A team is going to come out of nowhere this season. Everything's going to break right for them, whether those breaks come with supernaturally good health, an unexpectedly great record in one-run games, or every player playing up to their potential. It doesn't matter what tool you use. Some people will use PECOTA-based projections, some will run the numbers through a computer simulation 100,000 times, and some will fall back on irresponsible guesses pulled from unspeakable places. Even with a variety of different methods employed by a variety of different prognosticators, there's going to be one team that is severely underestimated by every amateur and professional Nostragammons in the baseball world.
Once this truism becomes apparent, it still doesn't do you much good. It'd be like patting yourself on the back for predicting a keno drawing. Not predicting the right numbers, mind you, but just that a drawing will occur. "See! Ten numbers were drawn, and the odds of those specific numbers being drawn were astronomical! Amazing." Luckily, there are just a few teams in baseball, so a wild guess can look smart even if it flies in the face of almost every piece of empirical data collected. Something's going to happen with one or two of about 15 to 20 pseudo-contenders, so there's no sense in playing it safe:
- Tigers, 90-72
- White Sox, 89-73
- Indians, 88-74
- Twins, 82-80
- Royals, 50-112
Again, almost everything would have to break right for Detroit. Magglio Ordonez would have to contribute, as would Pudge Rodriguez. A lot of young players would have to develop in front of us all like Sea Monkeys. The injuries would have to disappear. Still, there are a few reasons why the Tigers are my W.A.G. for the coming season:
- Ordonez and Rodriguez can't contribute much less, but they are both capable of contributing a whole lot more.
- Jeremy Bonderman is talented enough to take a big leap, and the Tigers also have a polished prospect in Justin Verlander who could emerge like a young Matt Morris did in 1997. Toss in the possibility of some fluke performances from inning-munchers like Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson, and it isn't hard to imagine a staff that could overachieve for 162 games.
- There is a whole bunch of young talent on the club, and some of it is going to blow up this year. Curtis Granderson, Craig Monroe, and Chris Shelton have already proven some degree of worth to a big league team, and Omar Infante is better than what he showed last season. Only Brandon Inge really played over his head last year, and he's young enough to hope that was more development than fluke.
- There is veteran talent beyond Ordonez and Rodriguez, as well. Dmitri Young and Carlos Guillen can both be above average for their positions.
The White Sox have the best team on paper Monday-Wednesday, with the Indians making me change my mind from Thursday-Saturday. I'd probably rank the Twins above the Tigers by talent alone, and the possibility of a dominant young rotation gives the Twins the talent crown on Sundays. The Tigers have some enigmas in the bullpen, and a dicey staff behind their ace. More importantly, the lineup is filled with fragile players, young players, and inconsistent players. A lot would have to fall into place for the Tigers to win, especially in a division as competent as the AL Central.
But that's the fun of the preseason. If I'm right, I'm a genius. If I'm wrong, no one pays attention to preseason predictions. At the very least, the Tigers will be competitive. I'd pick them to win the NL West by about 32 games.
Also, the Royals aren't good.