2021 American League West Preview: Astros Expected to Edge A’s and Angels

Eddie Griffin

The AL West was dominated by the Houston Astros from 2017-19, with the Astros claiming three consecutive division titles and finishing with over 100 wins each year.

But last season, with the Astros reeling from scandal fallout and dealing with injuries and underperformance, the Oakland A’s cruised to their first AL West title since 2013, beating out the Astros by seven games.

This season, the Astros are expected to top the AL West again, with the A’s as their closest challenger. There could also be a challenge from three-time AL MVP Mike Trout and the Los Angeles Angels, who have amassed a lot of talent over Trout’s storied career but have underachieved.

Here’s our look at the 2021 AL West. The NL East is up next, so look out for our preview of that exciting division soon.

2021 AL West Preview Menu

2021 AL West Odds and Team Win Totals

  • Houston Astros +130 (Team Win Total: 87.5)
  • Oakland A’s +155 (Team Win Total: 86.5)
  • Los Angeles Angels +300 (Team Win Total: 83.5)
  • Seattle Mariners +3000 (Team Win Total: 73)
  • Texas Rangers +7500 (Team Win Total: 67.5)

All MLB betting odds are via FanDuel Sportsbook. Click here for updated MLB betting odds.

2021 AL West Team Previews

Houston Astros

Division Title Odds: +130

2021 American League Title Odds: +950

2021 World Series Odds: +2500

2021 Team Win Total: OVER 87.5 (-110), UNDER 87.5 (-110)

Odds to Make 2021 MLB Playoffs: YES (-128), NO (+104)

Even after a below-average regular season, 2020 wasn’t a completely lost year for the Astros. They still reached the ALCS and forced a Game 7 against the Rays after trailing 3-0 in the series.

A return to form should happen this season, but it will depend on better health and performances.

Springer Has Sprung, But Lineup Still Strong

Three-time All-Star outfielder and 2017 World Series MVP George Springer is now in Toronto, having signed a six-year, $150 million deal with the Blue Jays in the offseason after seven seasons in Houston.

Myles Straw takes over in center field and in the leadoff spot, and he is a more traditional leadoff hitter than long-ball lovers like Springer and Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuna, Jr. But his speed will be valuable in his own right in a lineup full of run producers.

Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel all underperformed in 2020 and are expected to rebound in 2021. Bregman faces the highest expectations. The two-time All-Star infielder is the joint third favorite to be AL MVP, coming in at +1500 along with Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez. Altuve, who was AL MVP in 2017, comes in at +6000.

Other than Straw, the only likely regular in Houston’s lineup without a history of solid production is catcher Martin Maldonado. That includes Kyle Tucker, who had a breakout 2020 campaign, hitting .268 with nine homers and 42 RBI in 58 games. Like Altuve, Tucker sits at +6000 to be AL MVP.

Hulking DH Yordan Alvarez is the lineup’s wild card. Alvarez burst onto the scene by hitting .313 with 27 homers and 78 RBI in only 78 games to lock up AL Rookie of the Year in 2019. But he managed only two games in 2020 due to COVID and surgery on both knees. If he and the other bats return to form, Springer’s bat will not be missed.

Will the Rotation Rebound As Well?

Justin Verlander is out after having Tommy John surgery last September, but he has already resumed throwing. If he returns, it won’t be for some time. The same is likely for fellow starter Framber Valdez, who suffered a fractured finger earlier this month. Valdez is healing but is sidelined indefinitely.

With no Verlander or Valdez to start the season, the rotation projects to be Zack Grienke, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers, Jr., Jose Urquidy, and former Twins and Rays starter Jake Odorizzi, who had 15 wins with the Twins in 2019.

As with the lineup, a rebound by big names will be key. Last season, Greinke was 3-3 with a 4.03 ERA in 12 starts. Greinke is +4500 to win the 2021 AL Cy Young, while McCullers (3-3, 3.91 ERA in 2020) is ahead of him at +4000.

The Astros have the talent to reach a third World Series in five seasons. There are few glaring weaknesses in regards to talent, and there is plenty of winning and championship experience on the roster.

Oakland A’s

Division Title Odds: +155

2021 American League Title Odds: +1000

2021 World Series Odds: +2500

2021 Team Win Total: OVER 86.5 (-110), UNDER 86.5 (-110)

Odds to Make 2021 MLB Playoffs: YES (-132), NO (+108)

The A’s won the AL West title last season, but they will face a tough task to repeat with the Astros expected to be strong again. But the core of their division-winning team returns, and the aim for this season will be to make a real postseason run. The A’s lost out to the Astros in the ALDS last season, and they have not reached the ALCS since 2006.

M&M Duo Need An Average Boost in 2021

The A’s have two of the bigger bats in MLB in Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, but they were part of the reason why the A’s finished in the bottom half of the league in the major batting categories. Chapman and Olson both had 36 homers and 91 RBI in 2019 and each hit the double-digit mark in homers last season. But Chapman hit only .232, while Olson’s average dipped from .267 in 2019 to .195 last season. A big season is expected for Chapman, who is +1800 to be AL MVP. Olson and center fielder Ramon Laureano, who also had a poor season after hitting .288 with 24 homers and 13 steals in 2019, are +6000 to be AL MVP.

