- The Astros have won the American League West division three years in a row
- They are heavy favorites to win again, but their odds have gotten worse in the early going of spring training
- In the wake of the sign-stealing scandal and the loss of strikeout king Gerrit Cole, is there value betting on or fading Houston?
To the surprise of Houston Astros owner Jim Crane (and pretty much nobody else), the firestorm of public scrutiny and backlash in the wake of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal has continued to swell through the first week of spring training games.
Fans are taunting and bringing signs to games, opposing players are plunking Astros batters, and social media remains ablaze with thousands of trolls re-opening the wound of the 2017 season every day.
As a result, the three-time defending AL West champions have seen their odds of a four-peat take a bit of a hit. Houston opened at -275 in the 2020 MLB division odds. Now, they are -215 on average, and just -208.
2020 AL West Odds
Odds taken Feb. 26.
Still, Houston remains the heavy favorite, and for good reason, as explained below.
What’s Happening Right Now
To put it bluntly, fans are not happy.
Here’s a look at Jose Altuve’s first at-bat of the spring, against the Tigers (a team that finished dead-last in the standings and hasn’t really been impacted by the sign-stealing).
— Stefano Fusaro (@FusaroESPN) February 24, 2020
Altuve was hit by a pitch during that game, one of seven Astros to be hit this spring in their first five games. That’s the most in baseball.
Fourth pitch of the game and Ureña beans Aledmys Díaz pic.twitter.com/12yY9E9jcV
— 2020 Astros Shame Tour (@AsteriskTour) February 25, 2020
Here’s another instance of a fan heckling Altuve, requesting to see his tattoo (an alleged bad tattoo was part of Altuve’s alibi for not taking his jersey off during a playoff celebration in 2018, though some believe he was hiding a buzzer under his jersey to learn what pitches were coming).
Jose Altuve and Astros players are going to be dealing with stuff like this on a daily basis.
And I absolutely love it. pic.twitter.com/Ro9F7PV9Vg
— Blake Harris (@BlakeHarrisTBLA) February 25, 2020
What The Projections Say
Last year, the Astros won the AL West by 10 games. In 2018, they won it by six games and, in 2017, they won it by a whopping 21 games. It is really their division to lose at this point.
George Springer is showered in boos as he steps to the plate, tries to hit a ball far to silence the crowd and falls to a knee pic.twitter.com/HhRXIBOGyj
— SNY (@SNYtv) February 26, 2020
And it really, really doesn’t seem like they’re going to lose it. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections give Houston a 90.6-percent chance to win the AL West again, with a projected 98-64 record.
Fangraphs also has the Astros winning their division in its projections, with the Athletics coming up nine games short in second place.
Without Cole, Rotation Remains Star-Studded
More than fan jeers and beanballs, the greatest threat to the Astros’ division chances is probably the loss of ace Gerrit Cole, who signed with the New York Yankees this offseason after racking up an MLB-best 326 strikeouts and AL-best 2.50 ERA last year.
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) July 23, 2019
Cole is a bulldog of a player that instantly makes any team he joins significantly better. With that said, Houston still has Justin Verlander (last year’s Cy Young winner) and Zack Greinke (a combined 2.90 ERA over the past seven seasons).
In other words, they’re doing OK.
Is Now a Good Time to Bet on Houston?
Look, if you’re going to bet on a team other than the Astros to win the AL West, make sure you aren’t betting much, because you are going to lose.
The backlash they’re facing, as annoying as it is, will not stop a great team from being great, especially in a division filled with mediocre competition.
Pick: Houston Astros (-208)
Let's have fun and keep it civil.