As we wrap up our Major League Baseball division previews, we come to what might be the most fun division in baseball – not the one with the most total wins, mind you, but one every fan will enjoy watching.
The biggest question heading into the season: Will the Seattle Mariners be the team that finally gives the Houston Astros a run for their money? I mean, other than Astros fans, who isn’t sick of seeing them run away from the other teams come late August and September?
They now have won five division championships over the past six seasons. Do we really count 2020 either, in which the Athletics took the title in a truncated 60-game, pandemic-plagued campaign?
In other words, there hasn’t been very much drama here. But it still has been fun with lots of home runs, plenty of big-name stars and a team from the Pacific Northwest that is trying to make sure they were not a one-season wonder.
Can it be closer in 2023? Let’s break down each team and digest the American League West futures.
Odds to win the AL West: -200
Odds to win the American League: +250
Odds to win the World Series: +400 (MLB favorite)
The defending World Champions finally moved well past their trashcan debacle and clearly were the best team in baseball, despite all the preseason talk of the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.
But it would be sort of silly to think the Astros can win 106 games again this season, especially with the fact they lost Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander in free agency. Also, while their rotation is still one of the best in the American League, they are now suddenly mighty shallow after the top four with injuries to Lance McCullers and rookie Hunter Brown (back), who is expected to return as early as the first week of the season. (Although back problems are finicky, even for someone who is 24 years old.)
Big bopper Jose Abreu comes over from the White Sox to play first base, but can he return to form after a very sub-par 2022 season in which he only hit 15 homers and collected 75 RBIs in 157 games? Other than that, Jeremy Pena is ready for a second season at shortstop in taking over for Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman is a stalwart in the lineup, and Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker already are superstars at just 25 and 26 years old, respectively.
Houston will be tough to knock from its perch, but it certainly isn’t impossible, and it would be a surprise if they ran away like they have in the recent past.
Odds to win the AL West: +350
Odds to win the American League: +800
Odds to win the World Series: +1800
Much of the buzz in the AL West this offseason has been on the two teams from Texas, and that includes the Rangers, who suddenly seem to be a contender after they acquired shortstop Corey Seager before the 2022 season and fireballer extraordinaire Jacob deGrom this past offseason.
But if you overlook this M’s team and think they are just a one-year wonder, you’re making a big mistake. As the oddsmakers are telling you, Seattle is a real threat in the American League, and if any team is going to knock the mighty Astros from their lofty perch, it’s most likely going to be this one.
They have one of the game’s youngest and brightest superstars in the making in 22-year-old AL Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez, who easily could be a 30-30 guy in 2023 if he can cut down on his strikeout rate. Speaking of strikeouts, the Human Fan, aka Eugenio Suarez had almost identical power numbers his first year in Seattle as he did in Cincinnati, which means when hitters get on in front of him with two outs, there’s a good chance he’ll either hit a multi-run homer or whiff.
Kolten Wong comes over from Milwaukee in the infield with first baseman Ty France, who has hit 38 homers combined the past two seasons with 156 total RBIs, and he has been very good this spring.
All this and we have yet to mention their rotation is not quite as solid as Houston’s, but it is darned close. Look for lots of strikeouts at the top with Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray and young Logan Gilbert.
Los Angeles Angels
Odds to win the AL West: +800
Odds to win the American League: +2200
Odds to win the World Series: +4000
Every year it seems it’s the same thing with the Angels: They have possibly the best two players in baseball in Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, so how can they NOT be good? But yet, they continue to disappoint. Even former manager Joe Maddon couldn’t do anything with them and was fired last season in the midst of a 14-game losing streak.
The problem is the rest of the lineup – and rotation other than Ohtani – is extremely underwhelming. Remember when Anthony Rendon was going to come over and be a hitting force behind Trout in the lineup? Yeah, not so much.
Second baseman Luis Regifo was a nice surprise last season, but there just isn’t enough here to think the Angels will be a serious contender, and they likely aren’t even as good as the Texas Rangers, who have the same preseason win total.
Odds to win the AL West: +1100
Odds to win the American League: +2200
Odds to win the World Series: +5000
Jacob deGrom. The Rangers’ offseason can be summed up in that one name, and now many feel as if this team can be transformed from a loser for the past six seasons to one that could possibly contend once again in the American League West, where they won four division titles from 2010 to 2016 and won back-to-back AL pennants in ’10 and ’11.
The problem is deGrom, even if he can remain healthy from April to September, something he hasn’t done in a full season since 2019, only pitches every fifth start. The team also brought Nathan Eovaldi over from Boston, but now 33 years old, he hasn’t pitched more than 125 innings in a single season since 2015.
In fact, the top five starters in the Rangers’ rotation are all 31 or older, so what are the chances they won’t need a sixth, seventh or possibly even an eighth pitcher to take the bump?
With Corey Seager and company, the Texas offense has a chance to be good, but with the aforementioned question marks, it’s tough to take this team seriously in an effort to unseat the Astros or place a bet on them even at +195 to make the playoffs.
Odds to win the AL West: +25000
Odds to win the American League: +20000
Odds to win the World Series: +30000
How many keystrokes do you want us to waste on a team that has zero chance to be a factor in this division? This very well could be the worst starting rotation in baseball, and the Athletics’ “ace,” Paul Blackburn, is opening the season with a finger injury he suffered toward the end of last season and could be out until late April.
Quick: Name Oakland’s biggest threat on offense. Journeyman first baseman Jesus Aguilar? Likely DH Seth Brown and his .230 batting average?
OK, that’s enough. Nothing to see here.
AL West best bet: Seattle to win more than 87.5 games (-110)
While there is nice value in the Mariners to win the AL West at +350, we don’t see how they don’t win at least as many games as they did last season with those stars and that rotation. There’s less value in them making the playoffs at -170, but that seems like a solid bet, as well.
In all, we project Houston to win about eight fewer games this season, which means possibly another two or three wins for Seattle. Meanwhile, don’t expect the Angels and Rangers to nearly live up to the hype (not that the Angels have a ton of hype), and the Athletics are easy money for a team like the Mariners.
While it is hard to get too fired up about a team that made the playoffs last season for the first time in 21 years, we think it’s anything but a fluke. Seattle could well be back in contention for several years to come.