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2011 American League West Preview
by Team Del Genio

Opening day of the 2011 Major League Baseball regular season is here. Join Team Del Genio for his division by division previews as he gives you the oddsmakers edge for the upcoming MLB season.

Check out the rest of Lenny's division by division 2011 MLB Previews: AL East | NL West | AL Central | NL Central | NL East.

1. Oakland A's (Odds to Win AL West: +195 | Odds to Win American League: 11/1 | World Series Odds: 30/1 | Futures Odds: 83.5 wins)

Last year, we correctly identified the Texas Rangers as our sleeper team in the American League. This year, we will go with the Oakland A's, who only need to look across the bay to last year's World Series Champion San Francisco Giants for the blueprint to success. This year's Athletics team is built very similarly to the 2010 Giants. The clear strength is pitching and this starting rotation is young with an average age of 24. They led the AL in ERA (3.56) and were fourth overall in MLB last year. The spacious Alameda County Coliseum is most certainly a "pitchers park." However, the A's will need some hitting if they are to finish with a winning record and make the playoffs, something that has not happened in Oakland since '06. Forty seven of the team's 81 wins last year came at home. Staying healthy is also critical as this team has had to use the DL 87 times since 2007, including 23 times in 2010. This is a sound defensive group.

The A's starting pitching is probably the best in the American League and consider that last year they lost both Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer to injuries. Dallas Braden made headlines early in the 2010 season by throwing the 19th perfect game in MLB history. Trevor Cahill was an All-Star at age 22 and his 18 wins were the most by an AL pitcher 23 or younger since Brett Saberhagen in 1985. Righties hit only .198 against Cahill last year. Gio Gonzalez is your #3 man after being a question mark last year in Spring Training. He was also the only Oakland starter to stay healthy all year. The best of the lot may be Brett Anderson, who finished 2010 by winning his final four decisions and his ERA of 2.80 was 5th in the AL among all starters with a minimum of 100 IP. The closer's role is solid with 2009 Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey, although he is coming off elbow surgery last September and will reportedly start this season on the disabled list. Former bullpen coach Ron Romanick assumes full control of the staff following the departure of Curt Young, who went to Boston.

Hitting was an issue last season as no A's player hit more than 16 home runs (3B Kouzmanoff) and the team ranked just 28th in MLB in overall long balls. They were 25th in total bases and 23rd in runs scored. There were two key offseason acquisitions. One was signing Hideki Matsui to take over the DH role. His age is a question mark though. The other was trading Vin Mazzaro to Kansas City in exchange for David DeJesus, who will probably hit second. He improves an already sound outfield defensively, but he has never hit more than 13 HR in a season, so he doesn't solve the power issue and moving to a pitcher's park doesn't help. Catcher Suzuki has led the team in RBI's each of the last two seasons. Middle infielders Ellis and Pennington were inconsistent at the plate last year. Prediction: 91 wins.

2. Los Angeles Angels (Odds to Win AL West: +225 | Odds to Win American League: 12/1 | World Series Odds: 25/1 | Futures Odds: 83 wins)

From a betting odds perspective, it's interesting to note that the Halos actually have better World Series odds than do the Athletics, but their division odds, American League odds and future odds are all lower. This team fell to under .500 last year (80-82) and is off its worst finish in the division in seven seasons. Expect a slight bounce back in 2011. The team hasn't missed the playoffs in back to back seasons under manager Mike Scioscia since his first two years in Anaheim. They were one of only four AL teams that finished with a losing record last year.

The usually reliable offense failed this team last season. They were -202 runs from the '09 total, which was the biggest drop in the American League. They were second worst in on base percentage and team leader Hideki Matsui went to division rival Oakland in the offseason. The team batting average of .248 ranked 10th in the AL. One of the biggest reasons for this drop off was an early season freak injury to 1B Kendry Morales, who broke his leg celebrating a walk off home run. In his absence, Angels first baseman hit a collective .235. Trading for CF Vernon Wells will also help. The club's stolen base total of 104 was its lowest since the 2000 season.

Pitching, like it is with the A's, is this team's strength. Angels starters had the fourth best ERA (4.04) in the American League. Ervin Santana posted a career high 17 victories. Jered Weaver, despite a 13-12 record last year, is the ace. His ERA was 3.01 and he led the majors with 233 strikeouts. He was doomed by hideous run support. Dan Haren was acquired at the trade deadline and went 4-0 with a 1.70 ERA over his final eight starts. Joel Piniero is a fine fourth starter. Fifth starter Scott Kazmir is shaky.

