Here's one prediction we're sure will come true: The Red Sox will be much better than last year. No more Bobby Valentine, no more daily brushfires, no more 18-42 stretches, much more accountability, much more competence and professionalism up and down the organization.
Whether that means a win total in the low 80s or genuine contention in the compelling American League East, well, that will be determined over the next six months and 162 games. But it will be better.
Here are 10 more predictions for the new season ... Next
Clay Buchholz will lead Red Sox in wins
The 28-year-old righthander has always had the repertoire to be one of the league's top pitchers, but save for 2010, when he won 17 games with a 2.33 ERA, he's struggled to remain healthy and consistent. Reunited with John Farrell, who oversaw his development into a quality pitcher during the new manager's previous stint as the pitching coach, Buchholz should thrive. Spring training was certainly encouraging in that regard– he had a 0.79 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 22.3 innings. Next
Jon Lester will bounce back
Perhaps the most encouraging development of spring training (other than the ascension of Jackie Bradley Jr., of course) is that Lester has resembled the top-of-the-rotation stalwart who had won 75 of 106 career decisions entering September 2011 rather than ... well, the easily distracted and mysteriously ineffective pitcher who had been 10-17 since. Lester had a superb spring (0.75 ERA, eight hits in 24 innings), and his return to form is about as essential as it gets if the Red Sox are going to contend. Next
Allen Webster is regular part of rotation by late summer
Let's put it this way: When you hear Webster, the 23-year-old righthander acquired in the Dodgers blockbuster last August, described as "Derek Lowe with a 97 mph fastball,'' it's easy to envision him as rotation stalwart for the next half-dozen seasons or so. Webster spent all of last season in Double A, where he went 6-9 with a 3.86 ERA between Chattanooga and Portland. If he pitches in Pawtucket like he pitched this spring (1.64 ERA, .91 WHIP), it won't be long before he's pitching meaningful games in Boston. Next
David Ortiz plays in fewer than 81 games
It's lost in the frustration of his absence, but Ortiz was one of the best hitters in baseball last season (1.023 OPS) when healthy. Of course, that caveat is as big as Papi himself. He played just 90 games last season – one after July 16 – because of an Achilles' injury that still has him in baseball purgatory, and it's probably foolish to have any expectations of durability when he does return. Next
Jackie Bradley Jr. won't play a game in Pawtucket
Whether or not you believe the Red Sox made the right long-term decision in keeping him on the Opening Day roster, you can't help be happy for the charismatic 22-year-old outfielder. He absolutely earned the chance with a phenomenal spring (.419 batting average), and even if he struggles at the plate initially (and the hunch here is that he will), his defense and baserunning will prove assets that Farrell will want to keep at his disposal. Plus, Shane Victorino is 33, Ortiz's status is uncertain, and Jacoby Ellsbury hasn't exactly been durable, so Bradley shouldn't lack for opportunities to play. Next
Jose Iglesias will hit just enough to create a shortstop controversy
The graceful, flashy shortstop has been ready to field his position in the majors since the Red Sox signed the Cuban as a international free agent in September 2009. The question has been whether his bat would ever be worthy of a place in the daily lineup.
Iglesias has just a .589 OPS in 783 Triple-A plate appearances, but there were encouraging signs in the small-sample size spring training provided (.294 average, .765 OPS). Veteran Stephen Drew has been a fine player when healthy, but his spring was put on pause by post-concussion symptoms, and his last name probably doesn't get him the benefit of the doubt with too many Sox fans. The door is open for Iglesias to get his chance, and a hit every four at-bats would be a tolerable output given his exceptional glove. Next
Jacoby Ellsbury will find the middle ground
In 2011, the Red Sox' center fielder was arguably the best everyday player in the American League, hitting 32 home runs with 39 stolen bases and a .928 OPS in a career-high 158 games. However, in the two seasons (2010, '12) surrounding what right now looks like a career outlier, he played a total of 92 games and hit four homers combined, the seasons essentially lost because of significant impact injuries that resulted in broken ribs and a separated shoulder.
It's not a news flash that Ellsbury is in the final year of his contract, and provided he can avoid fluke injuries, the belief here is that he'll be similar to the player he was in 2009, when he hit .301 with 8 homers and 70 steals in 153 games. Give him about 10 more homers and knock off 20 steals from his '09 totals, and that seems a reasonable expectation for what he is capable of this season. Next
David Ross plays more games at catcher than Salty
A stretch? Maybe. Probably. But hear me out. If you think David Ortiz is going to miss significant time, Saltalamacchia, who hit a team-high 25 homers last year but wore down late, could stay fresh by serving as the lefthanded-hitting designated hitter more than occasionally. And Ross is not a typical backup – he hits lefthanders and righthanders equally and relatively effectively, and he's a tremendous thrower and game-caller who is certain to become a favorite of the pitching staff. Next
Junichi Tazawa will be the Red Sox' best reliever
OK, I'm not exactly going out on a limb here since the 26-year-old righthander's emergence as a shutdown reliever (1.43 ERA, 45 strikeouts and 5 walks in 44 innings) was one of the few positive developments last season. But the Sox bullpen does have its share of accomplished veterans (Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Koji Uehara). None will be more effective than Tazawa, who at the very least will be the Red Sox' best setup man since Daniel Bard in 2010. Next
Mike Napoli will prove a bargain
There was plenty of offseason handwringing when the Red Sox' three-year, $39 million deal with the former Rangers and Angels catcher (and perpetual tormentor of Boston pitching) was held up after it was discovered Napoli was suffering from a congenital condition in his hips known as avascular necrosis. It was concerning enough that Napoli's deal was renegotiated to a year for $5 million plus incentives. Napoli has insisted he has no symptoms of the condition, and his performance this spring (.865 OPS) suggests he's just fine. Back to the beginning
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