NEW YORK — So what can we expect from the 2013 Red Sox?
Let's get to the point right away, probably 82-84 wins and a third- or fourth-place finish. If that doesn't sound too exciting, consider they were 69-93 last season. The franchise is headed in the right direction but they have a long way to go.
Best-case scenario (90 wins): Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz pitch like All-Stars ... David Ortiz comes back in May and is himself. ... Mike Napoli hits 25 home runs and drives in 90 runs. ... Jacoby Ellsbury plays to 85 percent of what he did in 2011. ... Dustin Pedroia stays healthy. ... The bullpen is the best in the division. ... Ryan Dempster starts 33 games, pitches 200 innings and wins 13 games. ... John Lackey goes 13-10. ... Joel Hanrahan is a lock-down closer. ... Will Middlebrooks picks up where he left off last year. ... Jonny Gomes mashes lefties and Shane Victorino has a bounce-back season. ... Stephen Drew recaptures the form he had for Arizona. ... John Farrell is just what the team needs. ... Ben Cherington makes a helpful trade in July. ... Fenway fills up come the summer.
Worst-case scenario (78 wins): Lester and Buchholz are better but have ERAs around 4.30, not 3.30. ... Ortiz is never himself and struggles with his foot all year. ... Napoli wears down because of his hips and hits .240 with occasional power. ... Ellsbury shows again that 2011 was the outlier for him. ... Pedroia keeps getting banged up. ... Hanrahan blows a few saves early and fans clamor for a change. ... Dempster struggles in the American League. ... Lackey goes 10-13. .. Middlebrooks strikes out 130 times and hits .263. ... Gomes costs them three wins with plays in left and Victorino has numbers like he did for the Dodgers. ... Drew gets off to a slow start after missing most of spring training and never recovers. ... Farrell overmanages way too often. ... Cherington gets fleeced by Oakland again. ... Fenway has more empty seats than filled ones some nights.
Things to like: The starters seem to have a sense of purpose and Lester and Buchholz clearly respond well to actually getting coached as opposed to coddled. ... The bullpen is legit. ... Napoli is going to love Fenway. ... Middlebrooks looks like a good, solid No. 5 hitter and his defense is much better. ... Jackie Bradley Jr. will play Gold Glove defense for as long as he's around. ... There are prospects pitching at AAA, not assorted hangers-on. ... The overall team defense is much better. ... Farrell is well-organized, the coaches are hard workers and there is a clear sense that, unlike last season, everybody is going in the same direction.
Things not to like: It's fair to be concerned about Ortiz. He had a 154 OPS+ in 2011 and was at 171 last season when he got hurt. At his age and coming off that injury, can he return to those levels of production? ... The onset of the Jackie Bradley Jr. Era coincided with Shane Victorino hitting .178/.275/.289 in spring training, worse if you factor in the WBC. Are the Red Sox going to regret that $39 million deal? ... You also have to wonder whether the $9.5 million spent on Drew was a good deal given the clear improvements made by Jose Iglesias.
On to the
total guesses predictions ...
AL East: Rays, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles.
AL Central: Tigers, Royals, Indians, White Sox, Twins.
AL West: Angels, Rangers, Mariners, Athletics, Astros.
AL wild cards: Blue Jays and Rangers.
AL award winners: Evan Longoria (MVP); Felix Hernandez (Cy Young), Aaron Hicks (Rookie), Ned Yost (Manager).
NL East: Nationals, Braves, Phillies, Mets, Marlins.
NL Central: Reds, Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates, Cubs.
NL West: Giants, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Padres.
NL wild cards: Dodgers and Braves.
NL award winners: Joey Votto (MVP), Stephen Strasburg (Cy Young), Jedd Gyorko (Rookie), Bruce Bochy (Giants).
World Series: Tigers over Reds in six games.