Best bet? Expect the unexpected

What a season this should be.

Virtually every team returns with a different look. Many of the overhauls were quite dramatic. Baseball’s 30 team-based reality shows, each lasting six months and 162 games, will be nothing short of fascinating.

Just don’t ask me what the heck will happen, that’s all.

Sabermetricans continue to roll out their projections. Front offices advance their own formulas, even devising tweaks to account for age, injuries and declining performance. Such exercises are well-intended and often help teams with their planning. But the more we try to figure the game out, the more we look foolish.

Or were you the one savant (cough, FOXSports.com’s Jon Paul Morosi) who predicted that the Giants and Rangers would meet in last year’s World Series?

A’s general manager Billy Beane once called the playoffs “a crapshoot.” The regular season offers greater predictability, thanks to its larger sample size. But for those trying to figure out which teams will win, it’s a crapshoot, too.

Injuries occur, trades happen, the human element produces unexpected results. Player movement is so frequent and intense, it’s fashionable to say that the team you see on April 1 will not be the team you see on Aug. 1 after the non-waiver trade deadline passes. But even that is an oversimplification.

The first step in a club’s transformation actually can occur well before the deadline; such is the potential impact of a top prospect whose promotion is delayed until late May or early June to save a year of arbitration — a practice that could be altered in the next labor agreement.

Trades and waiver claims, meanwhile, continue through August. Deals also occur in September, even though players acquired after Aug. 31 are not eligible for a team’s postseason roster.

For examples of how championship teams evolve, think back to the Giants and Rangers last season. Bengie Molina, the Giants’ Opening Day catcher, ended up the Rangers’ primary catcher in the World Series. And that was the least of it.

The Giants opened the season with John Bowker in right, Aaron Rowand in center and Mark DeRosa in left. None played regularly in the postseason; Bowker had been traded to the Pirates, DeRosa was recovering from a wrist injury and Rowand was mostly a reserve.

The Rangers, meanwhile, opened with Scott Feldman and Rich Harden as their top starting pitchers and Matt Harrison as their No. 5. None threw a single pitch in the postseason. The team also changed its closer in the first week, with Frank Francisco losing his job to rookie Neftali Feliz.

In fact, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels spent all season altering his mix, acquiring Molina on July 1, making his big move for Cliff Lee on July 9 and even picking up outfielder Jeff Francoeur on Aug. 31.

Giants GM Brian Sabean took an even more eclectic path, starting with the promotion of Buster Posey from Triple-A and signing of outfielder Pat Burrell to a minor-league deal on May 29.

After that, Sabean acquired relievers Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez in separate trades on July 31, outfielder Jose Guillen in another deal on Aug. 13 and outfielder Cody Ross on a waiver claim on Aug. 22.

Neither Sabean nor Daniels anticipated making such radical adjustments to their initial blueprints. Virtually every other GM also was in scramble mode, for one reason or another.

Yet, crazy as the season was, it was pretty much like any other. This one will be the same, full of unexpected turns and pivotal developments — and sometimes two or three each day.

Already the Cardinals have lost right-hander Adam Wainwright for the season. The Phillies are uncertain what second baseman Chase Utley might offer. First baseman Kendrys Morales still is not back for the Angels.

The Reds, Brewers and Rangers will open without key starting pitchers. The Phillies will be without closer Brad Lidge. The Giants might be without closer Brian Wilson. And on and on.

People ask, “Who will be this year’s surprise team?” The truth is, only a handful of clubs appear unable to compete — probably the Pirates, Astros, Diamondbacks in the NL, the Royals, Indians and Mariners in the AL. The parity in baseball is that good, no matter what the alarmists and NFL propagandists might say.

So, let’s get going. Let’s see all the new faces in new places. Carl Crawford and A-Gon in Boston. Manny and Johnny in Tampa Bay. Cliff Lee in Philly, Dan Uggla in Atlanta, Zack Greinke in Milwaukee. And, for good measure, Jayson Werth in Washington, Victor Martinez in Detroit and Adam Dunn with the Chicago White Sox.

Let’s see who will be this season’s Posey and Feliz, this season’s Dallas Braden, even this season’s Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce. Let’s see all of the 30 glorious reality shows develop, mystifying us, thrilling us, captivating us from beginning to end.

My pick is Red Sox over Braves. It’s entirely too predictable, which means it is almost certain to be wrong.

Can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.

2011 PREDICTIONS

AL East

Red Sox: If Beckett and Lackey falter, guess what? They’re as vulnerable as the Yankees.

Yankees: Only question is which starting pitcher — or two — they will acquire.

Rays: Much depends upon the bullpen, which will be a season-long work in progress.

Orioles: Young starting pitching, injuries to older players could sink them lower.

Blue Jays: Too much talent lost from last year’s club, but plenty on the way.

AL Central

White Sox: Slight questions in rotation and bullpen; still best-balanced club in division.

Twins: Too many areas of uncertainty — Nathan, Morneau, middle infield, bullpen.

Tigers: Love the pitching, starting and relief. But how much can they count on Miguel Cabrera?

Royals: Transition to Moustakas and rest of youth movement set to begin.

Indians: If Sizemore is healthy, could be better than expected — at least until they start trading off parts.

AL West

A’s: It’s their year — best starting pitching in the league, an improved offense and the release of “Moneyball,” the movie.

Rangers: Pitching issues disturbing, but enough talent to figure it out, either from within or through trades.

Angels: Will like them a lot better once Kendrys Morales gets back on the field.

Mariners: Still think they need to trade King Felix, and their play only will reinforce how far away they really are.

NL East

Phillies: Not confident about this pick given the uncertain surrounding Utley, Lidge and even Polanco.

Braves: Best team in Florida, loaded with young talent, but need Chipper to stay healthy.

Marlins: Plenty of upside, could surprise. As always, owner Jeffrey Loria has them higher.

Nationals: Weak starting pitching could derail a team that is beginning to turn around.

Mets: Will continue making more news off the field than on.

NL Central

Reds: Fine all-around club, but there’s a thin margin for error if starting pitchers keep getting injured.

Cardinals: No Wainwright, but La Russa will keep them competitive in what could be Pujols’ farewell.

Cubs: Hard to like the offense, but better pitching than the Brewers — maybe enough to make a run.

Brewers: Rotation depth, lineup depth, bullpen and defense all are concerns.

Astros: Starting pitching will help them compete, but overall talent is lacking.

Pirates: Intriguing young position players, awful starting pitching.

NL West

Rockies: Banking on their Core Three: Tulo, CarGo, Ubaldo. But they need to learn how to win.

Giants: Looked great in Arizona; very well could avoid a championship hangover.

Dodgers: Frank picks them first, Jamie picks them fourth.

Padres: Better up the middle, but A-Gon is in Boston and the pitching might not be as good.

Diamondbacks: Below average in every aspect of the game.

Wild cards: Yankees, Braves

ALCS: Red Sox over Yankees

NLCS: Braves over Rockies

World Series: Red Sox over Braves

NL awards

MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals

Cy Young: Cole Hamels, Phillies

Rookie: Brandon Belt, Giants

Manager: Jim Tracy, Rockies

AL awards

MVP: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees

Cy Young: Jon Lester, Red Sox

Rookie: Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays

Manager: Terry Francona, Red Sox