MLB Betting: 2009 A.L. West Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/04/2009
The American League West is a grab bag of baseball philosophies and styles and has a little something for everyone that likes to watch or wager on our (former) National Pastime. There are softball-type sluggers, grind-it-out small ballers, speed-and-defense demons, and, well, then there's the Mariners.
The variety of systems at work out West is one of the things that makes this division so unique. That, and the intimacy that develops from only having four dogs in the fight for the division title. The Angels have won back-to-back division titles and were the runaway winners out West last season. But each of their competitors made significant structural shifts in the offseason in an attempt to close the gap. The results should make for one of the more unpredictable divisions…even if we already know how it's going to end.
Here is a look at Doc's Sports A.L. West preview:
Los Angeles Angels
2008 Record: 100-62 (+2325)
2009 Wins Over/Under: 88.5
Odds To Win 2009 AL West: 1-to-2
Odds To Win 2009 AL Pennant: 7-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 World Series: 13-to-1
To be the champs you gotta beat the champs. And the Angels have won the A.L. West four of the last five years with the same core of players that they'll be rolling with this season. They won 100 games last year, had the division all but sown up by the Fourth of July, and were the second-most profitable wager in the Majors last year. They came up short in October but you can't say the year wasn't a success.
However, entering the year there are some red flags here. The Angels won 100 games last year, yet the over/under for their wins this season is just 88.5. Doesn't that strike anyone as odd considering that the Angels have won 92 games or more in five of the last seven seasons? Certainly there are some feisty sharks beneath them, but no other team in this division has the infrastructure to wrestle the division away from Mike Scioscia's crew.
The Angels bid farewell to Mark Teixeira and Frank Rodriquez during the offseason. But I think those losses will be offset somewhat by the fact that John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar are healthy and ready for action and that they've brought in Brian Fuentes to shore up the back end of the pen. This team steals bases, plays defense, and can win games a variety of ways. And they were the best road wager in the league last year, winning an astounding 50 of 81 road games.
The Angels won't win the division by 21 games again this year and probably won't win 63 percent of their divisional games. But they are still the Big Dogs. They were on pace for 100 wins without Tex last year. They will feel the loss of K-Rod but won't completely lose their edge.
2008 Record: 75-86 (-725)
2009 Wins Over/Under: 80.5
Odds To Win 2009 AL West: 2-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 AL Pennant: 16-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 World Series: 35-to-1
I guess Oakland finally realized that you can't win games simply by not allowing the opponent to score runs - you actually have to score some yourself. Just about every move the A's made in the offseason was designed to address an offense that has been one of the worst in baseball over the last two years. They made what was, in my mind, the most surprising move of the offseason in getting Matt Holliday to play the outfield and bat cleanup. They backed that up by bringing back Jason Giambi and signing vets Orlando Cabrera and (soon) Nomar Garciaparra. Clearly management thinks this team can compete now.
I really don't know what to expect out of this club. They used 54 different players in 2007 (a team record) and then used 51 different players in 2008, so obviously cohesion is an issue. Now they are forcing unpredictable veterans into the mix and expecting to challenge the very established, very talented Angels in the division. It might work out, but I'm certainly not buying just yet.
Further, Oakland has dealt Dan Haren, Rich Harden and Joe Blanton all within the last 20 months. And they haven't done much to replace them. They have some young arms with promise but no one that has proven themselves as legitimate 25- to 30-start guys. You can't win without pitching. And while the A's always seem to churn out top-flight arms it's an awful lot to gamble on.
Oakland will be better, that's for sure. They had slipped from Little Organization That Could to totally irrelevant in a two-year span and needed to regain their edge. I think they have. But there are still a lot of question marks - both with young players trying to find their way, pitching, and aging vets with serious injury issues - for me to do anything but take a wait-and-see approach.
2008 Record: 79-83 (+810)
2009 Wins Over/Under: 74.5
Odds To Win 2009 AL West: 8-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 AL Pennant: 35-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 World Series: 70-to-1
Outlook: Softball. That's what the Rangers play night in and night out. They have one of the most explosive and most productive lineups in baseball and they are the bane of 'under' bettors everywhere. They scored 901 runs, most in the Majors, and even managed to do so while battling injuries all season long. They finished 83-73 against the total, fourth-best in the league, and even without Milton Bradley they should ring up around 800-850 runs again this season.
But we've seen teams like this before, in Texas and in other places, and it doesn't usually result in wins. They led the league in runs, but also led in relief innings pitched, errors, unearned runs, and had the worst bullpen ERA in baseball. Injuries hit them hardest in the bullpen and a key to Texas's season is the health of its back-end guys.
Their pitching staff wasn't upgraded at all in the offseason and they are still in a situation where they are relying on guys like Kevin Millwood and Vincente Padilla as their No. 1 and No. 2. The problem is that they clearly aren't frontline starters and never will be. They don't have any innings eaters, and when the starters aren't getting out of the fourth or fifth inning that puts too much pressure on the relievers. Texas didn't upgrade its personnel but they did bring in Milwaukee pitching coach Mike Maddux (huge pickup) and Nolan Ryan is taking an active role in shaping the arms this season as well. However, unless the 62-year old Ryan or 47-year old Maddux have some innings left in them this team is not going to be any better off.
Last year they were a pleasant surprise for a majority of the season and they surpassed the modest expectations that were laid on them prior to the year. But that was then. And now the issue is whether or not they can take the next step and actually be a player in this division or if they will remain a sideshow playing home run derby.
2008 Record: 61-101 (-3660)
2009 Wins Over/Under: 71.5
Odds To Win 2009 AL West: 10-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 AL Pennant: 50-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 World Series: 100-to-1
New coach. New general manager. New season. But…………the Mariners should still suck pretty badly. They lost 101 games in 2008. And while they shouldn't hit the floor that hard again this time around I look at this roster and don't see any more than 70 wins.
Besides Ichiro, Jose Lopez, Yuni Betancourt and Adrian Beltre there aren't many reliable, bona fide MLB hitters in this lineup. Ken Griffey Jr. is back, and that's a nice PR move and everything, but he won't be enough to make them competitive. They have a lot of unproven young players and cast offs, but not many difference makers. I think management was at least smart enough to recognize that and upgraded themselves defensively in the outfield. That should help and I think they are trying to convert themselves into a "small ball" team similar to what is played in the N.L. West.
The issue is that to play that style of baseball you need excellent pitching. Besides King Felix, who really was a horse last year despite not getting any help around him, there is not a lot to work with. Erik Bedard was injured in his first year in Seattle and has to contribute. On top of that, the bullpen was gutted as they have dealt or reassigned the best pieces in their pen over the last two years. And if they think that Miguel Batista is going to be a capable closer, um, I'm going to go ahead and take the 'under' on that wins total.