For the first time in five seasons, Houston isn’t the odds-on choice to win the AL West, which should make for some wide-open baseball futures betting for 2021.
It’s a far cry from 2019 when the Astros were an obscene 1-9 preseason pick to win the loop. They went on to romp by 10 games over Oakland and take the AL flag.
Last MLB season, though, the Astros returned to the pack at 29-31, seven games behind Oakland, but still squeezed into the bloated playoffs as a sixth seed and somewhat miraculously pushed top-seeded Tampa Bay to seven games in the ALCS.
Which Astros team will we see this season? Here’s a look at how the West should shake out while identifying the most attractive futures opportunity. The 2021 pennant/World Series MLB odds listed below (BetMGM doesn’t offer pennant info).:
AL West/World Series Odds DraftKings William Hill BetMGM Houston +1000/+2200 +900/+2200 TBD/+2200 Oakland +900/+2500 +900/+2200 TBD/+2500 LA Angels +2000/+4000 +2000/+4000 TBD/+4000 Seattle +5000/+10000 +5000/+10000 TBD/+10000 Texas +5000/+15000 +5000/+12500 TBD/+15000
The Astros still have key components of a lineup that won the stained Series in 2017, but for the most part, those hitters had dismal regular seasons last year before triggering the team’s postseason surge.
Assuming sluggers Carlos Correa, who gets hurt a lot, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman – all still in their prime – snap back to near their normal production, they should again be able to lead the Astros’ return to the top of the West heap. And it wouldn’t hurt to wear earplugs when in enemy venues where fans no doubt will be reminding them of their sign-stealing ways.
But the Astros’ climb back up won’t be easy. They suffered a key offseason loss with the departure of OF George Springer, who signed a mega-deal with Toronto. Springer was the sole Astro with double-digit homers (14) last year and averaged almost 32 a year the previous three full seasons.
On the mound, Houston also will again be without star RHP Justin Verlander, who will need all of 2021 to recover from Tommy John surgery. And in a more temporary setback, LHP Framber Valdez is dealing with a fractured ring finger.
Greybeard RHP Zack Greinke, the team’s opening-day starter, is good enough and should be helped immensely by the recent addition of ex-Twins starter RHP Jake Odorizzi.
In a relatively weak division, 88 wins could win it and Houston can handle that.
Also In The Mix
Oakland’s success last year, on the heels of a pair of 97-win wild-card seasons, is somewhat misleading in that it played only six of its 60 games against teams with a winning record, going 2-4. In its other 54 vs. teams that went a collective 52 games under .500, the A’s went 34-20.
Third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson, who headline the attack, are coming off awful pandemic-ravaged seasons (Olson hit .195, Chapman .232) for a team that finished only ahead of Texas in AL batting average. They better step up or even a run to a wild card will be difficult.
The A’s appear due for a slide after three dynamic overachieving seasons.
That opens the door for Mike Trout and his long-dormant Angels, who over the past four seasons have finished an average of 22 games off the West pace.
Trout is expected to be stupendous as usual after hitting 17 HRs last season despite missing seven games. And the addition of ex-Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, who led LA in OBP last season, gives the team a meaty middle of the lineup. If Albert Pujols can fend off Father Time for another season and Shohei Ohtani can avoid injury, this group could be potent.
Dylan Bundy is a nice head of the rotation, too.
Seattle and Texas are expected to bring up the rear.
The Rangers, in particular, have little to brag about except maybe for having the most total stolen bases over the past two seasons. That’s particularly amazing considering they had the American League’s worst batting average at .217 (Horrors!) last year and scored the fewest runs.
And this year they no longer can pin their hopes on a couple of veteran pitchers in two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber (Yankees) and Lance Lynn (White Sox). Both departed. Maybe next year fans in south Texas will see progress. Or the year after.
Then there’s Seattle, which hasn’t been to the postseason since 2001. That was the year the team won 116 games and took the West by 14 games.
The Mariners have a nice collection of young pitching and hitting talent, but seem inclined to wait until midseason or even next year to take a look. Too bad.
Best futures value is …
In a division with no supremely dominant team, the Angels get the vote thanks to their offensive potential.
A look at the NL East.
(With regard to Houston’s 29-31 season: Only two teams in the history of North America’s four major sports have won a title despite having a losing record in the regular season: the NHL‘s Blackhawks in 1937-38 and Maple Leafs in 1948-49.)