After all, if power-hitting prospect Wil Myers, who the Rays acquired from the Royals for starter James Shields, is the real deal, then Longoria will have more protection than he has ever had in the middle of the Rays lineup.
5. Jon Lester will win 18 games.
After posting a 3.37 ERA combined from 2009-11, Lester went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA this past year. But new Sox skipper John Farrell, Lester’s former pitching coach, already said he saw obvious flaws in Lester’s delivery last year, making you think the southpaw can rebound in ‘13.
Let’s not forget that in 2007, then 28-year-old left-hander Cliff Lee posted a 6.29 ERA in 20 games, 16 starts, for Cleveland before winning the AL Cy Young in 2008 by leading the league in wins (22), ERA (2.54) and shutouts (2).
6. Tampa and Toronto will be only two AL East teams to make the playoffs.
With an extra Wild Card installed in ‘12, there is a chance three teams from the AL East could make the playoffs. But Tampa and Toronto are the only two that will.
Tampa’s pitching staff ranked first in ERA (3.19), strikeouts (1,383) and opponent batting average (.228) among AL staffs last year. Even without Shields, the Rays have enough starting pitching to lead in multiple statistical categories again.
Expect 24-year-old right-hander Chris Archer, who Baseball America ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Rays system, to take Shields’ spot in the rotation. Archer features a very good slider and a fastball that averaged 93.9 mph in his 29.1 innings in the majors last year.
Matt Moore should also be even better this year. Moore, 23, posted a 3.01 post-All-Star Break ERA last year.
7. Someone unexpected will emerge in the Sox rotation.
Either Junichi Tazawa, Rubby De La Rosa or Allen Webster will find his way into the Red Sox rotation and emerge as a legit starter.