I know, I know. We love them, these preseason predictions, each individual's attempt to prophesize how a specific sports calendar will shake out, complete with award-winners, players to change addresses during the course of the season, and who will be saying, "Nobody believed we could do it," come time for the ultimate contest.
Inevitably, of course, they're always wrong. This is particularly truer in baseball, where 162 games really deny the point of any forecast, in that there is far too much time between Point A and Point B to accurately depict a scenario that won't be altered at some point by unforeseen injury, trade, or Keith Foulke.
Aside from the obligatory decision to pencil the Atlanta Braves in at the top of the NL East, show me any and every single preseason prediction over the past 10 years and I can guarantee you that exactly zero percent were 100 percent accurate. Zero. And yet, fans get worked up into a tizzy every time any rawhide Nostradamus wannabes disrespect their team by saying they will, in fact, finish in last place. Unless you're a Devil Rays fan.
CNNSI.com's John Donovan gets a head start this season on the preview game, and picks the Red Sox to finish third in the AL East, behind the division-winning Yankees and a much-improved Blue Jays squad. That is sure to be the chic pick as spring training rolls onto our doorstep.
Of the Yankees, he says: "The rotation is iffy, but with that lineup, who cares?" Good question. Let's ask the Texas Rangers.
Of the Blue Jays: "It's the best pitching staff in the East, with enough hitting to challenge." It might be the best staff in the East. Until we can declare that officially, AJ Burnett remains as much a question mark as Matt Clement.
Of the Red Sox: "Their defense is upgraded, but too many pitching 'ifs.'" Pitching ifs? Have you seen the lineup?
Truth is, picking a winner in the AL East this season is like picking a meteorologist at which you won't eventually want to toss your boot. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays have undergone their own Hometime project, a vast remodeling of the 2005 version of each team.
The Red Sox got younger, not cheaper, and perhaps, maybe better. The Blue Jays got more expensive, and certainly better. The Yankees added Johnny Damon to transform a potent lineup into an "egads!" lineup, but never really addressed their pitching, an aspect that gave them fits last season until midseason additions performed miracles.
Think about it, if Aaron Small doesn't go 10-0 down the stretch last season, the Yankees might have been a $200 million 85-win team. How many picked the Chicago White Sox to win the AL Central in 2005, let alone the World Series title? Some morons (hello) even finally called 2005 the year of the Oakland A's demise, and that team might be one of the top five AL squads heading into 2006 with the best starting staff west of Chicago.
Seasonal calculations in spring training are an inexact science at best, more often than not better left up to a roll of the dice and a dash of common sense. In the AL East particularly, many publications will likely succumb to the time-honored tradition of eeny-meeny-miney in making its choices.
Some, on the other hand, are not as difficult to make. For instance, in the Central, Chicago will be atop most lists not just because picking the defending champion is the easiest choice to make, but because the champs actually got better by adding Javier Vazquez to an already stellar staff and Jim Thome to what is a solid, if not vulnerable, offense. In the West, with the Angels taking hits (losing Paul Byrd and Bengie Molina), expect Oakland to be a hot pick, with another year under the belts of Rich Harden and Dan Haren, plus Barry Zito in a contract year.
The East? Good luck. Not that they are not present in each other division, but there are far too many variables and potentials for failure (Foulke, Burnett, Kyle Farnsworth) and breakout (Jonathan Papelbon, Lyle Overbay, Small) to accurately and seriously make an attempt at the future here. Who knows, maybe it comes down to which former Marlins pitcher (Boston's Josh Beckett, Burnett, or New York's Carl Pavano) you like best.
If that's the case, I like Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, in that order. Alas, it is not the case. It's not rocket science, of course, but the nimrods who threaten bodily harm if they don't like how you've set things up aren't exactly rocket scientists either.
Besides, this year the World Baseball Classic tosses a whole new wrench into the works. How can anyone make predictions before seeing who gets injured in that potential disaster?
So, no predictions today. It's far too early for one thing, spring training still days away. But more importantly, in order to give the East justice, it's going to take hours of poring over stats and numbers, histories of injury, and who might be available at the July trading deadline.
Or I might just throw a few darts and see where they land. Either way, should be just as accurate.