Houston's problems may have been solved
Astros set for Major League lift-off
The MLB regular season starts on Sunday, and the divisional betting has an unusual look about it this year.
Five of the six divisions have odds-on favourites, and a competition that is normally wide open is anything but this time. The stars of last season’s dramatic World Series, Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, are 1-5 and 1-4 respectively to win the National League and American League Central divisions.
The only divisional favourites who are odds-against are Houston, who look a decent-value bet to win the AL West and the AL Championship.
The Astros’ long rebuilding process looked to be bearing fruit when they qualified for the post-season with 86 wins in 2015.
They were expected to make even more progress last year but it ended up being something of a disappointment, as their 84 wins left them a distant third in their division.
However the Texas Rangers, who ran away with the section with 95 wins, looked more than a little lucky to have done that well. Their peripheral statistics were more consistent with those of an 81-win team and they are unlikely to be so successful this time.
Houston have strong foundations. They have an MVP candidate of last season in Jose Altuve, while shortstop Carlos Correa is also a class act, and both are projected to have strong seasons, rated as more than four wins above replacement.
Their ace-starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel was awesome in 2015 with a 2.48 earned-run average, but he had a poor year last year when his ERA ballooned to 4.55. However, his fielding-independent pitching stats suggested that his overall game merited something more like a 3.50 ERA and he looks likely to bounce back to around that level this time.
The Houston bullpen was arguably the best in baseball last season, and although bullpen performance is very hard to predict and can be volatile, all of the players who played a major part in their success are back this season and should again provide excellent support to the starters.
Their disappointing 2016 means that they are priced generously to bounce back and they are worth backing to become strong challengers. The LA Dodgers came from behind to comfortably win the National League West by four games and should be back in the playoffs for another crack at the World Series.
The west-coast side are odds- on to make it five division titles on the spin. They put up a good fight against the Cubs in the National League Championship Series, losing 4-2, and they should be back to for another crack at toppling the Windy City side.
Rookie of the year Corey Seager is dangerous with the bat for the Dodgers, and in pitcher Clayton Kershaw they have probably the best starter in the game. He is projected to have another strong season with a likely sub-3.00 ERA.
Closer Kenley Jansen is also one of the best in the game at what he does.
When he comes into a game with the lead it is normally all over for their opponents, and the Californians can be fancied to win their league.
Houston Astros to win the AL West
2pts 11-8 Betfair
Houston Astros to win the American League
2pts 7-1 general
LA Dodgers to win the National League
2pts 11-2 Betfair, Paddy Power