I struggle with predictions the way some folks battle bad hair days and others wrestle with Snapchat.

In 2005, I picked the Chicago White Sox to finish last in the AL Central.

Of course, they won their first World Series in 88 years that summer.

So every year about this time, my daughter’s godfather, a diehard White Sox fan going back to the days of the late, great Walt (No-Neck) Williams and Steve Dahl and Disco Demolition Night, checks in to beg me to pick his team last again.

I do what I can.

So here we are again, leaning into another summer, the smell of lemonade and hot dogs already irresistible.

But first, can we talk? Since I know what’s coming from all of you who are about to be furious over the fact that I’m not heaping as much praise on your team as you think it deserves, I’ll just come right out and admit it.

I despise your team. I really do.

Whoever your team is, its colors are ugly and the sight of its uniforms makes me physically ill. The manager stinks. And the nickname, ugh. I don’t like birds, I don’t like animals and I don’t like fish.

(Are there any other nicknames out there, or does that cover it? Ah, the Giants…I’ve had a thing against them since Jack and the Beanstalk. The Brewers…I don’t like beer. The Dodgers…what is this, 1950? Trolleys are so yesterday. The Padres…I still get nightmares from the way those mean nuns knocked me around in grade school).

So whatever you do, make sure you disregard the mere fact that it is impossible to pick all 30 teams first and to scoot them all into the playoffs. This is personal (he said with sarcasm as thick as maple syrup dripping all over the fluffy flapjacks of a delicious new season)…


1. AL East

This division is more competitive than a Starbucks line at 7 a.m.…

Red Sox: Think David Price’s dominance, not Pablo Sandoval’s waistline. Think Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and a souped-up bullpen, not Hanley Ramirez as the fly in the tomato bisque that is left field. (Besides, he’s taken to first base this year like clams to chowder!) Boston is back in business.

Blue Jays: Tough call, first or second here. Love Marcus Stroman and the possibilities he brings to this team. But he’s got enormous shoes to fill because Toronto minus David Price makes the Blue Jays less attractive than they were in the second half of last season. Even with Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and this thumper lineup.

Yankees: They’re sneaky young in a couple of key spots with shortstop Didi Gregorius, new second baseman Starlin Castro and starter Luis Severino. Michael Pineda is the difference-maker: If he dominates, so, too, will the Yankees.

Rays: Chris Archer could win a Cy Young (though I pick someone else below), and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier can track down fly balls from Tampa Bay across the Gulf of Mexico over to Louisiana. Not sure where the runs are going to come from the way Evan Longoria has hit the wall over the past couple of years.

Orioles: It’s going to be Home Run Derby every night with this crew. If only the rotation could match the thunder of Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez. Truthfully, this division is so close everyone should stay in the race well into August.


2. AL Central

This division is more competitive than a Starbucks line at 8 a.m.…

Royals: The PECOTA projection system says they will win 76 games. Ha ha ha ha! That’s funny! PECOTA predicted 72 wins last year (h/t Edge Vegas) and Kansas City won the World Series. Funnier! Except…I picked them third last year. That’s not so funny, and I ain’t making that mistake again. I don’t see much slowdown in Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Co. This organization is running at peak form. And manager Ned Yost is a lot craftier than many believe.

Twins: Why not? Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are ready for prime time. Ervin Santana is here for a full season, not just the second half. There is a lot to like here, and manager Paul Molitor’s attention to detail was something those freshly scrubbed twins shaking hands across the Mississippi River could be proud of.

Tigers: You get the feeling that these are the last roars of a proud, tough club before night settles in. Jordan Zimmermann is here instead of David Price and Max Scherzer, but the same old (and older) Justin Verlander remains the key to the rotation. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez wage war with Father Time while newcomer Justin Upton backs them, and new closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez will make manager Brad Ausmus much smarter this year.

Indians: If outfielder Michael Brantley is back at full strength by May, I may revise these predictions and bump Cleveland way higher. That’s how much he means to the Indians, who open the season with a Brantley-less outfield. Rookie center fielder Tyler Naquin had an intriguing spring. We know these guys can pitch. Trevor Bauer couldn’t even crack the rotation. Might Corey Kluber win another Cy Young?

White Sox: They’re much better than a last-place team. But a couple of things: First, there’s what I wrote above regarding ’05 (and thus, wink, wink, the reason for picking them last). And, this division is so close that you can make a case for each of the five teams to finish first, including Chicago. Love the additions of Todd Frazier, Alex Avila and, yes, Jimmy Rollins. But can they prove to ace Chris Sale that the loss of Drake LaRoche isn’t going to be a key factor?


3. AL West

Don’t mess with Texas…

Astros: Like the Cubs, Houston arrived a year ahead of schedule in 2015. And like the Cubs, the Astros again are loaded. Carlos Correa is going to become a breakout star this year. Big key behind Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh: the state of Lance McCullers’ sore shoulder. He will open on the DL, and the Astros need him ASAP. Doug Fister will be a Comeback Player of the Year candidate, and closer Ken Giles is a key addition.

