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Las Vegas doesn't like the 2013 Red Sox very much, but they might want to change that if they plan to make money
As you may have seen, Vegas, in the form of the first set of over/under win totals for 2013, isn't terribly high on the Red Sox. Or, well, it is, in a way -- I don't immediately see any teams other than the Toronto Blue Jays that Vegas likes to pick up a full ten wins on its 2012 total -- but a prediction of just 79.5 wins and a distant fourth-place finish in the East is far from a ringing endorsement of the team's chances of making a return to the postseason in 2013.
I'm not a betting person, but if I were a betting person, I'd be fairly confident about putting some of my money down on the over. Here's why, as I see it from my faraway hill:
First, I think it's fair to count on better luck with injuries among the position players. Obviously, injuries to key players still on the team dragged the Red Sox down quite a bit last year. Jacoby Ellsbury probably doesn't immediately become an eight-win player again, but it seems reasonable to think he's good for three wins, replacing the just-more-than-zero Boston center fielders combined to give the team last season. David Ortiz played only 90 games last year; as a full-time DH, I see no reason not to count on him for at least 50 percent more than that, and given that they got nothing from their other designated hitters in 2012, that could mean an extra win and a half. Will Middlebrooks should be fully healthy and give them another win or so. Dustin Pedroia largely played through his injury -- he's a tough lil' guy, you know -- but there's no reason to think he can't play ten more games and revert to his career .303/.369/.461 line, putting up most of another win. In total, I expect the Red Sox to get six wins back just from having four key players healthy and performing at their expected levels.
The starting pitching could actually be very good. Ryan Dempster has been remarkably consistent for five years, with something around eight strikeouts per nine and around one home run allowed per nine -- with the added wrinkle that he set a personal best in walk rate in 2012. Jon Lester's declining strikeout rate is concerning, but he's certainly not as bad as he looked in 2012. I'm a big (recently converted) Felix Doubront fan; he's a lot better than his ERA looked, too. If Clay Buchholz can start the season as well as he ended it, that should be another win, easy, and if he repeats his 2012, that's still a strong mid-rotation presence. I don't think it's a good idea to count on John Lackey to be more than a fourth starter at this point, but that still gives him room to contribute so that the whole is superior to last year's abysmal rotation.
Thanks to particularly poor work by Josh Beckett, Aaron Cook, and Daisuke Matsuzaka (and what looks like some bad luck by Lester and Doubront, at least), Red Sox starting pitchers were worth (by Baseball-Reference's measure) something in the neighborhood of two wins below replacement last season; I think it's perfectly reasonable to count on Dempster, Doubront, and Lester for (conservatively) an average of two wins each, and for Buchholz and Lackey (plus fill-ins) to combine for another few. That's an improvement of nine or ten wins over 2012, so we're already up around 15 total, which would put the Red Sox in the mid-80s.
I don't think there's a lot more there. Mike Napoli adds a win or two over where they ended 2012, but probably not where they began it (more on that below). Stephen Drew has the capacity to be a very solid shortstop, but also has a penchant for missing huge chunks of time of late. I figure Shane Victorino will play more often than Cody Ross did, but probably not as well. I've given up on trying to guess how bullpens will do. Of course, a win for one team means a loss for another, and the Blue Jays stand to pick up quite a few wins, too, but I expect there are plenty of places for both teams to draw extra wins from (like the whole rest of the division, and the seven games each team gets against the Astros).
That's still about 84 wins, four and a half more than the odds-makers are seeing, and that's a conservative projection. An important thing to remember (and I doubt you, as fans, have forgotten) is that this is a team that was at .500 as late as July 24 and within a few games of .500 through most of August, before the Nick Punto Trade and the subsequent tanking. Vegas no doubt counts on a lot of bettors thinking about the Trade and the Sox' relatively quiet off-season, but the pieces that were moved in that trade just weren't a big part of the somewhat-successful-to-date 2012 picture: Adrian Gonzalez was having a serious off-year by his high standards (and in that sense should be more than replaced by Napoli), Carl Crawford was already out for the year, Beckett was actively terrible, and Punto's biggest contribution to the team was unofficially lending his name to the trade itself. There was nothing about that team, even post-trade, that couldn't have been a .500 team -- and better than that -- without quite so many injuries.
I can't look at the Red Sox and see anything that's going to remind anyone of 2004 or 2007, but it's hard for me not to see a win total somewhere in the mid-eighties, and once you're there, even in the East you're a big break or two away from the playoffs. I'd have no hesitation in betting the over, if I were to bet, and I don't see a bet on that board of which I'd be more confident -- well, except maybe the Astros, and there, I'm taking the under.