There has been no team more in the spotlight this offseason than the Houston Astros. After losing an epic seven-game series to the Washington Nationals last season, all talk in Houston should have been about looking for a way to rebound and take home a title this year. But then a cheating scandal surfaced, perhaps the largest since the infamous Chicago Black Sox, and suddenly all talk in Houston is about everything except for a title run.
One of the biggest repercussions of the scandal is that the Astros fired manager A.J. Hinch and replaced him with Dusty Baker. But that wasn’t the only change for the Astros this past offseason — lost in all the noise is that, prior to the scandal, the Astros also lost pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Yankees, the team that was their biggest competition to get to the World Series last season. But it’s not all bad for the Astros. They still have an unbelievable amount of talent on their roster, and because of it, they still have the second-best odds to win the AL. How much did the cheating scandal really influence Houston, and will they be able to put aside the distraction and compete with the Yankees for the AL Pennant?
For this task, I’m going to try to focus strictly on the team as a whole and not so much on everything that went on behind the scenes. However, one thing I worry about for the Astros is that they could get off to a slow start: one because everyone who plays them will be acting like it’s their World Series, and two because no matter what kind of athlete you are, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the distraction that the scandal is going to cause.
On top of that, the Astros play in a division that gets better every season. They have the A’s, who were the surprise of the season last year by winning 97 games, the Angels, whose projected win total currently sits at 85, and the Rangers, whose win total is set at 77.5. The only two divisions in baseball that boast higher average projected win totals for their top four teams are the NL East and the NL Central, but that’s likely because both divisions are wide open without clear favorites. One season ago, the Astros won 107 games. They won’t come close to that number this year, but I’m still going to take them with the over strictly because of the amount of talent on the team.
Verdict: Over, but this is not a guarantee.
The Astros have won the AL West three years in a row. They’re favored again this year, and while it’s likely they pull it off, there is no value in this bet whatsoever. The Astros are not going to be the same team they were last season, and the Angels and A’s both could battle with them to take home the division crown. Odds of -286 wouldn’t have been that great of value even if they still had Gerritt Cole and didn’t have to fire their Manager and General Manager in the offseason.
Verdict: Stay away. Take the A’s or Angels for value.
Vegas wasn’t deterred by the cheating scandal, and this number has stayed relatively consistent throughout everything. Had this jumped up to +350 or +400, it would have been a great value bet, but hovering around +250 just feels too right. Of course, you’re getting 2.5:1 odds on a team that won 107 games last season and has at least been in the hunt for the last three AL crowns, but there is a lot of risk here. What if the distractions are too much for the Astros to overcome this season? What if the Angels are able to finally put together a complete season and get Mike Trout into the playoffs? There are a lot of questions circling. It might be best to wait on this one. As I said earlier, this is a team that could start slow, which could make these numbers go up early in the season.
Verdict: Good value, but risky.
In order to get into the World Series, the Astros are going to have to win a crowded AL West, then knock off either the Twins or Indians and likely the Yankees in the postseason. Then, in all likelihood, they’re going to have to face off against an angry Dodgers team seeking redemption after an early exit from last season’s playoffs — and a renewed feeling that they were robbed the last time they made it to the World Series. The Astros will see some regression this season, though it won’t be as much as many think, that’s a lot in the way of the Astros this season. While +600 might look like a big number, it isn’t that crazy, especially when looking at a World Series that could be won by a huge number of teams.
Verdict: Stay away.