Who would've thought that the addition of Houston a few years ago would've turned the American League West into a potential powerhouse? But with two potential American League pennant favorites and two other potential spoilers, the West should be one of the most balanced and potentially unpredictable divisions in the sport.
Last year's West race was, along with the National League Central, one of the most exciting in baseball. Three of the five teams won at least 85 games, and a quick scan of this year's Las Vegas Season Win Total odds shows that the books have four teams all projected to finish at or above .500. It should make for a wild ride out West and, much like the American League East, this division enters the season without a true frontrunner.
Here is a look at Doc's Sports 2016 A.L. West picks with some betting predictions (with odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag):
Los Angeles Angels
2015 Record: 85-77 (+230)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 81.5
Odds To Win 2016 AL West: +500
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +1500
Odds To Win 2016 World Series: +3000
Outlook: This team is just Mike Trout and A Bunch of Dudes. Trout is one the short list of the best two or three players in baseball. But he can't do it himself. And despite one of the more bloated payrolls in baseball the Angels are nowhere near being one of the better teams in their league.
Aging Albert Pujols can still be dangerous in stretches behind Trout. And Yunel Escobar, Kole Calhoun and C.J. Cron are all streaky hitters that can do some real damage if they are in a groove. But there isn't a sure thing among them, and after those five already mentioned hitters there's a whole lot of nothing. Andrelton Simmons was acquired this offseason and is the best defensive shortstop in baseball. But he doesn't hit, and this lineup will need him to.
Garrett Richards is a bit of an enigma for the Angels and is a bit overrated. He won 15 games last year but wasn't nearly as dominating as his out-of-nowhere 2014 effort. Jered Weaver is basically Eddie Harris from "Major League" at this point. And Hector Santiago and Matt Shoemaker aren't going to scare anyone in what is a really mediocre rotation.
Beyond trout, there's really nothing to like about this Angels team. They aren't going to be as bad as full-blown rebuilding teams like Oakland. But I don't see them as much of a factor. They certainly have enough talent to get hot for a couple of weeks and go on some streaks. But I have a really hard team projecting anything but .500 as the ceiling for this group.
2015 Record: 76-86 (-2050)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 82.5
Odds To Win 2016 AL West: +450
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +1800
Odds To Win 2016 World Series: +3500
Outlook: If anyone were capable of wrecking the party in the A.L. West it would have to be the Seattle Mariners. With three of the best players in baseball and a whole new cast of characters brought in this offseason, the Mariners should have a bit of a new feel. But while they swapped out a lot of pieces this winter, I don't know that they are necessarily a better team, just a different one.
Robinson Cano hasn't exactly paid dividends on his monumental contract. But he's still a top-tier talent. As is DH Nelson Cruz. Kyle Seager had somewhat of a breakout season last year, and I think that the key to this year's lineup is first baseman Adam Lind. Seattle opted for speed in the outfield, and new addition Nori Aoki is expected to add stability to the top of the order. But how this attack fares will rest almost squarely on the shoulders of the four power hitters - Cano, Cruz, Seager and Lind - in the middle of the order.
The pitching staff could be among the top in the American League. Felix Hernandez has shown some troubling signs of decline. But he's still one of the best in the business. Hisashi Iwakuma is extremely underrated and Taijuan Walker is erratic, but talented. Young Nathan Karns and lefty Wade Miley fill out the rest of the rotation. Karns will fill out the rest of the rotation. Seattle's bullpen is capable, but not dominant.
Seattle manager Scott Servais has never managed - or even coached - at the Big League level and was a bit of a dangerous choice to lead this team. It could be a stroke of genius. Or it could undermine their efforts to rebuild and rebrand. Seattle is certainly a wild card in this division. But unless they generate more offense to support their young, talented arms then Seattle will remain in the second tier.
2015 Record: 68-94 (-2940)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 75.5
Odds To Win 2016 AL West: +2000
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +5000
Odds To Win 2016 World Series: +8000
Outlook: It was over a decade ago that Billy Beane was elevated to the level of Baseball Guru when he was immortalized in "Moneyball". However, since then Beane has slowly but surely learned a lesson that any seasoned gambler knows: when you have a great system - you keep it to yourself! Every small market team in the Majors now utilizes some of the techniques that Beane helped popularize. And the result is an Oakland franchise that is caught in baseball limbo.
