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Red Sox Spring Training 2012: Verducci Picks Boston To Finish Third In AL East

Will the Boston Red Sox' shortage of shortstops keep the team from returning to the playoffs? Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci thinks so.

Verducci told WEEI's Mut & Merloni that he expects the Red Sox to finish in third place in the AL East this season, thanks to the uncertainty surrounding their shortstop position and the back end of their rotation.

"Boston to me is third, because I don't like the shortstop situation," Verducci said. "It's too important of a position to try to move people around, and certainly to force people in when they are not ready. In terms of [Jose] Iglesias, I don't like that situation. And they're going to need 90 starts from [Clay] Buchholz, [Jon] Lester and [Josh] Beckett. Anything less than that and they are going to be really in trouble and be less than a 90-win team."

Despite his hesitancy to endorse the makeup of Boston's roster, Verducci believes the Red Sox brass picked the right skipper.

"In 2012, I think Valentine is the right guy," he said. "Especially to get them out from beyond the garbage of last September. I like both guys. Terry is going to be a great candidate for somebody, at some point -- maybe as early as July this year. He'll be that Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden guy who is sitting up in the booth waiting for the next job on everybody's list. And he'll be better for it. I do think there needs to be attention to detail and things cleaned up around the Red Sox, and that's what Bobby does really, really well.

For more on the Red Sox, head to Over The Monster, and for more on Boston's spring training, follow SB Nation Boston's story stream.