BALTIMORE -- Here is what can be predicted about the 2014 Red Sox with a reasonable amount of certainty:
• They will not go the entire season without losing more than three games in a row. For the Red Sox, that happens once every 100 years: Boston’s first World Series winner, the 1903 Americans, went the entire season without losing three straight and the 2013 team used up the quota for this century.
• They will not have a run differential of plus-197 this season. They will score fewer runs because 1) they no longer have Jacoby Ellsbury, 2) the game is trending that way, and 3) attrition in some form -- a down season for one or two players, injuries -- will take its toll on the offense. Chances are they’ll give up a few more runs too. It will be difficult for Clay Buchholz to duplicate his spectacular start, Koji Uehara to duplicate his spectacular finish, and their AL East rivals will score more, especially the Orioles and Blue Jays. Baseball Prospectus, which has a pretty good track record on such things, predicts a plus-73 (779-706) differential. That still makes them the highest-scoring team in the league.
• They will not occupy first place for as many as the league-high 158 days they did last year, and probably will spend more than three days in third place, unlike 2013. Twenty of their first 29 games will be against East teams, 13 of them on the road, which will make it hard for them to repeat their major-league best 18-8 start in 2013. We repeat: The division will be tougher.
• They will not set the all-time record for lowest percentage of caught stealing (123 out of 142, 86.6 percent). Not without Ellsbury.
So, those are the things the Red Sox will not do in 2014. Anyone with the least bit of sense will stop right there, because after 2013, when every single person in the ESPN forecasting business (43 strong) missed on the Sox winning the division, the American League or the World Series, humility demands some restraint in prophesying what this club cannot accomplish.
After 2013, when the Sox went worst to first, joining the Minnesota Twins as the only teams ever to do so, all bets are off. Who has the gall to say whether Grady Sizemore will be back on a hospital gurney in six weeks or back on the American League All-Star team come July? Who can know whether Xander Bogaerts, the youngest shortstop in 100 years to open a season for the Red Sox, will experience a few growing pains or leap off the prospect page right into stardom the way another rookie shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra, did in 1997? Does Jon Lester show some slippage or reach new heights in a contract year? Does David Ortiz finally look in the mirror and see a wrinkle, or does he imitate Ted Williams in his mockery of the aging process? Does Koji Time remain sublime, or will the Sox closer occasionally fall back to earth?
These Red Sox are good, very good. They are likely to be playing again in the postseason, though it is more likely they do so as a wild-card entry than a runaway division winner. They could well become the first team to repeat as World Series champions since the Yankees won three straight (1998-2000).
But as to what happens in October, who knows whether Torii Hunter catches that ball this time and the bullpen cop hangs his head instead of thrusting his hands in the air? That this October, Miggy Cabrera is healthy or Albert Pujols becomes the hitting monster he once was or Justin Verlander or David Price or Michael Wacha shut the Sox down? You cannot predict such events; you might as well try to pinpoint when the tectonic plates shift again on the Puente Hills fault. You marvel at the audacity, at the commitment, at the striving, but if you have any sense, you let the final outcome reveal itself, rather than pretending to know.
How do these Sox stand on the cusp of a new season?
“The attitude has been outstanding,’’ manager John Farrell said. “We’re hungry. Our team, our attention to detail and willingness to work has been consistent with what it was a year ago. I’m really looking forward to Monday and starting another journey with a tremendous team, a close-knit team and a talented group of players.”