The bullpen was upgraded, primarily with the addition of lefty Scott Downs, who posted an ERA of 2.64 or less in three of his past four seasons with Toronto. Closer Francisco Rodney did not finish strong last year with a 5.65 ERA and four blown saves over the final month.

Itís tough to imagine the Angels not improving from last yearís 80 win total as they were also a big money burner, finishing -9.0 units. Prediction: 88 wins

3. Texas Rangers (Odds to Win AL West: +115 | Odds to Win American League: 9/1 | World Series Odds: 20/1 | Futures Odds: 86.5 wins)

One year removed from the franchiseís first ever playoff series win and appearance in the World Series, we look for the Texas Rangers to drop in the AL West standings in 2011. The defection of Cliff Lee canít be overstated enough. Itís true that they were leading the division by 4.5 games when they acquired Lee at the deadline, so the holdovers are clearly a good team.

Brandon Webb will be expected to fill the void left by Leeís departure. However, the í06 NL Cy Young Award Winner (finished 2nd in í07 and í08) has not thrown a pitch since Opening Day 2009, so thatís no sure bet. Lefty CJ Wilson will get the baseball on Opening Day this season after pitching very well in the postseason. Colby Lewis finished with the most strikeouts by a Texas starter since 1991, but had a losing record. Tommy Hunter didnít pitch as well in the postseason and is already dealing with injury issues. The fifth starter is a question mark. The bullpen is sound with closer Perez, last yearís Rookie of the Year who had a record 40 saves. Opponents hit only .176 against him.

Hitting, the teamís strength last year, could be even more productive this year with the addition of 3B Adrian Beltre, who is also a defensive upgrade on the hot corner. Beltre has a .306 career batting average in Arlington with a .521 slugging percentage. Obviously, the key is keeping Josh Hamilton healthy. The loss of Vlad Guerrero will impact the DH position as Angels designated hitters led the AL with a collective .304 batting average, 127 RBIís and 92 runs scored. All other key contributors from last yearís lineup return.

The Rangers actually lost a bit of change last year (-1.9 units) en route to the American League pennant. They were also just 19-25 in day games as opposed to 71-47 (.602) in night games, which was an AL best. While it would be easy for us to call for a repeat in the division, with the improvements from both the Aís and Angels, we just donít see it. Prediction: 85 wins.

4. Seattle Mariners (Odds to Win AL West: +1800 | Odds to Win American League: 50/1 | World Series Odds: 100/1 | Futures Odds: 70 wins)

The Mariners are bound to improve in 2011, but thatís only because they lost 101 games last year, an AL worst. That is a frightening finish when you consider they had the Cy Young Award Winner Felix Hernandez as well as Cliff Lee for a bulk of the year. Thereís a new manager in the Pacific Northwest with Eric Wedge coming in as the new skipper, but considering he presided over years of mediocrity in Cleveland, thatís no cause for celebration.

Obviously, when you have Hernandez and Lee and manage to lose over 100 games, your hitting stinks. Seattle ranked last in the league in home runs with 101, the fewest by any AL team in a non-strike shortened season since 1992. Their on base percentage of .298 was the lowest the league had seen since 1981. They ranked last overall in MLB in every major offensive category and scored 74 less runs than any other team. Donít forget that they still have Ichiro Suzuki at the top of the order and heís coming off ten straight seasons with at least 200 hits.

There were 15 different occasions where the team scored two runs or less for Hernandez, who led the majors in ERA (2.27) and held opponents to a .212 batting average. In his 12 losses last season, the Mariners scored a grand total of seven runs. Behind Hernandez, this staff is shaky with Jason Vargas the only other decent contributor. Erik Bedard has been a bust since coming over a couple of years ago from Baltimore. The bullpen is not good either with a 4.23 ERA last year and the second worst strikeout rate per nine innings (6.57) in baseball. We do like this team defensively.

Again, with Ichiro and Hernandez it is improbable that this team could be as bad as it was in 2010. They were just 17-40 in division games and killed their backers by losing 37.6 units overall! Unfortunately, the AL West remains difficult, perhaps even more difficult than last year, and that means another last place finish. Prediction: 70 wins.

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