Alex Cora and JD Martinez are tasked with getting the Red Sox over the ALDS hump. Getty Images

There is nothing to suggest Chris Sale is about to fall off a cliff. He’s registered over 200 strike outs per season since 2013 and is still just hitting his prime at 28-years-old. Sale’s first season in Boston last year was other-worldly, as he led the majors in K’s with 308 and posted a sparkling 2.90 ERA with a 0.97 WHIP. He also garnered 17 wins, matching his career high. But make no mistake, Sale will have to be just as good this year as he was last year if the Sox intend to get over the hump in the postseason. Sale’s first playoff start was an ugly one, as he was bashed around by the Astros in Game 1 of the ALDS for nine hits and seven earned runs. Sale appeared to be fatigued down the stretch of the regular season last year, so new manager Alex Cora may opt to space out his starts a bit during portions of the season.

 

Will the big spending pay off in terms of playoff wins?

Many Sox fans were upset at the fact that the Red Sox were never serious bidders for the services of Giancarlo Stanton this past offseason, with some even accusing the organization of cheaping out. The Red Sox ultimately figured that Stanton’s $25 million per year price tag was too expensive - and risky - and finally came to terms with JD Martinez instead last month. Martinez will earn $50 million over the next two years, but can opt out after year 2. That contract is why the Sox enter the 2018 MLB season with the highest payroll in all of baseball at a whopping $223 million. The Yankees are actually seventh in MLB in payroll.

 

This is the first time since at least 1990 (when MLB started keeping track of total payroll) that the Red Sox are the highest spending team in baseball. It remains to be seen if this spending will pay off in terms of a World Series victory.

 

Getting over that ALDS hump

In 2012, the Red Sox finished dead last in the AL East. In 2013, they won the World Series. In 2014 and 2015 they again finished dead last but the past two seasons they won the American League East. It finally seems like this rollercoaster season-by-season stretch in the history of Boston baseball is over as it would be absolutely shocking if the Sox did not win at least 85 games this year.

Despite the tumult year to year, the endings of the past two seasons for the Red Sox have been remarkably similar. They were swept by the Indians in the ALDS in 2016 and fell, 3-1, to the Astros last fall. Their ace in 2016, Rick Porcello, was bashed for five earned runs in a Game 1 loss to the Indians and the Sox never recovered. Last year ace Chris Sale was lit up for seven runs in Game 1 of the ALDS against Houston and the Sox never recovered. In both series’ the Red Sox’ offense was outclassed as well.

 

Boston needs MVP-Mookie

Last year at this time, Mookie Betts had 5/1 odds to win the American League MVP award – trailing only the Angels’ Mike Trout at 5/4. This season, Betts has just the eighth best odds to win the award. Betts didn’t have a bad season last year, but his overall numbers and impact were down considerably from the year prior. Betts had 48 less hits in 2017 than he had in 2016 – as well as seven less home runs, and nine less RBI. The ugliest drop-off was his batting average, which went from .318 in 2016 to a career-worst .264 in 2017.

Betts had an ugly start to spring training this year as well, as he did not record a single hit in the first seven games he appeared in. But Betts eventually heated up and finished the spring with a .327 batting average.

 

Save the drama this year

Drama and the Red Sox go together like hot dogs and mustard, so over the course of the next five months something strange will surely pop up. It’s Alex Cora’s job to minimize the distractions, of course, and hopefully he’ll do a better job with it than John Farrell did the past few years.

The big one last year was the David Price – Dennis Eckersley incident on the plane. There was also the Adam Jones incident at Fenway Park, and the night a group of people hung a “Racism is as American as baseball” sign over the Green Monster. The latter two incidents, obviously weren’t any fault of Farrell’s or the Red Sox – but it just seemed as though there was a new distraction every other week last year.

Also helping matters this season is that we’re a full year removed from the retirement of David Ortiz. There “rumors” right up until September last year that Big Papi was thinking of making a comeback, but now it’s 2018 and we know for sure: No. 34 is RETIRED.