Josh Thole, David OrtizThe Red Sox have taken the American League East crown. That means it’s all playoff questions from here on out, with Boston still fighting for the top seed (and home-field advantage) in the American League.

While a lot of pieces had to fall into place for the Red Sox to be as good as they are this season, just as many have to come together for Boston to continue its run and turn those results into postseason success. From the way the rotation lines up to how much rest players should get heading into the deciding games, manager John Farrell and the rest of the brain trust at Fenway Park have plenty to fiddle with.

Let’s look at questions concerning those topics and more in this week’s mailbag, the last of the season before the Red Sox try to convert their 2013 regular-season magic into a memorable playoff performance.

At the beginning of the season, how did you think the Red Sox would do? Be honest.
— Joseph Finn

I can honestly tell you that I thought the Sox would win around 87 games. I thought they would finish third in the division, possibly fourth. I really thought that they would be fun to watch but would not have the ability to score enough runs and was very concerned about the starting staff of pitchers. I could not have been more wrong. I am pleasantly surprised,  but I am honestly surprised.

Do you think it’s smart to rest the guys or keep playing to keep them fresh?
— Max Wininger

I think they need to continue to play to assure the best record (so they get the top seed in the playoffs). I also think the long layoff from the regular season to Game 1 of the postseason, which is four days, is plenty of downtime to rest and be ready for a postseason run. I think any longer than that, and it can hurt your timing at the plate. We have seen many teams sweep a series and sit too long and not be in rhythm when the series starts.

I’ve always said I could never see a better team than the 2004 Red Sox, but I do love watching this group of guys play! What do you think about the future of this team? Especially the young Xander Bogaerts?
— Ryann Theresa Watson

I am with you. I have to say that this team reminds me a lot of the 2004 edition because of the number of characters and personalities on the roster — not to mention the amount of postseason experience that they posses. I also think it’s great to see so many homegrown Red Sox players come up and contribute to the winning atmosphere. That seems to be the right recipe for long-term success, and I think Bogaerts will be part of that.

Is the Sox’ pitching good enough to win in the postseason?
— Keith Curtis

Yes, it is. I think the Sox staff is built well for a postseason series. Again, we are talking about veteran pitchers who have pitched successfully on a major stage before. Been there done that goes a long way. I think the foursome of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy are as solid as anyone. I realize Detroit is comparable, but I feel good about the way the Sox match up.

Why did the Red Sox put Ryan Dempster in the bullpen for the rest of the season?
— @ddallaire_25

He was moved to get him acclimated to pitching in relief for the first time since 2007. The Red Sox determined that he was not going to be one of the four starters that they were going to use in the playoffs. He has had a good year and could be a valuable asset coming on in relief. It sort of reminds me of the Derek Lowe situation in 2004. He went to the ‘pen and ended up winning every clinching game of each series in the playoffs. I think Dempster could play a key role.

Should Major League Baseball grade umpires and fire those who fail?
— Tom Roosa

They are doing that currently. Umpires used to be like Supreme Court justices — they could not be fired. Now they are evaluated all season, and the best of the best get the important assignments like the All-Star game and the playoffs. Those who do not rate as high are not given these perks, and some have been replaced.

Don, will you be doing playoff games this year?
— Chris Crowley

Yes. I am returning to TBS for my seventh postseason. I am unsure which series I will be calling yet. Generally those decisions are made the final weekend of the regular season. I will be working with Dennis Eckersley, and my postseason partner for the last five years, Buck Martinez. That has also gone by fast. My first game for TBS was the 2007 one-game playoff between the Rockies and Padres.