Rangers: Great example of how one July trade deadline can sometimes set you up for the next year, too. Adding Cole Hamels last summer not only won the Rangers the division in ’15, it positioned them to barbecue most everyone else again in ’16, especially once Yu Darvish returns from Tommy John surgery midseason. This spring the Rangers loved Ian Desmond’s bat and leadership ability—might he become the most underrated free-agent signing of the winter?

Mariners: Full disclosure: I wrenched my back leaping off the Seattle bandwagon so quickly after the M’s went splat last year. Now, new general manager Jerry Dipoto has overhauled this roster extensively. Whether new manager Scott Servais can keep this thing from capsizing depends on a return to form by Robinson Cano and a rotation that could benefit from Wade Miley’s heavy lifting and Taijuan Walker’s finally emerging as a star.

Angels: Jered Weaver couldn’t break a Rally Monkey mug with his fastball right now, C.J. Wilson is out indefinitely and maybe Tyler Skaggs (Tommy John surgery) will return by May. And the rotation looks great compared to left field, where Craig Gentry and Daniel Nava combined for one home run last year. Mike Trout may sue for nonsupport by year’s end.

Athletics: The A’s didn’t catch the ball this spring, didn’t pitch particularly well and generally gave no reason to believe. You wonder whether Sonny Gray will be the next star shipped out of town. Remember two years ago when Oakland had baseball’s best record at the All-Star break? Yeah, seems like 22 years ago.


4. AL Wild Cards

“T” it up now, Toronto-Texas…

Blue Jays: Absolutely cannot wait to see another Jose Bautista bat flip come October. Can you?

Rangers: They’re not chanting “boo!” They’re chanting “Yu!” Darvish’s return will boost Jeff Banister’s club.


5. NL East

The Haves and the Have-Nots, split comes right after the Marlins…

Mets: The only thing that will stop them is if ace Matt Harvey cannot learn to pee properly. Assuming he empties his bladder as frequently as he should and the blood clots don’t return, look out. And Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon get help when Zack Wheeler returns from Tommy John surgery midseason. Maybe Yoenis Cespedes will ferry Wheeler to his first start in the Batmobile.

Nationals: “In Dusty We Trusty,” the T-shirts once read. Maybe they’ll pop up again, because new manager Dusty Baker will have a positive influence on this bunch. And if Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg can stay off the disabled list, all the better. You’ll know things are going much better for this team when September arrives and Jonathan Papelbon’s hands are not wrapped around Harper’s neck.

Marlins: They have one of the best sluggers in the game in Giancarlo Stanton. They have one of the best aces in the game in Jose Fernandez. From there, anything is possible. Good for new manager Don Mattingly landing in a spot where he has more freedom to work. Now, get to work, Dee Gordon!

Phillies: Let’s all sit back and watch starters Aaron Nola and Vincent Velasquez develop, as well as second baseman Cesar Hernandez. The Phillies’ last run in the NL East is long since over, even if Ryan Howard continues to hang around. But young talent abounds after they finally—and smartly—dealt Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Co.

Braves: As they take a final lap around Turner Field before it meets the wrecking ball, at least you can close your eyes and dream of a day when Dansby Swanson and others lead Atlanta back to respectability. Sorry, not this year.


6. NL Central

The Haves and Have-Nots, Part II, split right after the Pirates…

Cubs: Reminder: This team won 97 games last year and still finished third in the division. Public service announcement: Having added outfielder Jason Heyward, super-utilityman Ben Zobrist and starter John Lackey, they’re even better this year. Don’t forget to rub the Harry Caray statue on the way out of Wrigley Field for luck.

Cardinals: You have to be a blockhead not to pick St. Louis first every year, right? Ahem. That’s what I usually tell myself. So while being fitted for a square cap, I do make the argument that Adam Wainwright (who missed most of last year to injury) and Mike Leake (signed as a free agent) are better in the rotation this year than John Lackey (signed with the Cubs) and Lance Lynn (out for the season with Tommy John surgery) were last year. So hang tight—this is going to be fun.

Pirates: Please, can somebody get the poor Buccos past the wild-card round and deeper into October? Great city, great park, great talent here. I’ll take my chances against anybody with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco in my outfield. The key could be Jon Niese in the rotation behind Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano—and Pittsburgh’s great pitching coach, Ray Searage.

Brewers: Closer Will Smith injured a knee this spring while standing on one foot attempting to take off his shoes. Flamingos everywhere are laughing. And it’s probably all downhill from there for the Brew Crew.

Reds: Cincinnati used a rookie to start on the mound in each of its final 64 games last summer. On the bright side, the bullpen still contains one of the game’s best names, Jumbo Diaz.


7. NL West

In which the Dodgers’ streak of winning this division for three consecutive years comes to an end…

Giants: Pitching is where San Francisco has built its reputation, and expect Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija both to flourish with pitching coach Dave Righetti and manager Bruce Bochy at their side (and Madison Bumgarner, too! You thought I’d forget?). But the key here will be Denard Span, whose 2015 was wrecked by injury. Span is the leadoff man and center fielder who will make the Giants go.

