Defending Champion Astros Again the Pick in AL West

Willie Bee

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 7:51 PM UTC

Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018 7:51 PM UTC

The Houston Astros ran away with the AL West in 2017 en route to a World Series title, but while the MLB futures odds favor them again in the division this season it won’t be as easy.

The next time Sports Illustrated picks a World Series winner three years out, I’m guessing more people will sit up and take notice instead of dismissing it as much of the baseball world did when the publication’s June 2014 boldly predicted the Houston Astros would win the 2017 championship. Sports Illustrated even included eventual World Series MVP George Springer on the cover.

Houston made SI look like geniuses, even if the accompanying story had more to do with how analytics were taking over front offices and pushing old-style scouting reports to the side than it did with predicting the 2017 Fall Classic. The Astros made mincemeat of their AL West rivals, taking the division by a whopping 21 games and then leaving millions of fans crying in the big market cities of Boston, New York and Los Angeles on their march to the franchise’s first title. So it’s no surprise to see the MLB futures odds favor the Astros to once again be the class of their division.

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Day one. ☀️#NeverSettle | #AstrosST pic.twitter.com/c8Y1kN7z7j

— Houston Astros (@astros) February 14, 2018
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Angels' Stock Up After Signing Otani

BetOnline has the Astros as -160 favorites to win the AL West for a second straight season. There are reasons to believe Houston can repeat, from the continued development of young stars like Springer, AL MVP Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa to having Justin Verlander in the rotation for a full season. The Astros also deepened the rotation with a winter deal for Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole to add to a mix that includes 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel.

Still, the other four teams in the AL West also improved their rosters and won’t be as easy to get past as a year ago when the Astros went 50-26 against division foes. The Los Angeles Angels made one of the biggest offseason splashes by luring Shohei Ohtani from Japan. Ohtani is a dual-threat star in the making, and it will be interesting to see if he can fill a spot in the rotation and also make an impact in the batting order hitting with the game’s best player, Mike Trout. The Anaheim 9 are+400 for the division.

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Nothing but possibilities.#LAASpring | #ShoTime pic.twitter.com/IJuTlMDvlN

— Angels (@Angels) February 14, 2018
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Can Mariners Stay Healthy On Mound?

Seattle is next up on the MLB odds board at +600. The Mariners' pitching staff was decimated by injuries a year ago, forcing them to use 40 different arms, 17 in starting roles. Seeing Felix Hernandez return to form is a must if the M’s are going to dethrone the Astros. The Mariners haven't won the division since 2001, which was also their last trip to the playoffs. That's the longest drought in MLB.

The Rangers and Athletics fall in line at the bottom of the preseason charts with Texas at +1000 and Oakland +1400. Both sported powerful lineups in 2017, the Rangers third in the AL with 237 dingers and Oakland in fourth with 234. Both also ranked among the dregs in batting average and ERA.

Keep your browser pointed at SBR’s MLB Picks the rest of spring training leading up to Opening Day for all the latest analysis and previews.

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