Marcus Semien signed with the Toronto Blue Jays in January, but some of his production at the plate is slated to be replaced by veteran shortstop Elvis Andrus, who was traded to the A’s last month. Andrus didn’t have the best 2020 with the Texas Rangers, but he can be a .270, 10 homer, 60-70 RBI, 20+ steals player for the A’s.

Reliable Rotation Will Boost Repeat Hopes

The A’s won the AL West last season without their bats producing up to their potential, which indicates that the pitching will be as much or more of a key than hitting will.

The rotation has a stable of solid arms. Chris Bassitt was the standout arm last season, posting a 5-2 record with a 2.29 ERA in 11 starts. But it’s Jesus Lazardo (3-2, 4.12 ERA) and Frankie Montas (3-5, 5.60 ERA) who are the leading AL Cy Young candidates as per the latest MLB futures odds. Lazardo comes in at +3500, while Montas comes in at +4500. Bassitt and Sean Manaea, entering his sixth season in the A’s rotation, come in at +7000.

Oakland’s real strength last season was its bullpen, and that should be the case again this season. Last season, the A’s led the league with a 2.72 bullpen ERA. The A’s did lose one of the biggest reasons for that success, as closer Liam Hendriks signed a three-year, $54 million deal with the Chicago White Sox in the offseason. But to replace Hendriks, the A’s signed experienced closer Trevor Rosenthal.

Los Angeles Angels

Division Title Odds: +300

2021 American League Title Odds: +1700

2021 World Series Odds: +3500

2021 Team Win Total: OVER 83.5 (-110), UNDER 83.5 (-110)

Odds to Make 2021 MLB Playoffs: YES (+160), NO (-200)

A hefty payroll and the presence of the best player in baseball have not gotten the Los Angeles Angels anywhere over the last decade. The franchise has only one playoff appearance since 2009 and has had five consecutive losing seasons.

Will this season bring a turnaround? It’s possible, but don’t bank on it.

Top-Tier Talent On Paper, But Will It Produce?

On paper, the Angels could have one of the better lineups from top to bottom in the league. Mike Trout is Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon should have a strong second year in Los Angeles, and a healthy Shohei Ohtani should have a productive season. Trout is an overwhelming favorite to win his fourth AL MVP, coming in at +220. Rendon (+1800) and Ohtani (+2000) are also among the leading favorites for the award.

Elsewhere, Jared Walsh has usurped Albert Pujols as the starter at first, and he could be in line for a huge first full season as a starter after hitting .293 with nine homers and 26 RBI in 99 at-bats last season. Jose Iglesias likely won’t find the fences like that quartet can, but he hit a scorching .373 with 17 doubles, three homers, and 24 RBI in 39 games last season. He didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, however.

As with the Astros, the Angels lineup has little in the way of actual weak links if everyone plays up to their potential. That includes starting corner outfielders Justin Upton and Dexter Fowler. Neither vet needs to reproduce their best numbers, but consistent contributions will be enough to help mount an AL West challenge if others are doing their part as well.

Could Average Pitching Be Enough?

As with the lineup, potential on paper is the operative phrase for the pitching staff. To limit workloads, Angels manager Joe Maddon is going with a six-man rotation this season, and there is a solid collection of arms that could make it work. Dylan Bundy (6-3, 3.29 ERA) leads the way, while Ohtani will resume his two-way role at the plate and as a starting pitcher. Bundy, Ohtani, and Andrew Heaney are all listed at +5000 to win the AL Cy Young.

The franchise made some low-risk, high-reward moves that could prove to be vital in their challenges for the AL West title and a postseason berth. Former Rays and Orioles starter Alex Cobb came over in a trade, while former White Sox and Cubs starter Jose Quintana signed a one-year, $8 million deal after going 83-77 with a 3.73 ERA in nine seasons with the two Chicago clubs.

The biggest move may be their trade for former Cincinnati Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. Iglesias should shore up a closer slot that was a big weakness for the Angels last season. A reliable closer can be the difference between playing deep into October and having to wonder what could have been.

As with several other years over the last decade, the Angels have the horses. Whether or not they can be ridden the distance to an AL West title is the uncertain part.

Seattle Mariners

Division Title Odds: +3000

2021 American League Title Odds: +6000

2021 World Series Odds: +8000

2021 Team Win Total: OVER 73 (-110), UNDER 73 (-110)

Odds to Make 2021 MLB Playoffs: YES (+920), NO (-2000)

The Seattle Mariners have not made the MLB playoffs or won an AL West title since their incredible 2001 season. Those droughts are not likely to end this season, but they could push for a winning season.

Plenty to Like, Little to Love in M’s Lineup?

