FORT MYERS, Fla. — The hopes and dreams of a baseball season can end in the flash of an eye. We were reminded of that Saturday when a line drive struck Chris Sale in the hip at JetBlue Park and we held our breath as he left the game in the first inning.

Losing an ace can change everything. Fortunately for the Boston Red Sox, it looks like Sale dodged a bullet and will be ready to make his Opening Day start Thursday against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

The Red Sox enter 2018 thinking they can contend for another American League East title. More importantly, they think they are built for success in the postseason.

That’s really all that matters for the Sox in 2018. Regular season titles don’t mean anything in Boston. The Sox have won two of those in a row – the first time they’ve done that in team history. Yet early dismissals from the playoffs have left a sour taste in our mouths. That’s why the Sox brought in a new manager for the coming season.

Yet Alex Cora wasn’t the most significant addition to the team this winter.

That title belongs to J.D. Martinez. He hit 45 home runs last year, 21 more than any player on the Red Sox roster in 2017.

Other than Martinez, that roster remains relatively the same. The core of this offense – Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers – is still young and features some of the most dynamic players in the game. Martinez should make them all better by being the type of hitter who can disrupt a pitcher’s approach. The Sox lacked that type of impact power bat last year, and spent a full season missing David Ortiz.

Martinez is no Big Papi, but he did have the highest slugging percentage in the league last season. With Betts and Benintendi at the top of the order he should have plenty of chances to drive in runs.

You’ll notice one major change from the offense this year. Cora wants his batters to be more aggressive at the plate, telling them to “hunt strikes” early in the count. Gone are the days when the Sox would work pitch counts and try to get the starting pitcher out of the game. Bullpens have become a strength for most teams, so there’s no point in rushing to get to relievers. Might as well try to do damage against the starter.

The Sox feel their starting rotation has the potential to be one of the best in the game. Chris Sale backed off his spring training workload in Florida in the hope he’ll be stronger late in the season. David Price is healthy as the team breaks camp, a far cry from last year when he was dealing with the uncertainties of an elbow injury. Rick Porcello spent hours with Derek Lowe in Fort Myers working on his sinker and hopes to have a bounce-back year.

That Big Three is supposed to lead the Sox through the season. Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright and Brian Johnson will round out the rotation.

The bullpen was a strength in 2017, and the Sox expect more of the same this year. Craig Kimbrel is one of the game’s top relievers, and he’ll have hard throwers like Joe Kelly, Carson Smith and, eventually, Tyler Thornburg setting him up.

The Sox have a real chance to get out to a great start. Seven of their first nine games are against the Tampa Bay Rays while the other two are against the Miami Marlins. Both teams have gone into full rebuild mode and are among the weaker teams in the game.

A good start can build momentum towards a successful season. And while a good regular season might not be enough for Sox fans this summer, it’s the first step towards admission to what really matters. October is a long way off, but a strong April would be a fine way to start a season with high expectations.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.