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Will You Never Learn?

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Sorry, that wasn't aimed at you. I was talking to all the major publications that come out with their annual pre-season baseball predictions and can't seem to fathom that if you pick the same team to finish too low year after year after year, then maybe -- just shmaybe -- you shouldn't do it yet again.

In 2012 the A's were going to be terrible, as even A's fans conceded. So all the prognosticators (who also probably rosterbate and masticate in their spare time) did not so much have egg on their face as they were simply wrong. Baseball is wonderfully unpredictable.

Then in 2013 these same publications declared 2012 to be a fluke and refused to make Oakland a favorite to win the AL West despite the fact that the A's had one of the best single credentials possible: They had won it the year before. And were not turning over the roster. And so they made fools of their skeptics by winning the division somewhat handily.

So in 2014 the A's were ... once again largely overlooked. Only an epic collapse at the end saved the prognostirostermasticators from looking more foolish.

Now it's 2015, which looks a lot like 2012 or else it doesn't. It's hard to tell and it's harder to blame pundits who see the Angels, or Mariners, as having the edge going in. Also, in fairness all the publications went to press before the A's acquired Ben Zobrist. But still ... wouldn't you think the pundits might want to hedge their bets for a change? You'd mostly be dead wrong.

The first magazine I picked up was Athlon Sports, probably because they used, as their cover photo, Madison Bumgarner and Sonny Gray. Very Bay Area-y of them. Naturally page 1 is devoted to Derek Jeter, but I bought the magazine anyway. Guess where they pick the A's to finish in the AL West? Not 1st, not 2nd, not 3rd, not 4th. 5th place. I mean it's possible, but really? That's your best guess? Because the Astros' rotation led by Dallas Keuchel, Scott Feldman, Brett Oberholtzer, Wing and Prayer is that good? Because the only thing Rangers need in order to rebound is just for 10 injured guys all to come back strong?

Sporting News is more measured in its annual underrating of the A's, picking them to finish 3rd behind the Mariners and Angels. That's reasonable, but also gives me hope that the A's will secure 1st or 2nd place since they seem to, like clockwork, finish at least one spot ahead of where they're picked. In 2013 the Sporting News picked Oakland to finish 3rd. (Ruining my narrative, they predicted the A's would win 89 games last season so bully for them.)

What's lacking is that "daring pick" that Oakland will surprise again as they did 3 years ago -- and as apparently also did in 2013 and most of 2014. Given that the A's have retooled, and risen shockingly fast, before -- even recently -- and that they have consistently exceeded pre-season expectations, wouldn't they be a smart pick to do so again?

Apparently not, and I have to say I love it. When I saw the 5th place prediction I wanted to yell out, "Bring it ON!" but I might want to return to that Barnes & Nobles again so I only shouted it in my head. I don't know if the A's themselves relish the role of the underdog but I know I sure love it as a fan -- so long as Oakland indeed rises up in the Lazarus way and not in the "hot air" way.

As much as I hated to see Josh Donaldson, and especially Brandon Moss, go, as much as I felt Yoenis Cespedes was part of the A's winning identity, as much as I will always be grateful to Derek Norris for walloping a 3-run walk-off HR off of Santiago Casilla on my birthday, there's a part of me that associates those guys with the bitter taste of how the 2014 season turned ugly and see those losses almost as a purge.

Sage has been burned, and most everything that first represented the wonder of 2012 but then represented the collapse of 2014, has been expunged. It is the dawn of a new era, and in the cases of Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin, Jesse Hahn it's also the dawn of a new ERA.

Anything is possible, which is the key truth each pundit seems to have overlooked, again. The talent is there, the depth is there, the uncertainty is without question. I won't be shocked if the A's finish 3rd and I also won't be shocked if they finish 1st. I will be shocked if they finish 5th -- yet from the outside apparently it's easier to squint and see them in the cellar than it is to see them atop the AL West. Even though atop the AL West is where they have been when these same critics have stated their non-belief.

Bring. It. On.