We look at the MLB odds to win the American League pennant and find two teams that have a great chance to dethrone the Royals as AL champs and explain why they offer great value on the MLB futures market.
On paper, being the defending World Series champions should make the Kansas City Royals the best team in the American League right now, but that statement can be argued.
Last year, when the Royals were coming off a Game 7 loss in the 2014 World Series against the Giants, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system predicted that they would win just 72 games in the regular season and it came up short by 23 victories.
Kansas City is trying to win a third consecutive AL pennant and second straight World Series. The Yankees during the late 1990s and early 2000s were the last team to accomplish either feat.
History is against the Kansas City Royals, but which AL teams can beat them in October or prevent them from getting there?
Two teams come to mind because of their value for MLB picks, the Houston Astros (+700 to win the AL) and the Detroit Tigers (+1200 to win the AL).
The inexperienced but talented Astros already proved that they can compete with the Royals. Last year, they took a 6-2 lead over the Royals into the eighth inning of Game 4 of the ALDS and Kansas City, six outs from elimination, rallied to win and eventually advance to the ALCS.
The Astros will be a much better on team Opening Day than they were last season. Their new star Carlos Correa will be with them since the start of the season and their new closer Ken Giles has a power arm that their bullpen lacked in the ALDS against the Royals. The Astros had the best run prevention in the league last season and if they can find a way to manage the workloads of their top starters Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, look out because their starting rotation and their offense can take them far.
The Detroit Tigers finished with the worst run differential in the league last year (minus-114) but they still were a difficult opponent for the Royals, who barely won the season series, 10-9.
The Tigers have made significant upgrades since then. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez missed 85 games combined and Martinez in particular wasn't himself when in the lineup. Healthy seasons with better production from Cabrera and Martinez is enough to transform this offense and the addition of Justin Upton will make them a dangerous team.
As far as their starting rotation, Justin Verlander's second-half resurgence is encouraging and the addition of Jordan Zimmermann provides them with more consistency. The bullpen also went through a dramatic makeover, with Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson giving them more stability. Detroit is now an underdog, but don't forget that they recently won four consecutive AL Central titles and now they have enough talent to make a deep playoff run and reach the World Series.