A lot has gone into the Red Sox's success this year.
After finishing second and sixth in the American League MVP voting over the past two years, Mookie Betts is positioning himself to collect baseball's highest individual honor in 2018. Betts leads all position players in WAR (9.1) on FanGraphs.
J.D. Martinez, Boston's biggest offseason acquisition, is also tearing the cover off the ball, boasting a .636 slugging percentage, 40 home runs and 121 RBI.
On the mound, Chris Sale is the favorite for the AL Cy Young despite shoulder inflammation forcing him to miss a stretch of games earlier this year. The left-hander is 12-4 with a 1.97 ERA in 23 appearances.
Granted, some questions around the Red Sox's pitching remain.
Here's the obligatory reference to David Price's 5.03 ERA in 17 playoff appearances. Likewise, Rick Porcello allowed seven runs in 8.1 innings over the past two years in the postseason. Boston didn't strengthen its bullpen ahead of the trade deadline, either.
"I know people keep talking about it, [and] you can always have more bullpen pieces," Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said, per the Washington Post's Dave Sheinin. "[But] there is no perfect club. We think, realistically, our bullpen is pretty good."
So far, the Red Sox have arguably exceeded expectations in manager Alex Cora's first season. Sure, Boston was expected to contend for a division title, but the team's 99 wins are tied for fourth in franchise history.
Having said that, the 2018 campaign will be considered a massive disappointment for many fans if the Red Sox once again bow out of the playoffs in the American League Division Series. The Cleveland Indians swept Boston in the ALDS in 2016, and the world champion Houston Astros knocked the team out in four games last year.
A playoff series—especially of the five-game variety—is always unpredictable. A few bad breaks can change a team's fortunes drastically. But that does nothing to lessen the sting of seeing your team fall short of winning a title after making it to the postseason.
Cora has been one of MLB's best managers in 2018, and the playoffs will provide him with another opportunity to display his tactical nous and show beyond a shadow of a doubt he's the man to lead the Red Sox to a ninth World Series title.