From the looks of the MLB futures odds, the two Lone Star State teams will rule the AL West Division in 2017. Can Seattle sneak in and upset Texas and Houston?
Last year: 50-48 (+4.75)
Since 2012: 575-487-25 (+90.3)
It really hasn't been much of a rivalry between the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros lately. Though their stadiums sit just 250 miles apart, a short drive by Lone Star State standards, the distance between the two clubs on the field has been much greater.
During their interleague days, it was Houston with the upper hand in the I-45 series. That started to change a few seasons before the Astros relocated to the American League, and the Rangers have continued that by utterly dominating play as division foes. Texas has won three of the four season series since Houston switched leagues, taking 53 of the 76 contests.
All of that adds up to their 2017 matchups being even more crucial since the Astros and Rangers are favored at SBR's top-rated sports books to battle for the AL West crown.
Astros Beef Up Offense By Bringing Back Beltran
Though the Rangers won 15 of 19 a year ago, it's the Astros who are going off a little higher than Texas in 2017. Houston is a 6/1 choice to win the Junior Circuit, that return putting the 'Stros third in the AL behind Boston (3/2) and Cleveland (5/1). After making a surprise entrance into the 2014 playoffs, Houston slumped a bit last year and finished third with an 84-78 record, 11 games south of the Rangers.
Offense was the offseason focus for GM Jeff Luhnow, the Astros adding catcher Brian McCann and DH Carlos Beltran, both of whom started last year with the New York Yankees, plus outfielders Josh Reddick and Nori Aoki. They'll join Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman to form a potent lineup, and Houston continues to search for another starting pitcher to beef up the mound corps.
Coming off an AL-best 95 wins, Texas is listed around 8/1 on the MLB futures odds to win its third AL pennant. Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels lead a solid rotation that also features Andrew Cashner and Martin Perez. The Rangers are hoping to have Tyson Ross added to that mix by midseason after the big righthander underwent thoracic outlet surgery in October. The bullpen could turn into a closer-by-committee for manager Jeff Bannister, and the team is working on bringing Mike Napoli back to help the offense. It would be Napoli's third stint with Texas, and he's a .257 hitter at the Rangers' hitter-friendly ballpark with 34 HR.
Mariners Banking On Big Sticks And Return To Form For King Felix
Seattle finished second behind Texas last season, and the Mariners check in third on the MLB odds right now as 12/1 picks to win their first AL title. The M's got the job done last year by clubbing teams to death behind a 223-HR assault. Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager form the nucleus of the lineup that added shortstop Jean Segura and speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson during the winter. The biggest questions surround the pitching and whether or not Feliz Hernandez can bounce back from an off year while fireballing lefty James Paxton takes the next step towards becoming a shut-down starter.
That leaves Los Angeles and Oakland to bring up the rear of the division, and as 60/1 options in the AL, neither the Angels nor the Athletics will disappoint in those projections. The Halos could surprise us and reach the .500 level, which would likely come at the expense of at least one of the division contenders. Mike Trout remains the best player in the game, but he can't do it alone and the starting pitching is suspect at best. Oakland is a potential 100-loss disaster at this time, and the A's continue to look for ways to deal starting pitcher Sonny Gray. Expect to see them on the wrong end of a lot of free baseball picks once the season gets underway.