A combination of excellent starting pitching and some timely hitting have pushed the Sox to a 23-17 mark, 2.0 games out of first in the AL East. After having held on to first place for most of the season, they’ve scuffled a bit of late in going 3-9 over their last 12 games.
Despite these recent poor results, the rest of the season looks pretty promising for this intriguing mix of mostly veteran players. Here are five bold predictions for how things will shake out over the rest of the season:
Prediction: Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester will both finish in the top five of AL Cy Young voting
The top two starters in the Sox’s rotation are both off to incredible starts, with Buchholz (1.69) and Lester (2.72) currently ranking second and 10th in the AL in ERA, respectively. They have been two of the biggest reasons for the Sox’s surprising start and are likewise the key to the team sustaining that success over the entire season.
The biggest reason fans can expect their outstanding work over these past six weeks to continue is the pitchers’ work in previous seasons. Save for last season, Lester has an outstanding track record and knows how to be successful in the AL, and, at 29 years old, he still has plenty of good seasons left.
Buchholz started to round back into form last year after suffering a season-ending injury in June of 2011, and now with a full offseason of normal preparation, he has returned to the high level he showed in 2010.
Prediction: David Ortiz will hit 30-plus home runs
Big Papi has been crushing the ball since finally coming back from the longest “strain” in the history of injuries, and only a minor oblique injury seems to be able to slow him down at the plate.
It’s easy to forget, too, that before he got hurt last season Ortiz was on pace for one of his best all-around years. Considering he averaged 526 at-bats per season between 2003 and 2011, his 23 home runs in just 324 at-bats last season projected to 37 in total if he simply hit his average at-bat total.
Even if he experiences a bit of a decline this season, it’s clear the Ortiz has been able to maintain his power while keeping himself in better overall physical condition. That should translate to another 30-plus home run season, his seventh in a Sox uniform.
Prediction: Andrew Bailey will make the All-Star team as a closer
Before he got hurt, Bailey had put all controversy about who should be the closer to rest. Even more significantly, he had given the Sox a genuine stopper at the end of games and had finally quieted talk about last year’s trade that sent Josh Reddick to Oakland (where he hit 32 home runs).
Bailey’s incredible 20 strikeouts in just 12.1 innings pitched indicate a pitcher at the height of his dominance. He’s walked just four and given up only six hits in that same stretch, posting a 0.81 WHIP that is second among AL closers.
It seems that, given Bailey’s importance over the course of the full season, the Sox were being especially careful in handling his biceps strain. When he comes back (possibly as soon as Monday), expect Bailey to resume his streak of dominance.
Prediction: the Sox will be involved in another high-profile trade
Now that Joel Hanrahan is out for the year, the most likely candidate to be on the move from Boston is Jacoby Ellsbury. While he did not wow during his brief stint with the team in April, Jackie Bradley Jr. is likely ready to ascend to the MLB roster on a permanent basis, at least in the eyes of the organization.
Building depth throughout the minor leagues is a key item on GM Ben Cherington’s agenda, and Ellsbury would likely bring back a huge haul of talent despite his lack of eye-popping numbers this season. While it’s true that it would be a damaging move in the short term, the Sox are building towards a future that likely doesn’t include Ellsbury anyway.
Prediction: Mike Napoli will sign a contract extension before the end of the season
While this one is not likely given Napoli’s hip concerns and the Sox’s lack of history in terms of in-season signings, it would make a lot of sense for both sides.
Napoli has appeared in all 40 games so far, a testament both to his preparation and the team’s management of his health. He has been incredibly productive as well, leading the Sox in home runs, RBI and extra base hits. Bringing him back on a two-year deal would seem reasonable, so long as he remains on the field.
For the Sox, the success of Napoli has to at least partially reduce the sting of watching former prospect Anthony Rizzo rake for the Cubs, as well as give the team more time to bring along any potential first base prospects. Given the lack of organizational depth at that position, that time would be hugely valuable.