It may not reach 40 degrees today in the city of Boston. It may be difficult to discern whether that's rain or snow falling from the sky. It may feel as though this miserable winter will never end.
But it's opening day, darn it, and so if ever there was a day to look ahead to warmth, to sun, to summer -- today is the day. Especially when the local team is the reigning World Series champion, and when there's reason to think they could be among the elite again.
Sunny days are indeed ahead ... and with that in mind, here are 14 predictions for the 2014 season.
1. The Red Sox will lose more than three games in a row.
Going out on a limb right off the bat, aren't I? Last year a big part of the Red Sox' remarkable consistency was their ability to avoid losing streaks of any length, but there's a reason they were the first team since the 2005 Cardinals to finish the season without losing more than three games in a row. It's really tough to do, enough that it may be the toughest of all the team's 2013 feats to repeat in 2014.
2. The Sox never settle in on a leadoff hitter.
Daniel Nava gets the nod at the top of the order on Monday, presumably taking the spot that would've gone to Shane Victorino if he were healthy. Victorino has experience in the role, as do Grady Sizemore and Dustin Pedroia, while Nava and even a guy like Jonny Gomes can work a count in a way that's compatible with the slot's responsibilities. But ultimately the notion of a leadoff man is overrated, and so the Sox won't settle on one specific guy there if it means compromising what represents the best-composed lineup on a given day.
3. Bradley is the starting center fielder by season's end.
Jackie Bradley was sent to Pawtucket last week after losing the center field competition to Sizemore, but was recalled before the opener because Victorino's hamstring sent him to the disabled list. Regardless of how the roster looks at the beginning, though, the prediction here is that after two seasons completely out of the game followed three seasons in which he hit .234 with a .314 on-base percentage, Sizemore performance and his durability will create an opportunity for Bradley, who will do a better job of proving himself big-league ready this season than he did last.
4. Pedroia is the only Red Sox player in the top 10 of MVP voting.
Last year Boston showed that a team need not have a serious MVP candidate in order to succeed, and whatever level of winning they experience this year it's again likely to come without the presence of a dominant individual. Dustin Pedroia does so many things well that when his team is good and he's playing his game he is among the league's most valuable, but since he won the honor in 2008 he hasn't been seriously considered for the award, and its says here that neither he nor any of his teammates will be this year, either.
5. Ortiz's spring struggles extend into the early season.
David Ortiz's spring essentially began with the DH being struck out by a college pitcher -- and it never really got any better in the Grapefruit League, as he batted .054 with an on-base plus slugging of .287. Sox fans would like to think he'll flip the switch when things count for real, but Ortiz hasn't hit better than .250 in spring training since 2006, and generally speaking he's been a really slow starter over that same span. His Aprils have improved recently, as he hit .405 in 2012 (after hitting .228 in the spring), and .500 last year (after missing all of spring training), but generally speaking he's still a slow starter. And the past month has done nothing to make me expect this year will be different.
6. Middlebrooks, Napoli, and Ortiz combine to hit 90 home runs.
That being said about Ortiz's slow starts, he does typically recover quite nicely. Couple that with the improvements the Red Sox hope Will Middlebrooks has made since this time last year, and with the might of Mike Napoli's bat, and the trio could combine for 90 taters -- something only the Orioles' troika of Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and JJ Hardy did last year in the American League.
7. Uehara gets Cy Young votes.
Koji Uehara will not be as good as he was last year. Heck, it might be decades before another Red Sox reliever is as good as Uehara was last year. But he won't be worse enough to cause worry. Sure, his WHIP last year was a ridiculous 0.565 -- but a year earlier it was a mere 0.639. Opponents might've hit .130 against him last year -- but they hit just .160 against him a year earlier. And, believe it or not, his ratio of strikeouts to walk, at 11.2, was actually down from 14.3 in 2012. Last year was an amazing, sure, but it wasn't necessary a gigantic aberration. So expect him to keep throwing strikes. Expect him to save 40 games. And expect him to show up on Cy Young ballots.
8. Buchholz makes 30 starts.
That's a number Clay Buchholz has never reached. He took the ball 29 times in 2012, and 28 in 2010, though other than that he's never made more than 16 major-league starts in a season. Thinking he'll make 30 starts this season is partially based on a belief that his injury history has to even out at some point, but it's also based on the suggestion that by successfully battling through soreness to pitch Game 4 of the World Series he may have had an epiphany that convinced him he needn't be 100 percent to be effective on the bump.
9. Jon Lester reaches free agency.
As Lester begins the final year of his current deal, the question is what he believes is fair market value, and how significantly that differs from what Red Sox management believes that number is. We compared Lester to some of the other pitchers who've been paid recently, and what's tricky is that Lester's career is just as in line with Anibal Sanchez (five years, $88 million) as it is with Zack Greinke (six years, $159 million). If Lester sees Greinke's deal as closer to market-value, especially after the way money was thrown around in the massive extensions given to Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout last week, then we shouldn't be surprised if the Sox let him test that belief in free agency.
10. Boston's biggest need at the trade deadline will be an outfielder.
On paper, the Sox are deep in the outfield. Their original opening day roster featured Sizemore, Victorino, Gomes, Nava, and Mike Carp, plus Bradley was waiting in the wings. However, with the health concerns around Victorino and Sizemore, and the unproven potential of Bradley (and Bryce Brentz for that matter), come July 31 this team could well be on the market for a veteran outfielder with the defensive skills to play center field. (Incidentally, don't be surprised, too, if Boston is looking for catching help, too, after going into the season with a pair of 37 year olds behind the plate.)
11. Tigers, Rangers, Nationals, Cardinals, and Dodgers win divisions.
Detroit will get some competition from Kansas City, but ultimately talent wins out in the AL Central. I perpetually underestimate Oakland, so I've probably done so again, but I'll take Texas in an active-but-underwhelming AL West. Washington is the biggest beneficiary of Atlanta's trouble with fielding a healthy rotation, while the Cardinals and Dodgers are both loaded with talent superior to those of their division rivals.
12. Rays and Orioles win the AL wild cards.
Tampa Bay will be excellent, yet again, while Baltimore will fend off the Yankees and the Royals for the second wild card spot. All three of those teams should be good offensively, so whichever team gets the most out of its pitching is the team that'll take the AL's final playoff berth. Michael Pineda could be a game-changer in New York, as Yordano Ventura could be in Kansas City, though I'm buying into what Ubaldo Jimenez did at the end of last year, and what Dan Duquette has proven willing to do with trades over the course of the season. Once Manny Machado's back Baltimore's got the best lineup of the three, too, so I'll take the O's.
13. Red Sox win 93 games, win the AL East.
So much has been written and said about how difficult it will be for the Red Sox to repeat everything that went right for them last year, what's become lost in the conversation is everything that they had to overcome in order to league the majors in run differential, win the division going away, and never face elimination in the postseason. It wasn't an easy road -- and if things go a bit more smoothly this time around, there needn't be as significant a dropoff as some have suggested. They won last year because they were good. And they still are.
14. Tigers beat Cardinals in World Series.
If both stay healthy it's tough to pick against starting pitching the caliber of these two staffs -- so we won't. And once it comes down to a best of seven, Cabrera makes the difference for Detroit like Ortiz did for Boston last October.
The author is solely responsible for the content.