Once again, the Boston Red Sox are confident of certain things -- for instance, the group of players they've assembled.
"It's all about people selection," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "You've got to do your homework and find the right people who fit what you're trying to establish."
There may have been a time -- and not that long ago -- when people wondered if Boston had the right stuff. During a brutal 2012 season, everything from the Red Sox's attitude to their effort was questioned.
And then, general manager Ben Cherington remade the roster by signing seven free agents, most of them unheralded team-first guys who had plenty to prove.
The Red Sox turned the 2013 season into a magical ride that ended with the hoisting of the Commissioner's Trophy at Fenway Park. Now, with today's 3:05 p.m. ET season opener, Boston begins the defense of its third championship in 10 seasons against the Orioles at Camden Yards. These two teams are dramatically different and coming off very different seasons. But they're alike in some ways, too.
Everything the Red Sox accomplished last season began with Cherington changing the environment, both with an infusion of veteran players like Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli and by hiring a manager who won the respect and admiration of his players almost instantly.
"What Ben did with the roster last year, that's where all of this started," Farrell said. "He selected the right people. Any personal agendas and egos are going to get checked and put aside."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter would understand. He had a similar challenge when he took over his club in 2010. Showalter quickly fell in love with his core guys, especially Adam Jones and Matt Wieters.
In them, Showalter saw players almost desperate to win. All they needed was someone to show them the way, so this has been the perfect marriage of a manager and a team.
Showalter led the O's back to the playoffs in 2012, their first appearance since 1997. Now, as they prepare for a 2014 season in which they think they're good enough to win a championship, Showalter again believes the strength of his club begins with its attitude, effort and teamwork.
"These guys had their noses bloodied for a long time," Showalter said, "and they got tired of it. They had a taste of what it can be like two years ago, and they want more of that."
The Orioles have gotten better during a late burst of spending, grabbing both pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder Nelson Cruz off the free-agent market. If third baseman Manny Machado returns from a gruesome left knee injury, he could team with first baseman Chris Davis to give the O's the best lineup in the American League East.
Right-hander Chris Tillman will get the ball on Opening Day, and he was a dependable presence in Baltimore's rotation last season. It's the depth behind him that could hurt the Orioles, but Jimenez is a significant addition.
Now about those similarities. Both the O's and Red Sox are built around strong, veteran leaders, Dustin Pedroia in one clubhouse, Jones in the other. In terms of the things that can be felt but not seen, the things that are critically important yet almost impossible to measure, these are two of baseball's model franchises, respected and admired throughout the sport.
The AL East, a division that appears to have four very evenly matched teams in the Rays, Red Sox, Orioles and Yankees, might feature the most interesting race in baseball this season.
These Red Sox are different from the team that won last year's World Series. They lost center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and shortstop Stephen Drew to free agency, and right-hander Ryan Dempster decided to spend this season away from the game. But the Sox believe they've got enough organizational depth -- and creativity -- to win again.
They're hoping Xander Bogaerts, their best prospect, will step in at shortstop. As for center field, the original plan was for another kid, Jackie Bradley Jr., to take over for Ellsbury.
But veteran Grady Sizemore, who hasn't played a game in the big leagues in almost three years, has had a tremendous spring and could be experiencing a career rebirth at 31.
Those changes aside, the Red Sox still have most of their main guys, from Pedroia and David Ortiz to John Lackey and Opening Day starter Jon Lester.
One of the things other baseball people admire the most about Boston is the club's attitude, effort and competitive fire. Plenty of that fire comes from Pedroia, the undisputed leader of the defending champs.
But a similar thread runs throughout the clubhouse. So when Farrell got the usual questions about complacency and losing a competitive edge this spring, he had no concerns.
For one thing, the Red Sox simply haven't talked about winning another World Series. They've focused on the process and nothing else. Get better today. Work hard. Don't think big picture.
"Some of those words -- defend, repeat -- look back," Farrell said. "Our mindset is we have to go out and win. Whatever happens after that, if it ends up being something even more unique than a year ago, so be it. Again, whether it's the first day of camp and what we discuss or conversations throughout the course of the entire offseason, that's over."
This isn't to say the Red Sox are a lock to repeat. There'll be challenges they can't foresee. But in terms of big-picture things like attitude and effort and cohesiveness, Boston is unlikely to be any different in 2014.
"There are going to be things that come our way this year," Farrell said. "We don't know what they're going to be. Injuries. Performance. Whatever those challenges are, as long as we meet them and respond to them as we did a year ago, [we'll succeed]. That's as a team, as a group, not splintering. That's my job and the staff's job, monitoring that and keeping a cohesive direction for all of us."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.