Once mega millions were handed to Albert Pujols, a free agent who was bought for a steep price, it became evident all eyes would be following the Los Angeles Angels this season.
That is, unless an unforeseen TV blackout of Angels games is about to hit Las Vegas. If last week’s season opener in Japan was blacked out for no apparent reason, anything is possible.
I would say Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and his front-office clowns are as clumsy as "The Three Stooges," but that would be an insult to Larry, Curly and Moe.
Oakland and Seattle split two games in Tokyo, and the other 28 teams open Wednesday and Thursday. As for the Angels, they got their act together in the offseason by signing Pujols to beef up the lineup and C.J. Wilson to round out a potent pitching staff.
It would be cliche to say the sky is the limit for the Angels. In reality, their regular-season win total is set at 93 — tied with the New York Yankees for most in the majors — at the LVH sports book.
"I think that’s a little high. It’s a good team that should be a playoff contender, but that’s a lot of wins," said Dave Cokin, a local ESPN Radio host and handicapper. "I think the Angels are getting a little overhyped."
The rotation would play well at a poker table. It’s led by ace Jered Weaver, and there’s not much drop-off to Wilson, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
"It’s a tremendous starting pitching staff. If Santana is your No. 4, you’ve got a really good rotation," Cokin said. "But there are still some holes on this team."
For one, the bullpen is a potential problem. The Angels ranked second in the American League with 25 blown saves last season. Behind Pujols in the batting order, designated hitter Kendrys Morales is back from injury but remains a mystery, and left fielder Vernon Wells needs to be much better.
The rest of the Angels’ outfield, Torii Hunter and an improving Peter Bourjos, is solid, and Mark Trumbo will swing a big bat if he can handle his glove at third base. Add to the equation one of the game’s top managers, Mike Scioscia, and handicapper Andy Iskoe (TheLogicalApproach.com) is inclined to go all-in with the Angels, whose total is as low as 91½ offshore.
"I know the number is high, but I still think the Angels have as good a chance of any team in the AL of winning 100 games," Iskoe said.
The Texas Rangers finished 96-66 to beat the Angels by 10 games in the West, and the division is again a two-horse race.
Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli should ensure the Rangers’ offense leads a run at a third straight World Series trip, provided Texas can get past its stunning October collapse in St. Louis.
"On paper, the Rangers are probably the best team in baseball," Cokin said. "But I would worry about the hangover from last year. I think that’s a real concern. The mental aspect of the game is their toughest hurdle. They have to overcome that hurdle, but if they do, there’s probably no stopping this team."
After a 95-win season, the Detroit Tigers had an equally strong offseason by signing free-agent slugger Prince Fielder away from Milwaukee. The Tigers are minus-450 to win the AL Central, by far the biggest price tagged to any of the six division favorites.
For those patient enough to wait six months to cash a win-total ticket, Cokin said his "best opinion" is Cleveland under 78½, claiming the Indians were "overachievers" in winning 80 games last season.
The Yankees have several quality starters behind ace lefty CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera still will be closing, and a loaded lineup remains intact.
The Boston Red Sox folded in September, amid a fried chicken feast and beer drinking controversy, and the volatile Bobby Valentine steps into former manager Terry Francona’s shoes. Is it a good fit?
"There are a lot of question marks on that team," Cokin said. "The Red Sox could go in a variety of directions. I think they are going to have trouble being a playoff team. I think they are more likely to be in the mid-80s, approaching 90 wins."
Cokin said the Tampa Bay Rays, with a win total of 87½, have a "good chance to win 90," and Iskoe predicts Rays-Yankees-Red Sox as the pecking order in the AL East.
The Angels, Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies, each at 6-1 odds, top the World Series futures board at the LVH, followed by the Yankees (7-1) and Rangers (8-1).
Despite an injury-riddled right side of the infield — Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are expected to open the season on the disabled list — the Phillies appear strongest in the National League due to power arms Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Atlanta, Miami and maybe even Washington will push the Phillies in the East.
Cincinnati is a slight favorite (plus-110) to win the Central ahead of St. Louis and Milwaukee. For the Chicago Cubs, it’s already time to wait until next year. Houston, 56-106 last year, is a 100-1 shot just to win its division.
It could be a wild race in the NL West, which was won by Arizona last year. The Diamondbacks finished 94-68 to far surpass their win total of 72½ and unseat San Francisco at the top.
"I think the Giants are going to bounce back and have a good year. They really had a hangover from winning the championship," Cokin said. "Everything went right for the Diamondbacks last year, and that generally doesn’t happen two years in a row."
Still, Cokin is optimistic about Arizona. So, too, is Iskoe about the Dodgers, who he said should be "significantly better than a .500 team" while topping their win total of 80½ during a season now free of ownership distractions.
With Matt Kemp crushing pitchers, Clayton Kershaw mowing down hitters and new owner Magic Johnson spreading goodwill, the Dodgers could be fun to watch.
Enjoy the baseball, if not the TV blackouts.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts "The Las Vegas Sportsline" weekdays at 3 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM) and thelasvegassportsline.com.MLB WIN TOTALS
2012 regular-season win totals for 28 of the 30 major league teams, as posted at the LVH sports book:
• Los Angeles Angels, 93
• New York Yankees, 93
• Detroit Tigers, 92.5
• Philadelphia Phillies, 92.5
• Texas Rangers, 92
• Boston Red Sox, 89.5
• Cincinnati Reds, 88
• San Francisco Giants, 87.5
• Tampa Bay Rays, 87.5
• Atlanta Braves, 86.5
• Arizona Diamondbacks, 86
• Milwaukee Brewers, 86
• Miami Marlins, 85
• St. Louis Cardinals, 84
• Washington Nationals, 84
• Colorado Rockies, 81.5
• Toronto Blue Jays, 81.5
• Los Angeles Dodgers, 80.5
• Kansas City Royals, 79
• Cleveland Indians, 78.5
• Chicago White Sox, 75
• Pittsburgh Pirates, 74.5
• Chicago Cubs, 73.5
• Minnesota Twins, 73.5
• San Diego Padres, 73.5
• New York Mets, 71.5
• Baltimore Orioles, 69
• Houston Astros, 63
x-Seattle (72) and Oakland (71.5) off the board
(All sides are minus-110)