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How dumb should the American League make me feel?

Pretty dumb, as usual. But why were the Rangers, Orioles, and Indians so easy to miss?

Every year. Every freaking year. I’m told to make predictions, and I do them like a good employee, and every year I bork the American League. Oh, the National League is easy. Get the Mets and Nationals up near the top here, the Cubs at top with the Cards and Pirates close by, with the Dodgers and Giants in some order, pick a mystery team that might contend (Marlins), and don’t worry too much about the order. The principles are probably going to be right.

The American League, though. If the standings hold, this would be the third straight season in which I’ve predicted exactly zero of the AL division winners correctly. Part of that is a user error. Part of that is the AL is formless chaos, where the Royals are suddenly excellent until they aren’t, where the A’s vacillate between 90 wins and 90 losses, where the Red Sox are often masters of turning preseason goodwill into injuries, plague, and sizable fires.

Right now, the Orioles, Indians, and Rangers all have sizable division leads. I picked them to finish fourth, second, and third, respectively, and now I have regrets. Shouldn’t I have seen them coming? It’s time to play "How bad should I feel?"

How bad should I feel about screwing up my Orioles prediction?

Why were you skeptical about them?

Because Ubaldo Jimenez was supposed to be a key cog in the rotation. Because they replaced Wei-Yin Chen (usually good) with Yovani Gallardo (reliably competent with a capital meh). Because they needed starting pitchers and outfielders and somehow navigated an entire offseason filled with starting pitchers and outfielders without making a single splashy move.

What didn’t you see coming?

Manny Machado emerging from his nice-young-player chrysalis and turning into one of the five best players in the world. Chris Tillman returning to form. Hyun-soo Kim being the steal of the offseason, but only if Mark Trumbo wasn’t more of a steal. Jonathan Schoop developing. Kevin Gausman being left the hell alone in the starting rotation. The power of the dinger.

The power of the dinger.

Oh, power of the dinger, I beseech you not to be angry at me. Please accept this pile of Rob Deer cards as an offering, and let the fires of the dinger volcano consume them as a lesson to us all.

How bad should you feel?

Not very! The rotation is still a mess behind Tillman and Gausman, and it’s not like either of them have been Kershaw-like models of consistency over the last four weeks. Man cannot live on dingers alone.

That written, I most certainly did underrate their offense. Now that we have a hint that Kim is a high-contact, high-OBP marvel and that Schoop is capable of sustaining his low-patience, high-production ways, they’re as scary as any lineup in baseball. And just think, they can still expect more from Adam Jones.

The biggest problem? If they want a starting pitcher, they’re going to have to pay Shelby Miller prices or settle for someone about as reliable as Yovani Gallardo. For now, though, they make at least a little sense, even if they have the most precarious lead of the three division leaders.

How bad should I feel about screwing up my Indians prediction?

Why were you skeptical about them?

It’s not so much that I was bearish on the Indians, it’s that I was scared of the Royals making me look stupid again. First rule of predictions: You’re going to look stupid, so don’t worry about which team does it to you. I violated the first rule of predictions, and I should feel bad.

The Indians were the consensus favorites last season, but even though their horrible April sank them quickly, they were the team they were supposed to be after that. They were heading into the 2016 season with momentum, which doesn’t have to mean a damned thing, except the way they ended the season made far more sense than how they started it.

What didn’t you see coming?

Okay, see, this isn’t fair. Before the season, I participated in a roundtable where one of the questions was, "Who is going to be the random, unpredictable success of 2016?" and I wrote 500 words on Trevor Bauer. Literally 30 minutes later, the Indians announced he wasn’t going to be in the rotation, so I scrapped them. My one chance to look like a genius, and the fates pantsed me.

But, fine, Trevor Bauer. Didn’t see him coming quite like this. Josh Tomlin successfully turning into prime Mark Buehrle, for another. Lonnie Chisenhall turning from one of the worst projected corner outfielders in baseball into a steady offensive contributor, while continuing to play a mean outfield.

How bad should you feel?

You know what? That’s about all I didn’t see coming from the Indians, which means whatever positive is happening to them -- success from the rest of the rotation, Francisco Lindor remaining an unstoppable defensive demigod -- are positive occurrences we probably should have seen coming. And they can still get improvements from several positions, especially their outfield when Michael Brantley comes back.

The story of the offseason was that the Indians were looking to trade one of their cheap, mesmerizing, and young starting pitchers for lineup help. And all I could think of was this from 2007:

Lincecum for Rios? That’s a trade the Giants have to make

There was logic behind the idea at the time. But the dream of a deep, young, and mostly unstoppable rotation is a beautiful dream, and it’s occasionally realized when it’s supposed to. The Indians’ pitching was already awesome last season, and they’ve added even more depth. They didn’t need to make a splashy move, even while I was clamoring for them to get Justin Upton. They were right and I was wrong.

And we should all feel bad for not giving them more credit before the season.

How bad should I feel about screwing up my Rangers prediction?

Why were you skeptical about them?

Injuries and regression, mostly. I didn’t know how Yu Darvish would return from injury, if Jurickson Profar could contribute at all, or if Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder would hold up over a full season. Their best players were going to be Adrian Beltre (37) and Cole Hamels (averaged 440 innings in every season since 1988 or so).

What didn’t you see coming?

Hamels pitching in Texas like it’s no big deal that he’s in a hitter’s park in a hitter’s league. Ian Desmond not only taking to the outfield, but thriving like he was born for it. The instant success of Nomar Mazara. A strong bullpen after the closer’s arm died on the way back to its home planet.

How bad should you feel?

Hold on. All of that up there, combined with freakish, unrepeatable ability to win one-run games and somehow get all of their hits when they need them the most, in the games where they need them the most. That’s one of the most important parts.

Rangers fans don’t need to worry about the baseball gods performing a luck audit and sending them a retroactive luck bill. Those wins aren’t going anywhere, and they’re overwhelming favorites to win the AL West again. But they should worry just a bit about all of this regressing unless they start getting improved performances from ...

  • Mitch Moreland
  • Rougned Odor
  • Prince Fielder
  • Whatever catchers they're rustling up
  • Derek Holland
  • Almost any hitter not named "Desmond"
  • The rune stones in the clubhouse that are supposed to keep injuries away

That can happen, but, seriously, look at their Baseball-Reference page. Skim through the OPS+ marks. Check out the FIPs. Take a spin around their raw OPS numbers if they help you. It all looks like a team that should contend, sure. But a team that caught up to the Cubs for the best record in baseball?

So, no, I don’t feel bad. I feel amazed and giddy that teams like this exist, and they fascinate me, but the only part that makes me kick myself is that the Rangers won their division last year and probably deserved a little more respect when it came to being contenders. There was no way to predict that they'd have the best record in baseball midway through the season.

That written, Darvish seems like he’s ready to ace the world up, and the Rangers have a whole lot of players who can get better, not worse. They don’t have to keep up their current 106-win pace to win the division. Playing .500 ball for the rest of the season gets them to 93 wins, which has been enough to win the AL West in every season since 2002’s Moneyball madness.

They can most certainly do that, so even though I shouldn’t feel bad for not seeing their unlikely stretch of red-hot dominance, if you predict anything other than a division title now, you should feel very, very, very, very bad.

[flips double bird to American League]

I'll see you next March, you miserable pool of chaos. And I'm predicting the Brewers to win the AL Pennant, just to be safe. Don't try to talk me out of it.