Are the M’s the division favorites now?
Or, rather, not unless things are a lot worse than we know right now. And many things go right for the M’s, and only the M’s.
But look! A kitten!
The pitching rotation of the Angels, the most-frequently-cited advantage over the M’s,
John Lackey isn’t going to do anything baseball-related for three or four weeks with a strained triceps. If everything goes well he’ll return in late April. Probably more like May, though.
Kelvim Escobar has shoulder issues and he’s targeting May to return to playing.
Even if the Angels put a couple of torch artists out there in their place (Horacio Ramirez is available), that’s not enough to close the gap. Between the two of them, they’ll make twelve starts from Opening Day through the end of May if the Angels stuck to a strict five-person rotation. Two of those should fall against the M’s.
Normally, figure they’re entirely responsible for the team winning 60% of their starts, and they lose every one of those games now. The swing would be from 7-5 to 0-12, 8 games.
For the most pessimistic view, take the BP Pecota-based standings. If the Angels drop 8 games, two conveniently to the M’s, that would put the A’s in the thick of the division with the A’s at .500, and the M’s still only at 75 wins for the season.
Or to get to “competitive” you can take the Diamond Mind sims I did, using the “A’s lose Harden/Gaudin all year” set of assumptions, and the M’s get to 80 wins and then it’s a race.
But favorites? The Angels offense is likely to score a hundred more runs than the M’s this year based on the PECOTA projections, and even if their rotation replacements are total disasters, they only have to push them out there for about eighty innings.
Eighty innings isn’t that much time. Replace a 3 ERA in those innings with a 6 ERA (eraisnotagreatmeasureofpitchereffectivenessandisusedhereforconvenienceonly)… if you figure the starters are currently going the full seven innings and you need to replace all seven, then it’s 84 IP * ERA = 28 runs for the aces, and 56 runs for the absolutely horrible 6 ERA pitchers.
That’s only three games difference replacing a team’s 1-2 pitchers with guys who will be chased out of town with torches and pitchforks at the end of a month.
And the Angels don’t stop being competitive if you assume that they’re going to entirely drop seven more games that Lackey/Escobar started.
To get to the Angels-are-done and the M’s-are-favorites, you need to get into even more speculative territory: that the pitchers are going to be out a lot longer and the Angels won’t be able to find anything but flammable replacements, that the bullpen collapses in the overwork, and particularly that the Angels manage to keep themselves together against the A’s and Rangers while giving generously to the Mariner cause.