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Why L.A.'s other team is worth watching

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It’s routine to tout Mike Trout as the best player in baseball, a title the Angels outfielder has carried for most of his 10 seasons in the major leagues. He’s in his prime at 29, so this could be the best year of his career.

While his game has no holes, his resume has a gaping one. The Angels have squandered Trout’s talent by failing to win a playoff game in the last decade and missing the postseason for six straight years.

The Angels are not even the most interesting team in Los Angeles. The Dodgers, tagged with a regular-season win total of 104, are the reigning World Series champions and the favorites to win it all again in 2021.

Still, the Angels are uniquely intriguing due to Trout, two-way player Shohei Ohtani and manager Joe Maddon, who solved the Chicago Cubs’ World Series curse in 2016. Is that combination of star power enough to help the Angels ascend over their modest win total of 83.5 posted at BetMGM?

“It looks like the Angels could be a threat to win the AL West,” Westgate SuperBook baseball oddsmaker Ed Salmons said. “That division looks so weak on the surface. You could sell me either way on the Angels. I like Maddon, but the Angels always seem to underachieve.”

The Angels, who went 26-34 in last year’s abbreviated 60-game schedule, averaged 76.5 wins from 2016-19 and have not posted a winning record since finishing 85-77 in 2015. A pedestrian pitching staff makes it difficult to put faith in the Angels this season.

For what it’s worth, the FanGraphs.com forecasting model projects the Angels to finish 79-83. A lot would have to break their way for the Angels to top the Westgate’s posted total of 84.5.

Ohtani figures to be a pivotal player. The Japanese phenom has been a hitting star in spring training and hopes to be a winning pitcher in the rotation. He has the potential to be baseball’s best two-way player since Babe Ruth a century ago. There’s also a reasonable chance Ohtani will break down physically and injuries will again limit his effectiveness as a pitcher.

“I really like Ohtani as a pitcher,” Salmons said. “If he was just a hitter, I think he would be a nondescript player. But if he wins 15 games and hits 20 homers, that is so unique. Trout is always the MVP favorite and always gets a ton of money bet on him.”

Ohtani and Trout are MVP candidates in the AL, with the odds on Ohtani dropping as low as 16-1 after opening as high as 50-1 this spring. Trout has won the MVP three times and finished second four times.

April is the time for optimism, but it’s typically a fool’s errand to expect too much of the Angels, whose underachieving trend makes Trout’s individual success a better bet. In his last 162 games, Trout has hit 56 home runs. Bet on Trout to win the MVP (2-1) and maybe the MLB home run title (14-1).

Other best bets for the baseball season, with odds from BetMGM, Circa Sports, DraftKings, Westgate and William Hill:

 

Mookie Betts to win NL MVP (7-1)

With the Dodgers expected to win more than 100 games, there’s a good shot the MVP will come from their lineup. It also could be Cody Bellinger or Corey Seager, who has ripped eight homers this spring. Betts remains the best bet after finishing second last season, when he hit 16 homers in 55 games. Betts was the AL MVP for the Red Sox in 2018.

Also consider Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto (+ 675). Soto, 22, could be the NL’s version of Trout, at least from an offensive perspective. In his last 162 games, Soto has hit .309 with 41 homers.

 

Braves to win NL East (+ 130)

Atlanta has a stronger pitching staff than the Mets, who are not expected to get Noah Syndergaard back from Tommy John surgery until June. The Braves have won the division three years in a row and boast two of the top hitters in baseball in Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman, last year’s MVP.

There’s always a popular long shot in Las Vegas, and Salmons said this year it’s the Kansas City Royals (50-1) in the AL Central.

 

Cubs Under 79 wins

Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta lead a shaky rotation that will miss Yu Darvish, who was traded to San Diego. There’s speculation that third baseman Kris Bryant could be dealt during the season. On the odds board, the Cubs are the fourth choice in the NL Central behind the Cardinals, Brewers and Reds.

“I’m not seeing any upgrades, and Darvish is hard to replace,” The Gold Sheet handicapper Bruce Marshall said. “An injury or two in the rotation and there are big problems. Maybe if the Cubs go 17-2 against the Pirates they have a chance to clear .500, but I doubt it.”

 

Rangers Under 67.5 wins

Power hitter Joey Gallo is Texas’ lone star, and he could be traded this summer. The Rangers are completely rebuilding after finishing 22-38 last season with the worst run differential (-88) in the majors.

“I think Texas is really bad and might be the worst team in baseball,” Las Vegas handicapper Dave Cokin said. “The Rangers can’t hit, and Kyle Gibson is their best starter. This is the worst win total I’ve seen in a long time. I made the number 61 and thought that was generous.”

In 2019, four teams lost more than 100 games. The Rangers, Pirates and Rockies are strong candidates to pile up triple digits in the loss column this year. Colorado is headed for rock bottom after trading third baseman Nolan Arenado to St. Louis in the offseason, and shortstop Trevor Story seems likely to be shipped out this summer.

 

Rays Over 86 wins

Blake Snell and Charlie Morton are gone from the AL champions’ pitching staff, but never write off the Rays. Tyler Glasnow and Ryan Yarbrough lead the rotation for manager Kevin Cash, who made the costly mistake of pulling Snell after 73 pitches when he was dominating the Dodgers in Game 6 of the World Series.

“Underestimated again,” Marshall said. “The Rays have rolled out pitcher after pitcher the past few years thanks to their deep farm system and have brought in a couple of veteran arms (Michael Wacha and Chris Archer) to bridge the gap. They might not miss Snell as much as people think. There are lots of established arms in the bullpen. This is the second-best team in the AL East, and Tampa Bay could beat the Yankees in another playoff series.”

 

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