Oakland's payroll is too small, its ballpark is a dump, and general interest and talent in regards to this team might be at their lowest levels in 20 years. Oakland has some pitching. Sonny Gray is one of the best young hurlers in the game. And guys like Jesse Hahn and Kendall Graveman have shown flashes of being capable starters. But this rotation isn't nearly as stacked as it was in its heyday and is a long way from being good enough to carry this squad.
As good as Beane has been, he made two awful deals to move Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes. The A's haven't recovered. Josh Reddick is excellent. Billy Butler is a pro's pro, even if he is on the back end of his career, and Coco Crisp will end up being a good player for someone this year. Beyond that there's just more questions than answers and too many of the everyday A's have ceilings that are too low to compete for 162 games with the lineups in Houston and Texas.
Beane might have been out front of the sabermetric revolution. But now the A's are lagging behind. And based on the articles I've read this offseason he has been looking longingly at what Houston has done in recent seasons to rebuild its organization. If Beane goes that way it will mean a fire sale and a strip-down rebuild of this team and that will result in Oakland becoming one of the worst teams in baseball.
2015 Record: 88-74 (+2960)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 83.5
Odds To Win 2016 AL West: +300
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +900
Odds To Win 2016 World Series: +2000
Outlook: No team in the Majors has had to endure as many injuries as the Rangers the past two seasons. But despite spending the first four months of last season below .500, the Rangers made the surprise move of adding Cole Hamels at the trade deadline. The maneuver sparked a second-half surge that led Texas into the postseason as the A.L. West champions, and the Rangers are hoping that momentum carries over into this season.
Hamels is back and provides stability at the top-end of the Rangers rotation. But what Texas is really hoping for is a healthy return of Yu Darvish in May after Tommy John surgery. If that happens then the Rangers will have the rotational stability that they've lacked since their back-to-back World Series teams.
The lineup is still stacked on paper, but Texas will need to cross its fingers and hope that its aging crop of superstars can stay healthy and productive. Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton are all capable of playing among the best in the league at their respective positions. But that group has also logged a lot of innings and has lost plenty of tread from the tire. There are still plenty of nice complimentary pieces, though, including Shin-Soo Choo, Mitch Moreland and Ian Desmond.
Texas is a dangerous team this year. When - and maybe if - their pitching staff gets to full strength then this team has all the components of a title contender: high-end talent, depth, experience, veteran leadership, big bats and live arms. The key, as always, is health. They've been decimated by injuries most of the past two seasons. Was that bad luck or the direct result of banking on so many aging or injury-prone players? The answer to that question will determine where Texas finishes in the standings.
2015 Record: 86-76 (-280)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 88.0
Odds To Win 2016 AL West: +110
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +550
Odds To Win 2016 World Series: +1400
Outlook: The Astros were the biggest surprise in baseball last season. Despite being just two years removed from a 111-loss season, the Astros managed to slug their way back to the postseason for the first time in a decade. With everyone back in the fold the Astros are one of the favorites in the American League -- the franchise has as bright of a future as any in baseball.
Shortstop Carlos Correa is one of the best young players in baseball (think: young Alex Rodriguez, minus the steroids and soulless demeanor). He is at the heart of a lineup that slugged 230 home runs last season, just two behind the big-bopping Blue Jays. Houston can get in trouble with its free-swinging, all-or-nothing home run approach. But a full season of Carlos Gomez will give the attack a boost and second baseman and hitting machine Jose Altuve is a stabilizer.
Dallas Keuchel won the Cy Young last year and was dominating at the top of the Astros rotation. The loudmouth lefty will be the anchor again, while live young arms Colin McHugh and Lance McCullers back him up. Doug Fister and Mike Fiers are more than capable in the No. 4 and No. 5 slot, and the Astros bullpen will benefit from having fireballer Ken Giles all season.
Houston's total sabermetric-fueled rebuilding job, which resulted in a combined 112-324 record from 2011-2013, is complete. And now the Astros are in a position to compete for both an A.L. West crown and an A.L. pennant, both this year and for several years to come. And what's scary is that Houston actually underachieved last year, winning eight games fewer than their Pythagorean Wins suggested. This team will be a force all summer.
2016 American League West Picks and Predictions: Predicted Order of Finish
1. Los Angeles Angels
2. Seattle Mariners
3. Oakland A's
4. Texas Rangers
5. Houston Astros
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Robert Ferringo is a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the top MLB cappers in the country and has turned a profit in three consecutive baseball seasons (and six of his last eight). Robert closed 2015 with an amazing $11,400 in earnings over the last four months and this summer will try for four straight profitable years. He is looking forward to a great upcoming season against the MLB odds. Click here for more information on his MLB picks.
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