If the starting pitching delivers and the offensive production scores more runs per game than the pitching gives up, does the team have the relief pitching to seal the deal and close out victories? I think the answer here is very interesting largely because bullpen talent is not finite. Imagine for a minute that Michael Kopech dominates in the minors and warrants a call-up. Plug him into the bullpen much like Chris Sale or Jose Quintana where they began their big league careers and you have a fireballer who could make an impact. Same for Thyago Vieira.
If Rodon returns and is effective, the team might want Gonzalez, Fulmer or even Shields to move to the bullpen. It might be really interesting to see Fulmer turned into the next Andrew Miller, someone who can close games or pitch long innings but either way be a “lights out” solution in middle-to-late relief. My point is the bullpen as the season progresses may not be the bullpen as it appears today. The team has the collective talent at the major league level and in the minor leagues to over-deliver against expectations and surprise some people.
What about the competition in the American League Central division? Cleveland would certainly qualify as the preseason favorite to win the division again, and Minnesota looks solid with some strategic additions. But who knows how Kansas City will do? Detroit looks to have little chance to improve their 2017 64-98 record. With the Sox 67-95 2017 final record, a .500 season would represent a 14-game increase in their results. Not impossible.
In 2017 Minnesota qualified for the second wild card with an 85-win season. The Sox would have to increase their record 18 wins to reach that level or three more wins per the six months of the season. For a team that had a 15-14 record last September, this also is not impossible.