Prediction: Red Sox will win 86 games, vie for wild-card berth

Here’s your two week warning — two weeks til the Red Sox season opener against the New York Yankees. Time for the Duffer scouting report/predictions on the ole towne team for ’13. It starts at the top and ends with the minor leaguers…
OWNERSHIP:  I have to say I was a little worried when John, Tom and Larry spent the first few days of camp trying to explain last season’s mess. Then they went silent. Good. Let the baseball people put Humpty Dumpty back together.
GM: Ben Cherrington is a good baseball guy. We’ve got to give him some time. I’m the first to admit I’m not crazy about the Victorino, Gomes and Drew signings. But I’m also a realist. This is kind of a bridge year. There — I said it.
JOHN FARRELL AND STAFF: Have you noticed that “sound of silence” in camp? That’s a good thing. Treat pro players like pros and everyone is happy. Brian Butterfield is getting rave reviews for his work. Manager manages people. Coaches coach. What a difference a year makes.
STARTERS: The biggest improvement from last year will come from the starting rotation. Call me crazy, but I think Lester, Buchholtz, Lackey, Dempster and Doubront can all win at least 12 games each. Instead of the starters accounting for 41 wins last year, this group will win 48. That’s a seven game pickup.
CLOSER/BULLPEN: This is the second biggest area of improvement from last year. Do you realize Sox relievers blew 22 save opportunities? (Aceves 8, Bailey 3, Padilla 4, Albers 4, Atchison 1, Melancon 1, Beslow 1)  Can Hanrahan, Bailey, Bard, Tazawa and Uehara cut that in
half? Absolutely. Chalk up 11 more wins.
CATCHER: Salty, David Ross, Lavarnway, even Napoli in a pinch. Plenty of depth. Take a look at the Yankees, Tampa Bay and even the O’s Wieters and Toronto’s Arencibia — statistically they are no better than the Sox.
FIRST BASE: I am concerned here. Napoli will not scoop many bad throws. I have no faith that he can stay healthy. Backups – Nava, Carp, Overbay? Please.
SECOND BASE: Dustin Pedroia. Say no more. (And let’s face it, Pedey knows that Farrell knows” how we do things around here”.)
SHORTSTOP: Big-time concern. I still can’t believe Stephen Drew will get paid $9-million-bucks this year. Time to bite the bullet and give the spot to Jose Igesias while waiting to see if Xander Bogaerts is the guy.
THIRD BASE: Will Middlebrooks. I’m a big fan. He will be your No. 5 hitter for a long time.
OUTFIELD: Ellsbury, Victorino, Gomes, Sweeney, Nava. It’s just not enough. Adequate at best. I am certain the same five guys will not be at Fenway come late summer. Hello Jackie Bradley Jr.
DH: I have to believe Big Papi will play. Maybe not on opening day but at some point in April. Sleeper pick to be the next DH – Bryce Brentz. (please let someone else clean your firearms).
MY PREDICTION: 86-76. In an American League with much more parity than ever — the Red Sox will compete for one of the wild-card spots.

ITEMS FROM DUFFEL BAG:

– Make it six former Senior League World Series/Mansfield Stadium players now in the Netherlands World Baseball Classic lineup. Shairon Martis, Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Schoop, Curt Smith, Hainley Statia and Jurickson Profar. The 2013 Senior League World Series in Bangor begins August 11th.

– Hard to say his name, easy to watch him play – Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin. I like this guy.

– From Dixfield to dancin’ in the NCAA’s. Notre Dame’s Thomas Knight is a nice Maine basketball story.

– As high school baseball and softball teams begin the so-called 8 and 2’s this week, here’s hoping for a nice, warm spring with little rain (what are the chances?)

–  I’m still ticked off that the Patriots let Wes Welker go.

– NCAA hoops tourney action on 92.9TheTicket starts this week. Anybody playing hooky Thursday and Friday when the games start at high noon?