Baseball fans in Los Angeles and elsewhere have lamented that so many of Mike Trout’s years were wasted on bad teams. That’s not so much the case in 2022, as Trout and fellow superstar Shohei Ohtani are leading a prolific attack that might have enough to bump the Houston Astros from the top spot in the American League West, where they’ve finished four of the last five years (finishing second only in the condensed 2020 campaign).
As the teams get through the quarter pole in this long trip around the track, it’s worth taking a look at what’s gone right and wrong in the AL West as it relates to those betting online.
The most impactful year-to-year change for Houston Astros– and perhaps the entire division — has been the return of Justin Verlander. After sitting out 2021 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, the future Hall of Famer is bidding for a third career Cy Young Award.
With an MLB-leading 1.22 ERA and a 6-1 record, Verlander has spearheaded the best staff in the American League. His only loss was in his return appearance against the Angels in which he gave up one run in five innings.
The team hasn’t missed Carlos Correa one bit, as rookie Jeremy Pena has been spectacular at shortstop. Jose Altuve is doing Jose Altuve things with a .288 average and nine home runs tops among second basemen. If and when Alex Bregman comes around (he leads the AL with 26 walks, so he’s seeing the ball okay), a lineup that ranks third in the AL in OPS will be even more dangerous.
Despite the fact that the Angels are only two games back entering Thursday, the Astros’ odds of claiming the division have actually improved since the preseason, from -165 to -240. That reflects the uber-successful return of Verlander and most others rounding into shape.
To add to it all, Houston has the second-easiest remaining schedule. Consider that when analyzing your MLB lines.
Trout’s bounce-back from an injury-shortened 2021 season contends with Verlander as the biggest impact on the division. In fact, he is on target for perhaps his best season, with an otherworldly 1.099 OPS and a pace of nearly a run scored per game.
That sparks the highest-scoring offense in the AL and the only team in the majors with at least 60 home runs and doubles. Ohtani, the reigning MVP, has seen his offensive numbers go down a bit but remains spectacular on the mound.
It’s all about the supporting pieces with this squad. Jared Walsh is again on pace to push for about 30 homers, and the emergence of Taylor Ward (.370, nine home runs) and Brandon Marsh (.273, 24 RBIs) really lengthens a lineup that has fallen off a shelf in years past. Shortstop Andrew Velasquez won’t hit like them, but he’s a brilliant defender.
The Los Angeles Angels finished last season with a 4.69 ERA. That number has plummeted to 3.45 in 2022 behind Ohtani, Patrick Sandoval, and newcomers Mike Lorenzen and Noah Syndergaard.
That’s not a group that’s going away anytime soon, and the team’s odds to win the division (+200) are an intriguing bet.
The Texas Rangers made the biggest splash this offseason with massive upgrades up the middle in shortstop Corey Seager and second baseman Marcus Semien. Neither is knocking the cover off the ball, especially Semien, but the moves signaled this was an organization intent on moving up the ladder.
Texas doesn’t hit well (.645 OPS, 12th in AL), doesn’t pitch well (one of three AL teams with a staff ERA over 4.00) and it isn’t the cleanest defensive team (26 errors is fifth-most in the AL). But the notion that this is a team that is supposed to start winning seems to have rubbed off a bit – they have a knack for stealing some games, leading the majors with a .932 OPS in late/close situations.
The Rangers have already played the Astros eight times and the Angels nine times. They’ve also had visits to Yankee Stadium and Rogers Centre and a home series with the surging Red Sox. It amounts to the most difficult schedule in baseball thus far.
Most pegged Texas to finish last. But with a change in philosophy, a series of early tests in a tough slate, and a few big bats that should get going in that Arlington heat, this unit could be a boon for those that took the over on their win total when making MLB picks.
Once the lockout ended, the fire sale began in Oakland Athletics. Billy Beane shipped away Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, and Chris Bassitt in three separate trades over a five-day span, and sent Sean Manaea to San Diego days before the regular season began.
Not much remains from the team that reached the postseason each year from 2018-20, and the preseason action at the sportsbook reflected that. What’s left in the lineup is a collection of players that might come off the bench elsewhere or quadruple-A types that are hoping to get hot and stick around. They are last in the AL in batting average (.212) and 12th in runs.
A few good young arms have kept Oakland somewhat respectable. Paul Blackburn is 5-0 with a 1.70 ERA after blanking Seattle over 5⅓ innings on Wednesday. Closer Dany Jimenez and fellow reliever A.J. Puk, the No. 6 overall pick in 2016, have combined to allow three earned runs in 37⅓ innings.
The staff should allow the A’s to eke out enough low-scoring wins and perhaps challenge Texas and Seattle for third place.
Here’s the biggest disappointment in the division. They brought in the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray and imported Reds sluggers, Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker. Three solid additions for a team that was coming off its first 90-win campaign since 2003 and boasts some top-notch young talent in Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic.
Kelenic has stumbled, Winker and Suarez are both hitting .216 and Mitch Haniger (39 homers in 2021) has been hurt. The team may miss longtime stalwart Kyle Seager, who retired after belting a career-high 35 homers last year, more than anticipated.
The bullpen has been an issue, posting a 4.34 ERA that’s better than only one team in the AL. And Ray looks a lot more like the pitcher who had a 4.26 career mark before putting it all together for Toronto last year.
Seattle Mariners have had one of the more difficult slates thus far and their expected win-loss record is a shade better than reality, so there could be some better days ahead. Right now, however, the M’s are not looking like a safe MLB bet and they’ll be challenged to hit on preseason prognostications that had them pegged as an over.500 team.