Eleven teams had better odds to win last year’s World Series than the San Francisco Giants, who won their third title in six years in October despite being tabbed 22-to-1 long shots.
The Kansas City Royals, who pushed the Giants to seven games in the Fall Classic, were given 35-to-1 odds before they made the playoffs for the first time in 29 years and won the American League.
This year, Las Vegas is giving the Giants (16-to-1) and Royals (28-to-1) a little more respect, but the truth is neither of those teams is the big draw in Arizona this spring.
This year’s Cactus League darlings are the Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs, who went all in this winter to try and end their October droughts.
The Mariners missed the playoffs for the 14th year in a row in 2014, finishing one game out in the wild-card race. This year, FanGraphs has Seattle as the best team in the American League and third in baseball behind the Nationals and Dodgers, whereas Baseball Prospectus ranks them the third best in the AL. Las Vegas has the Mariners at 16-1 odds this year after having them at 65-1 last year.
A big reason: Seattle added slugger Nelson Cruz, who is coming off a 40-homer season with the Orioles and will provide a much-needed power bat in the middle of the lineup.
“I’m very excited,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon told MLB.com last week. “Going into spring training last year, I didn’t know my personnel. I didn’t even know faces. There were a lot of things we couldn’t accomplish last spring that we’ll be ahead of the game on this year, as far as putting in some things we’d like to from an offensive and defensive standpoint.”
The Padres, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 or had a winning season since 2010, put new general manager A.J. Peller in charge this winter, and he went to work. The team acquired former All-Stars Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers to form a brand new outfield, and then added former Royals ace James Shields to the top of the rotation. San Diego, which finished last in runs scored in 2014, has gone from 70-to-1 odds to win the World Series last year to 14-to-1 this year.
“On paper, we have what I feel like is one of the best teams in Major League Baseball,” Kemp said. “God willing and nobody gets hurt, expect big things from the Padres.”
The Cubs, who haven’t won the World Series since 1908 and last made the playoffs in 2008, enter this spring as 10-to-1 favorites to win it all this year. They were 60-to-1 long shots last year.
Manager Joe Maddon, left-handed pitcher Jon Lester, right-hander Jason Hammel, catcher Miguel Montero and center fielder Dexter Fowler are the new faces in the clubhouse fueling the excitement. Kris Bryant, a power-hitting third baseman who is the game’s No. 1 prospect, could be up with the team and protecting All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo in the lineup by June.
Could this finally be the year for the Cubbies?
“There’s a great mood in camp, a great mood among our fan base,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Thursday as pitchers and catchers reported to the Cubs’ spring facility. “It’s the right time to get excited, then try to keep that going and get off to a good start.
“We recognize we haven’t done anything yet. But you still feel good about where you work, you feel good about what’s ahead if we work hard enough to earn it.”