There is a lot to like about the Mariners’ likely lineup, but is there a lot to love? Not just yet. 2020 AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis is projected as a future star, but a bone bruise in his knee could keep him out of the season opener. This year’s breakout rookie could be outfielder Taylor Trammell. Trammell is well down the AL Rookie of the Year odds at +5000, which could be a steal. Given that he is opening the season as a starter, +5000 is great value. He has had an excellent spring, hitting .302 with five doubles and three homers in 43 at-bats.

The Mariners were 25th in homers last season but should have a little more pop this year. Lewis hit 11 homers in 2020, and infielders Evan White and Dylan Moore both provide some power.

Two returning faces could be a big boost there as well. Former All-Star outfielder Mitch Haniger hasn’t played since 2019 but is healthy now, and he could push for 25+ homers. Meanwhile, catcher Tom Murphy is back after missing all of last season. Murphy hit .273 with 18 homers in only 75 games in 2019.

How long will it take for stud prospect Jarred Kelenic to be called up? Kelenic is second to Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena in the AL Rookie of the Year odds, coming in at +600. But he is starting the season in the minors despite impressing in spring because of [insert rant about the practice of service-time manipulation]. Those odds are a bit too short to jump on yet, given that the likes of Arozarena (+350), Ryan Mountcastle (+1000), Nick Madrigal (+1800), and Bobby Dalbec (+2000) will all have a head start.

Better Relief, Better Results?

Starting pitching should be a strength for Seattle. Like the Angels, the Mariners are going with a six-man rotation. Marco Gonzales was 7-2 with a career-best 3.10 ERA in 11 starts last season, and his best years should be ahead of him. He is +5000 to win the AL Cy Young. Rejoining the rotation is James Paxton after two seasons with the Yankees. Paxton’s 2020 did not go well, but a return to Seattle should bring out his best. Spring training does not foretell much, but he has been stellar. Paxton is +8000 to win the AL Cy Young, which is worth a flyer due to his past success.

Two other spots in the rotation also look rather solid, as young hurlers Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn both had success in 2020. If Yusei Kikuchi and Chris Flexen can be steady performers and eat up innings, Seattle could have one of the better rotations in the AL West.

The big factor for the Mariners’ potential success this year is the bullpen. Last season, Seattle’s pen was one of the worst in the league. If there is significant improvement, a winning season could be within reach. That should see manager Scott Servais keep his job for another year, with 2022 the real make-or-break year with the collection of young talent the team has built.

Even at their best, it’s tough to see the Mariners mounting a serious AL West challenge or earning a wild-card berth. But there should be cautious optimism in backing the over for their team win total.

Texas Rangers

Division Title Odds: +7500

2021 American League Title Odds: +7500

2021 World Series Odds: +15000

2021 Team Win Total: OVER 67.5 (-110), UNDER 67.5 (-110)

Odds to Make 2021 MLB Playoffs: YES (+1800), NO (-8000)

After improving from 67 wins in 2018 to 78 wins in 2019 in manager Chris Woodward’s first season, 2020 was a rough season for the Rangers, who went 22-38. Improvement is the goal for this season.

Is a Lack of Lineup Changes Good or Bad?

Last season, the Rangers were one of MLB’s worst teams at the plate. They were 29th in batting average (.217) and runs (224) and tied for 23rd in home runs (62).

The core of the lineup returns, which may or may not be a good thing. This isn’t to say there is no talent. The talent just needs to produce. A strength last season was speed, as the Rangers were tied for fourth in the league with 49 stolen bases. Rookie center fielder Leody Taveras had eight steals in 33 games last season’s debut and is still a candidate for AL Rookie of the Year this season. Taveras comes in at +3000 to win AL Rookie of the Year.

The lineup will have two new names, and both will be key to increased run production. Outfielder David Dahl hit .315 with 28 doubles and 15 homers for the Colorado Rockies in 2019, while first baseman Nate Lowe has power potential. He hit 10 doubles and 11 homers in 219 at-bats across 2019 and 2020 for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Pitching Performance Will Be Key

Subpar offense can be offset by good pitching, but the Rangers were poor on the mound too. They were tied for 20th in homers allowed (81), 24th in ERA (5.02), tied for 25th in runs allowed (312), and 27th in walks (236).

There are some interesting additions and possibilities in this year’s rotation. Japanese pitcher Kohei Arihara signed a free-agent deal in the offseason after six successful seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters. He’s a new face in the rotation, as is former Atlanta Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz. Foltynewicz is looking to rejuvenate his career after a rough ending with the Braves.

The most interesting arm other than Arihara will be rookie Dane Dunning, who is +2500 to win AL Rookie of the Year. Dunning went 2-0 with a 3.97 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 34 IP over seven starts last season.

The Rangers do not project as anything more than an occasional nuisance to the rest of the AL West. Their division rivals all project to be better teams, so it’s tough right now to see where more than 67 wins will come from. That said, improvement does not always translate to wins, and improvement is what is needed to keep the faith in Woodward.

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