BP projects 92 wins, East title for Sox

Projections say Dustin Pedroia's Red Sox will edge out Robinson Cano's Yankees, but not by much. US Presswire

Baseball Prospectus’ annual PECOTA (click here for what that is) projected AL East standings for 2011 offers a mixed bag for Red Sox fans.

While they predict a division title for Boston, they have them winning just 92 games, a number virtually every Sox fan would think is on the low side. After all, a decimated Boston team still managed to win 89 games last season.

The PECOTA projection has the Yankees finishing a game behind the Red Sox with a 91-71 record, with the Rays third in the East at 84-78.

Here is their blurb on the Sox (click HERE for the complete feature, on Insider):

Boston Red Sox: 92-70 (projected 2011 record)

Why they might win: A reloaded and presumably healthy offense invigorated by Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez will get all the attention, but PECOTA sees the real improvement as being due to a strong starting rotation aided by a rebound season from Josh Beckett and a deeper bullpen.

Why they might not win: PECOTA expects the Sox to allow 50 fewer runs than last year, a tall order if Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka don't deliver on past performances. "Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Everyday Catcher" seems a series unlikely to get a full order of episodes, and between he and reserve Jason Varitek, opponents may once again run wild.

Player who could surprise: He's already an All-Star, but Adrian Gonzalez could be due for a real breakout in Fenway Park. Petco Park limited his offensive output when he was with the Padres; he hit .307/.381/.579 in Padres road games versus just .267/.367/.442 at home. PECOTA foresees .281/.379/.502 rates and 31 home runs, but that projection might prove to be too conservative.

Player who could disappoint: Beckett. A return to his 2007 to 2009 form (3.71 ERA) would make good on PECOTA's overall pitching prediction, but back injuries tend to recur. If he and his projected 3.95 ERA are on the shelf for any period of time, the Sox will have to fall back on the aged Tim Wakefield or Alfredo Aceves, who has back problems of his own.

How many wins do you think the Red Sox will reach this season? Leave your prediction in the comments section of this blog entry.