle of July, but Opening Day is rapidly approaching for the 2020 season!
With the start of the Major League campaign now just two weeks away, we at SI Gambling are going through some of the most popular odds available at several different sportsbooks across the country within the MLB futures market.
Earlier this month, we put together our favorite World Series longshots and favorites breakdowns. Last week, we began going division-by-division to break down the projected win totals for the American League East, as well as the AL Central.
Today we’ll focus on the AL West win total with the odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.
AL West Team-By-Team Win Total Projections
Houston Astros: OVER 35.5 wins
I may have to figuratively whisper this bit of the story for fear of outrage, but the Astros, despite the whole cheating scandal are still a damn good baseball team.
Timing changes the entire narrative as well. Back in March, just under a week before the Coronavirus pandemic began to cancel several months of the sports calendar, the Astros’ response to being labeled cheaters and flukes ahead of the 2020 season was arguably baseball’s biggest story of spring training.
“This will be the story of Houston’s season. It’s not third baseman Alex Bregman’s hunt for an MVP, or ace Justin Verlander’s ongoing defiance of age, or centerfielder George Springer’s walk year or righty Lance McCullers Jr.’s comeback from Tommy John. It’s not a possible third pennant in four years. The only thing people will be thinking when watching the Astros is: Are they still cheating?”
Heading into the original start of the 2020 season, one of the most popular bets being discussed was the number of times Astros batters would be beaned.
The unapologetic Astros culture has prioritized winning over everything and it wouldn’t surprise me if even in this elongated offseason, the team has once again found some sort of new competitive advantage over the rest of baseball.
Let's start with the manager. The transition to Dusty Baker from A.J. Hinch does shift from an analytical perspective to a more traditional old-school approach. I would be stunned, however, if all of a sudden the Astros move away from the numbers-oriented process that led them to their success (and perhaps their fall from grace) in the first place. I don't see the change at that position manifesting into much of a difference.
Houston did lose Gerrit Cole to the Yankees, but they still have the ageless Justin Verlander who at age 36 took home the Cy Young award a season ago. They also have Zack Grienke and the return of Lance McCullers waiting in the wings. Their bullpen continues to showcase plenty of depth, and the offense, trash-can banging from sign-stealing aside, remains arguably the best in the American League.
Last season, Houston ranked first in batting average, on-base percentage (OBP) and on-base plus slugging (OPS), while ranking third in home runs, and runs scored. With nearly the same lineup, I don’t see the scandal causing much to hurt the Astros in the standings. Physically on the other hand? A few extra heaters to the back still is going to sting.
Oakland Athletics: OVER 33.5 wins
I really am high on this A’s team headed into the 60-game sample. So much, in fact, that among longshot teams to win the World Series at odds of 20/1 or greater, I have them as my number one option.
The A’s finished 2019 in the top-five for home runs despite playing in one of the more pitcher-friendly ballparks in baseball. They were 8th in runs scored and 10th in OPS. They had six of their nine starters in the lineup finish with more than 20 home runs, which still included DH Khris Davis in arguably his worst full season as a pro.
As for their pitching, there’s some question marks, but there’s also plenty of upside.
Mike Fiers led the way with a 15-4 record and ERA of 3.90 in perhaps his most complete season in the big leagues. But he’s likely to regress closer to the mean after more than a one-run difference between his ERA and FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 4.97. Sean Manaea was almost untouchable in another injury shortened season, and Frankie Montas is now back after an 80-game suspension. Montas was outstanding in limited time for Oakland with a 9-2 start with a 2.68 ERA. Lastly, there’s stud prospect Jesus Lezardo, who tested positive for COVID-19 back in early July. If he recovers, that’s another excellent arm to add along with A.J. Puk to the back of the rotation.
The A’s never seem to get the credit they deserve for putting an outstanding team on the field despite limited star power and a low payroll. The 2020 Athletics are essentially the same team that won 97 games a season ago with a run differential of +165. The only difference is they get substantial improvements made to their pitching staff that top-eight in ERA and WHIP.
Assuming the full season plays out, I love Oakland to hit the over on 33.5, and would consider it to be one of my best win total bets for 2020.
