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01/21/08 10:00 AM ET

Sox hoping to join rare repeat club

Defending champs have lineup to take back-to-back titles

The Yankees of 1977-78. The 1992-93 Blue Jays. The Yankees again from 1998-2000. Go back 30 years and those are the only teams that have managed to repeat as World Series champions.

Let's face it, hunting can often be a more exhilarating and less-challenging mission than being hunted.

So as Spring Training 2008 draws near, the question just hangs out there like a Manny Ramirez moon shot into the Fenway night.

Can the Red Sox repeat?

The pieces sure seem to be in place, but there are never any guarantees. Just ask the 2001 Yankees, who came within three Mariano Rivera outs of a four-peat on a warm November night in Phoenix, only to see the Diamondbacks ruin that dream with a furious comeback.

When Arizona won it all that night, it started a trend of teams that won the World Series only to come up short the next year. In fact, those six champions -- the '01 D-backs, the '02 Angels, the '03 Marlins, the '04 Red Sox, the '05 White Sox and the '06 Cardinals -- couldn't even repeat as league champions.

Each individual case has been different. But a collection of bad breaks, injuries, decline in talent and offseason moves that didn't pan out have conspired to prevent all those teams from repeat performances.

One thing the Red Sox do have is a loaded team that, at least on paper, looks good enough to make another strong run at winning it all.

That's one reason why players like Mike Lowell and Curt Schilling stuck around for less money and fewer years than they could have gotten in other destinations.

"Hopefully guys can stay healthy and have the years they're capable of having," said Lowell, the 2007 World Series MVP. "We expect to make the playoffs and go very deep into the playoffs again. There shouldn't be any reason why we wouldn't."

Schilling was on the '02 Diamondbacks and '05 Red Sox -- two teams that were unable to repeat. In other words, he's anything but naïve. Even with that experience, he is highly optimistic about the 2008 Red Sox.

"I am excited to know that my last year in the game will be with a team that has another legitimate chance to win the World Series," Schilling wrote on his blog earlier this winter.

As much as the Red Sox felt optimistic about their chances of repeating in 2005, that team lost key members Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Orlando Cabrera to free agency. The replacements (Matt Clement, David Wells and Edgar Renteria) didn't quite fill the void. And some players -- in particular Schilling and Keith Foulke -- paid the price of the grueling pace of the 2004 postseason.

Already, the 2008 Red Sox are ahead of their '05 counterparts. This group hasn't subtracted one significant player from the 2007 team. Also, there were no blood-and-guts stories in the '07 postseason such as Schilling pitching with a stitched-up ankle or Foulke throwing 100 pitches in a span of three days.

The 2005 Red Sox seemed tired before the season even started. Things have been far different this time around.

"In '04, you know, we talked about it, but obviously none of us had been through it," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "And you try to answer the questions correctly, and I think you legitimately mean it. But still, you have a ring ceremony as the season starts. So the people that say, 'Can you fully put it behind you?', I don't think you really can; but [you can] handle it and answer the questions, because inevitably there will be a ton of questions. But also realizing it will be a new year and [last year] won't win you any games is important."

The core hasn't changed. This team will be led by captain Jason Varitek's presence, David Ortiz and Ramirez's bats, Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon's rocket right arms, the grit of Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Lowell, and the steadying presence of grizzled veterans like Schilling, Tim Wakefield and Mike Timlin.

And there is also the youth movement. The Red Sox have the perfect blend at the moment, in that they have plenty of veterans and young players. The farm system keeps churning out talent.

Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury starred on the World Series stage. Perhaps no-hit wonder Clay Buchholz will be ready to make a sustained contribution this year.

"I think we're lucky enough to have a core of players at the big league level that keeps us competitive at the highest level and also a strong foundation of young players coming through the system -- some of whom have already made their debut for the club -- that provide us with a promising future," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.

In this age of free agency, stability can be hard to maintain. But the Red Sox have managed to bring just about everybody back, which can only help their cause.

"The more you know these guys, almost the more work you can get done in Spring Training, because you know them, you know what they expect, they know what you expect, and it's easier to get your work done," said Francona. "You're not introducing yourself to people and explaining things, and you actually can get more work done."

Can all that work lead to another World Series parade? That is what the Red Sox will strive for, but as recent history has proven, it will be a daunting mission.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.