BALTIMORE — The first pitch of the 2014 Red Sox season is one the way Monday. Seems like a good time to make some sure-to-be-incorrect predictions on the Red Sox season.
If you read our preview section, I picked the Sox to claim a wild card spot with the Tampa Bay Rays winning the division. The Sox will finish 93-69, four games worse than last season and two behind the Rays.
A lot of things went right last season, starting with good health and assorted players outperforming expectations. It’s fairly rare when that happens and the division is better, too.
The Sox are due some problems, but not enough to keep them out of the playoffs. John Farrell isn’t afraid to do what is right when those problems will pop up, even if it means bruising some World Series-winning egos.
As to some other thoughts:
■ Dustin Pedroia will finish in the top five of the MVP race. He played hurt a lot more than he let on last season. That torn thumb ligament left Pedroia swinging the bat with one hand and it showed in his .415 slugging percentage. He’s due for a season with an .865 OPS. Plus he wins another Gold Glove.
■ Liking Clay Buchholz for 30-plus starts, 17 wins and Cy Young votes. Buchholz learned pitching in the World Series last season that he can pitch when not totally healthy. That could help push him over the top. Nobody on the staff has more talent. Here’s the question Buchholz has to answer to himself: Is he satisfied with being pretty good or does he want to be really good?
■ Expect big things from Mike Napoli. He looked strong in spring training and isn’t shackled by the doubts about his hips or contract. He’s good for 30 homers.
■ The Sox will start slow. They played poorly in spring training and now are dealing with Shane Victorino being injured. The Sox didn’t have any games in spring training when they had the whole lineup on the field together. They talked a good game about being ready when the time came. But at some point you need at least a few games together.
■ Jackie Bradley Jr. will start more games in center field than Grady Sizemore. Here’s hoping that prediction is wrong because Sizemore would be a great story to follow all season. But missing two full seasons and coming back as an everyday player seems like an awful lot to ask. The odds of him going six months without an injury are mighty slim.
■ Xander Bogaerts will be Manny Machado with a little less power and a much better on-base percentage. He’s really that good. Expect a lot.
■ The back end of the rotation could be an issue. Jake Peavy has averaged 21 starts over the last five seasons and Felix Doubront is not yet in the trustworthy category. Brandon Workman and Chris Capuano are important to the success of this team.
■ Common sense tells you Koji Uehara can’t do what he did last season. But your eyes tell you he was lights out in spring training and that he feels great. Uehara is going to have some rocky days, but will defy age and expectations again and hang onto the closer’s job.
■ The Red Sox love Garin Cecchini. He’s going to Pawtucket after only 66 games in Portland. He’s only 22, but he could play in the majors this season if Will Middlebrooks slumps or is injured.
■ As for Middlebrooks, he’s a junior Napoli in a sense that you’ll have to wade through some strikeouts to get to the home runs. But he seems determined to adopt some plate discipline this season and is better defensively. This is an important year for his career and he’s smart enough to realize that.
■ Drake Britton is going to pitch a lot of games for the Red Sox. They’re going to need lefty help in the bullpen. Andrew Miller had an up-and-down spring and Craig Breslow is on the DL again to start the season.
■ David Ortiz’s spring training is troubling because 2 for 37 can’t be laughed off no matter how good he has been in the past. Ortiz is 38 and dealing with assorted bumps and bruises already. He will drop down to a 22 home runs, 70 RBIs kind of season. It has to happen eventually.
But when compared to other designated hitters, that is still very good. The problem for the Sox comes if he dips lower, because they don’t really have a DH waiting in the wings unless it’s Bryce Brentz.
■ A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross are potentially a productive combination. But how many contending teams have two 37-year-old catchers? That is trouble waiting to happen. Christian Vazquez is another guy who could have a very big role in 2014.
■ Left field is fascinating. The position once held by Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice was a three-headed monster of Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp last season. As left fielders, they combined to hit .278/.356/.434 last season with 18 homers and 101 RBIs.
The odds of that happening again are remote. If the Red Sox look to improve at the trade deadline, there’s a likely spot.
■ The Sox will make a big trade at some point. Silly as this may sound, they have too many prospects not to at least try. The Sox have roughly eight prospects among the top 100 in the game. They need to figure out the three most expendable in that group and make a deal. Because all eight aren’t going to be good major leaguers, the odds tell you that.
What would, say, Mookie Betts, Matt Barnes, and Deven Marrero get you? Let’s say the Red Sox believe in Swihart and feel Dan Butler or Ryan Lavarnway could catch in the majors if needed, what would Vazquez, Barnes and Betts get you?
■ Jon Lester will sign for five years, $115 million with a vesting option for a sixth season at $20 million. Here’s the thing, it’s a risk for the Sox. But it’s a bigger risk to let Lester walk. Peavy also will be a free agent. Lackey is getting older. Doubront, as mentioned, is not yet established and Buchholz is not good for 33 starts.
Sure they have the prospects. But that’s all they are, prospects. The Sox know Lester will take the mound every five days, probably for another three years at least. There’s a lot of value there.
■ Finally, here’s predicting that you will enjoy the season. The Sox are a good bunch of guys who play hard and fundamentally well. Whether they win the World Series again or not, there’s a lot to be said for that.
The Sox stumbled around a bit for a few years. But Ben Cherington fixed the major league roster and the farm system is fertile again. Try and remember when they lose a few games in a row that the Sox are in a position that 27 or 28 other teams envy.
All of us, especially in the media, lose perspective in a hurry. But this organization is in great shape. This season may not be the joy ride 2013 was. But try to enjoy the ride just the same.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.