Los Angeles Angels: UNDER 31.5 wins
The Joe Maddon Experience now heads back to where it all began in Anaheim. After five remarkable seasons on the North Side of Chicago, Maddon won 58% of his games and never once had a losing season for the team once known affectionately as the “Loveable Losers.”
The Angels don’t have that same history by any means, but they’re five years removed from a postseason appearance and 11 years from a playoff victory despite having the best player on the planet on the roster.
Los Angeles brought in Anthony Rendon fresh off a World Series title in Washington to help provide Trout with some stability and protection in the middle of the lineup. Rendon finished with a career-high in runs (117), home runs (34), and RBI (126) and immediately gives a spark to the Angels 18th-ranked offense from a season ago.
The pitching should remain Los Angeles’ greatest concern after ranking 29th in ERA a season ago. They’ll need bigger jumps from Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning, as well as needing to answer whether two-way star Shohei Ohtani will be able to return back to form after being fully recovered from Tommy John Surgery.
I do think the addition of both Maddon and Rendon is substantial towards helping the Angels inch closer to the postseason, the biggest question always comes down to Mike Trout and whether or not he’ll play the full season with his wife due in a month. Matt Martell discussed the details in his latest piece discussing the biggest question surrounding each team.
“Trout has made it clear he will not miss the birth of his first child; his wife Jessica is due some time in August. Trout’s concerns about COVID-19 and his family’s health is justifiable, though he has not yet decided whether he will sit out the 2020 season. Either way, the Angels will be without the best player in baseball for a sizable percentage of this 60-game season.”
My initial lean was on the under even if Trout plays every game. If he misses any time, it becomes much more definitive.
Texas Rangers: OVER 28.5 wins
The Rangers were my flip-flop team for this division.
At first glance, I looked at them as a likely under candidate relying on an older starting rotation with two players coming off career seasons. Mike Minor and Lance Lynn were outstanding, and are likely to regress to the mean in some capacity this season, but they’re also getting a major edge in the new climate controlled ballpark they’re switching to in Arlington.
Globe Life Park allowed the second most runs in the Majors a season ago according to ESPN’s Ballpark Factor Index. In hot steamy weather, the ball flies out of Arlington during the summer months. Now in Globe Life Field, the Rangers will be able to adapt and know the ins and outs of their stadium for weeks.
Their lineup is still very potent with a lot of patient, solid OBP hitters in Shin-Soo Choo, Willie Calhoun and Joey Gallo. Danny Santana is as versatile as they come, they signed Todd Frazier to take over at third base, and Chirinos remains one of the better offensive catchers in baseball.
But what will their pitching become after Minor and Lynn? They brought in Corey Kluber from the Indians as well as free agents Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles from the Twins and Brewers respectively.
Over at Inside the Rangers, Chris Halicke wrote about the addition of Robinson Chirinos back in the fold, and how he believes this pitching staff has the capabilities to get Texas back into the postseason.
“These guys are good. They look good right now. They did everything to be ready for this short season. I’m excited for what we’re going to do as a pitching staff to give this team a chance to get back to the postseason,"
In a 60-game sample, the veteran experience in the rotation plays to the Rangers benefit, particularly if Kluber is healthy in 2020. I like Texas to surprise a bit in the AL West and clear their over, likely landing just over .500.
Seattle Mariners: UNDER 24.5 wins
If you want the perfect example of how crazy baseball can be in a short sample size, consider the 2019 Seattle Mariners.
They began the year 13-2, and were 18-13 at the end of April a season ago. They finished the season 68-94.
Ahead of 2020, there’s no substantial improvements that the Mariners made to put them in a more competitive place. They’re still in the midst of a full-on rebuild and are projected on Fangraphs to win the second-fewest games behind only the Baltimore Orioles.
There is some possibly untapped potential in high-upside arms such as Justus Sheffield and Taijuan Walker, but it’s likely not enough to drastically change the outlook of the season.
If Kyle Seager gets off to a hot start, his bat is likely to be playing elsewhere than in Seattle the rest of the year.
The Mariners should be worse than they were a season ago, and with an improved division as a whole, it’s difficult to have any higher expectations for a team projected around 24.5 wins. I’ll go under and expect them and the Orioles to slug it out for who gets to draft first in 2021.