Not Your Father's Red Sox

And frankly, this team has more pitching questions heading into the season than those teams. Is Josh Beckett's back OK? Is Curt Schilling going to make any contribution? Are Tim Wakefield's back and shoulder going to hold up? Will Lester and Buchholz be as good over a full season as they've looked in short bursts?

But every team faces questions like this. And when you look at the other AL powerhouses out there — the Yankees, the Tigers, the Indians, the Angels — don't their flaws all seem more glaring, at least on paper, than the Red Sox's flaws?

They do. And so, for the first time in about nine decades, the Boston Red Sox have positioned themselves as The Team. The clear-cut favorites. What a thing.

We're not sure how much different that felt to Harry Hooper and Stuffy McInnis than it feels now to David Ortiz and Mike Lowell. But it sure feels different to those of us on the outside who are merely trying to comprehend how the planet spins.

"See, that never enters my mind," Francona says, "because I don't care. I don't really think it matters, because there are so many good teams out there. I think that's where you can run into problems, by viewing yourself as The Team To Beat. You know, every day we play, I think we expect to win — but by playing the game, not by throwing your glove out there or making a statement. Go play."

Well, at least if this team doesn't win, nobody will blame it on Harry Frazee or any spooky supernatural forces in the universe. At least now, it might be possible to chalk it up to one more example of how "the best team" doesn't always win.

"You never know," says Youkilis. "You saw the Patriots this year. They lost, and they had the best team. So you just never know. It's sports. It's not math. It's not algebra. There are no equations. So I know fans get all worked up and think, 'We're the best team. We're going to win it all.' And they get mad [if you don't]. But it's sports. There's no science to it."

So can they repeat? Fasten your seat belt. We're about to find out. Only two franchises (1992-93 Blue Jays and 1998-1999-2000 Yankees) have done that in the last 30 years. No Red Sox team has done it since 1916-17. But this Red Sox team seems consumed by the quest to add itself to that list.

"The thing about this team is, we don't just want to win one," Youkilis says with a laugh. "We want to try to catch Yogi."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

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