Diamondbacks: Is there anything worse than a catastrophic injury at the end of spring training? Godspeed, A.J. Pollock. I like this Arizona team and was all set to pick it first until Pollock fractured his elbow. Now Paul Goldschmidt is looking for a new tag-team partner. Socrates Brito?

Dodgers: Just in time for their new airline sponsorship deal, perhaps Emirates can fly in some help for their already battered rotation. Ross Stripling, who has never pitched above Double-A and started only 14 games last season in the minors while coming back from Tommy John surgery, is the fifth starter while Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Mike Bolsinger heal. Good luck, new manager Dave Roberts.

Padres: Tyson Ross, James Shields and Andrew Cashner can be a good front of the rotation, but this club is stuck with the wrong Upton (Melvin Jr. stays, Justin signed with the Tigers and Kate was unavailable), and middle-of-the-order questions surround Matt Kemp. Wil Myers theoretically has healthy wrists again. But general manager A.J. Preller has been downgraded from Rock Star GM to Elevator Music GM.

Rockies: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Rockies? One good month (September, 2007) in 23 seasons of existence. Jim Tracy once left $1.4 million on the table not to manage Colorado in 2013. At least Nolan Arenado is worth watching.


8. NL Wild Cards

Rewrite! Get me rewrite!

Diamondbacks: (Still thinking of a pithy comment; was prepared to go forward with Giants in this slot until Pollock’s injury.)

Nationals: Pssst, look who’s developing a trend of making the playoffs in even years (2012, 2014). It isn’t winning the World Series in even years like the Giants, but it’s a start.


9. World Series

Party at the Billy Goat Tavern!

Cubs over Astros: Aw, let’s everybody step up and pet the bear cubs that manager Joe Maddon brought to spring training one day. And the Cubs get to name the cubs, too! How about one of them gets named “World Series” and the other “Champion”? Youth plays big in today’s game, and the Cubs and Astros are dressed for October: They have layers of it.


10. MVPs

Fresh faces with game…

Carlos Correa, Astros: In just 99 games last season, this developed-beyond-his-years kid made a significant mark. It’s not easy to pick against Mike Trout in this race, but Correa has the talent, the makeup and plays a key position (shortstop). And at 21, he makes Trout (24) seem old!

Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks: With better pitching, the Diamondbacks will be in playoff contention. And with that, everybody will take note of Goldschmidt, who is every bit the cornerstone of the Arizona franchise that Albert Pujols was in St. Louis in 2005-06.


11. Cy Youngs

The last time a Blue Jay won the award, it was Roy Halladay in 2003. The last Met to win, R.A. Dickey in 2012…

Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays: We saw his work ethic last year when he was supposed to miss the entire season with a knee injury. We saw his talent when he gave Toronto a late-season and postseason boost. I love this kid. The only question is his workload: Will the Blue Jays limit his innings to the point where other Cy Young candidates will have too big of a workload advantage over him?

Noah Syndergaard, Mets: Last year it was all about Jacob deGrom during the Mets’ October charge. In 2013, when he started for the NL in the All-Star Game, it was all about Matt Harvey. Welcome to the big stage, Thor.


12. Rookies of the Year

Other acceptable answers: Nationals right-hander Lucas Giolito, Dodgers lefty Julio Urias, Rangers third baseman Joey Gallo, Mets lefty Steven Matz, Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, Dodgers righty Kenta Maeda, Twins designated hitter Byung Ho Park…

Byron Buxton, Twins: Don’t be fooled by last year’s sluggish splashdown. Buxton was injured quickly, and Minnesota GM Terry Ryan says he rushed Buxton to the majors because the team was playing so well. He’ll be ready for the big stage in 2016.

Corey Seager, Dodgers: Workin’ on his night moves just in time for Vin Scully’s farewell season.


13. Managers of the Year

Spoiler alert: Both of my picks for Manager of the Year last season, San Diego’s Bud Black and Seattle’s Lloyd McClendon, were fired. So good luck to…

A.J. Hinch, Astros: Hinch easily could have won this award last year, but Texas’ Jeff Banister plucked it from him at the last minute, just like the Rangers sneaked up on the Astros. This year, it will be different.

Chip Hale, Diamondbacks: Poor Hale already has as big a challenge as any manager faces on Opening Day, having to work to massage over the tremendous void left by A.J. Pollock’s injury. Tough, but Hale and his team can figure it out.


14. First Manager Fired


Bryan Price, Reds: Poor guy, the Price is not right in Cincinnati this year. And it won’t be for the next few years for the rebuilding Reds. Eventually, he’ll land in the discard pile, too.


15. First Name Player Traded

This isn’t going to end well in Boston…

Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox: Burp! It just…buuuurp!…didn’t work out…buuuuuurrrrrrp! Anybody got a new scale? Crash!


16. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

The first Tigers Grapefruit League game every year was must-listen because Hall of Fame radio man Ernie Harwell would open the broadcast by reciting the “Voice of the Turtle.” It was as sure a sign of spring as spotting the first robin. So, in a nod to Ernie and spring (you can listen here)…

“For, lo, the winter is past

“The rain is over and gone

“The flowers appear on the Earth

“The time of the singing of birds is come

“And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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