As the baseball season creeps towards a start, it's the time of year when all we can do is stare at rosters and try to imagine what is possible. I've been looking at the American League a lot recently. As I have done that - combining roster study with win totals and futures in a search for value - two teams have been really standing out to me. The more I look at them, the more I think they have a good chance to exceed what the odds tell us the expectations are and deliver some nice profits to believers.
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Toronto Blue Jays: Toronto had a magical year last year but a hugely-disappointing offseason - losing a GM and an ace without much resistance - has tempered expectations significantly. There seems to be a perception that the Red Sox and Yankees have returned to their rightful spot atop the AL East with their offseason moves and that Toronto is, at best, one of three contenders - and less than that in the view of many. While that is certainly a possibility, the more I have looked at the division, the more I think it is possible that the Jays could not only win it again but do so fairly convincingly. They have a chance to exceed their season win total (87) by 10 or a dozen games.
Losing David Price hurts - especially losing him to Boston - but it doesn't signal the end of good pitching in Canada. Marcus Stroman was brilliant after returning from injury last year and is ready to be a true ace. Marco Estrada gets far less credit than he deserves. Between J.A. Happ, Jesse Chavez, and Aaron Sanchez there are the ingredients for a decent back-end of a rotation. Combine that with an upgraded bullpen and the pitching should be decent with some luck and some health.
Here's the thing about this team - the pitching doesn't need to be as good as it does for other teams. Not with the bats they have. They are still going to be able to score a lot of runs. The only piece of the playoff core last year that is gone is left fielder Ben Revere, and they have good depth to replace him - he was expendable. Josh Donaldson is the reigning MVP, and Troy Tulowitzki gets to start the season with the team so he should be more comfortable and productive. Bautista and Encarnacion are back and ready to mash. They should have more clarity at first base, too. They are going to score - a lot.
I believe in the formula the team is employing - pitch fairly well and score consistently. I think it has the chance to work about as well as it did last year. Remember, the team had to make a big comeback after the trade deadline to win the division last year. More consistency early on can make them less in need of heroics and can lead to success. They also learned a lot about winning - and losing - last year and can build on that going forward. This is a team with a real chance to seriously exceed expectations.
Seattle Mariners: In part I pick the Mariners here because I pick them pretty much every year, and sooner or later it is going to come through. This is a team that has had a whole lot of talent on the squad through the years, but they have never really been able to make it all work for them as intended. They have one of the best pitchers in American League history, and all he does is win and win and win but he has nothing to show for it. This year not a lot seems to be expected, either - after winning 76 games last year the win total is at just 83. There are reasons, though, to believe that they could be more successful than that - quite a bit more successful.
The team needed a change of attitude, and they got it this offseason. GM Jack Zduriencik had done some good things, but not enough of them. They axed him in September and replaced him with Jerry Dipoto. Dipoto had previously been GM with the Angels. He's an analytics guy who struggled to get on the same page statistically with old-school manager Mike Scioscia. Dipoto got to hire his own manager, and he made a bit of a surprising hire in Scott Servais. He hasn't been a manager before, but the former player was Dipoto's assistant GM in Anaheim, so you can be sure that they will have no problem working together. The hiring of Servais has grown on me since the initial shock, and I think it could work well.
Dipoto wasted no time overhauling this squad. There are 17 players on the 40-man roster that weren't there last year. The moves have mostly been solid, and the team feels more stable than last year. The rotation isn't totally proven behind the great Felix Hernandez, but Hisashi Iwakuma is solid, Wade Miley is a decent addition, Taijuan Walker is a 23 year old with massive upside, and James Paxton has shown some spark in 13 starts in each of the last two seasons. There's a lot to like - even if it is more potential than guaranteed success. The roster should be able to hit, and the bullpen is decent. They aren't guaranteed giant killers, but they have the kind of roster that can easily exceed expectations if they can all get on the same page. With a new vision and new unity amongst management, that could just happen. We'll have a pretty good idea by the end of May if this team is going to be relevant. I'll be watching closely until then.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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