Drat. A rainout. This is no way to start the new Red Sox season.
The purple prose that Opening Day annually (and understandably) inspires has told us forever that the first day of baseball season is about renewal and new beginnings and, also, I believe, bunting. (The decorative kind, not the speedy-leadoff-hitter skill. That kind of bunting is mostly gone from the game forever.)
I was stunned they called it so soon Thursday morning. You can’t postpone renewal! And aren’t new beginnings needed more than ever this season? Postponed? C’mon. Who cares if the bunting isn’t waterproof?
Ah, well, I suppose we can wait one more day. At least the rain provides one last chance to wash away the residue of the lost and lousy 2020 season.
The one-day delay also gives me a chance to squeeze in a few more predictions about these 2021 Red Sox before the season begins in earnest. It’s good to get them on the record, I figure, so when they’re 87 percent wrong at season’s end, you’ll have this documented evidence to use to humiliate me. You’re welcome.
I’ve fired out a few predictions already in assorted preview pieces. I have the Sox winning 83, and playing meaningful games in September. I’ll stick with that, with the shaky assumption that they play a full 162 games.
I wrote that Garrett Richards will be the Sox’ second-best starter. I’d like to amend that one. He’s going to be this season’s version of 1995 Erik Hanson — a pitcher with excellent stuff and a rough injury history who puts it together for one excellent season. Hanson was 15-5 with a 4.24 ERA for the ’95 Sox, making the All-Star team in his only season in Boston.
Richards is older than I realized when the Red Sox signed him — he turns 33 in May. He went 15-12 with a 3.65 ERA for the 2015 Angels, his last fully healthy season. I bet he can do it again. By the way, his career adjusted ERA is 106, or six percent above league average. Hanson’s was 105.
I also predicted J.D. Martinez would have a batting average of no higher than .250. I’d like to amend that one too: He will have a batting average of no higher than .260. He will hit for power — the over/under is 28 homers, I say — but I’m skeptical that having his in-game routine back the way he likes it will make a huge difference in his struggles catching up with hard fastballs.
You want a comparison for Martinez? You asked for it: Martinez will produce like Jack Clark in the 1991 season with the Red Sox, when he had an .840 OPS and 28 homers, but just a .249 average. Let’s ignore what happened after that.
I declared that Alex Verdugo, who hit .308 last year, including .313 in each of the final two months of the season, will be in the hunt for the batting title. He might even win the thing. The lefthanded hitter batted .320 against lefties last year, and is going to achieve all the things Andrew Benintendi was supposed to. He’s the Red Sox’ most underrated player entering this season.
OK, now that the reiterations and adjustments are out of the way, let’s tear through some brand-new, mint-condition predictions.
▪ Bobby Dalbec will break Walt Dropo’s record for home runs by a rookie (34, set in 1950) and the franchise single-season record for strikeouts (Mike Napoli, 187 in 2013). The latter by a lot.
▪ The Yankees will regret losing Garrett Whitlock to the Red Sox much more than they did Ramiro Mendoza.
▪ LeBron James’s Red Sox will win at least twice as many games in June as will LeBron James’s Lakers.
▪ Jeter Downs will impress so much in a late-season call-up that those of us who swore we’d never accept the Mookie Betts trade or a Red Sox player named Jeter will have to make some concessions.
▪ With the Red Sox in postseason contention, Chris Sale will return for six late-season starts, and to Red Sox fans’ relief, he’ll look much more like 2018 Sale than 1981 Frank Tanana.
▪ Matt Barnes will lead the Red Sox in saves, but Adam Ottavino will be the reliever counted upon to get the highest-leverage outs.
▪ Xander Bogaerts will be consistent and classy day after day after day, and every once in a while we’ll remember not to take him for granted.
▪ Christian Vázquez, one of a dwindling number of true everyday catchers, will make his first All-Star team.
▪ Hustling, athletic Kiké Hernández will become an instant fan-favorite, but fellow super-versatile acquisition Marwin Gonzalez (.698 OPS in two seasons since leaving the Astros) will struggle.
▪ Franchy Cordero will draw comparisons to Wily Mo Pena, but in a good way, putting up numbers similar to Pena’s 2006 season with the Red Sox (11 homers, .838 OPS, .301 average, 90 strikeouts in 304 plate appearances).
▪ The pitching will be much better, not that it could be worse after the Sox used an absurd 30 pitchers (including three position players) in 60 games en route to a staff ERA of 5.58.
▪ You may resist. You may still be put off by the Betts trade, the miserable 2020 season, and ownership’s indifference to communicating with the fans. But by the end of the season, you’ll like this team, even if it takes you until June to figure out which streaming and cable services have NESN and which ones don’t.