We keep hearing about a change of perception in the A's camp: how they're viewed from the outside and how they view themselves, as if a radically new season has arrived and they won't be surprising anyone this time. Is that really the case?

Checking some of the early forecasts for the American League West, it sounds as if an Oakland division title would be just as shocking as last year's. They're still the low-budget team in green and gold, hopeful of drawing 10,000 fans on any given night at the Coliseum ghost town. They still don't field a single position player with a glowing major-league track record, and Yoenis Céspedes represents their only player with superstar potential. They have a frightfully young pitching staff - not much change there - and their overall talent level is judged to be significantly inferior to that of the Angels and Rangers.

What's really changed in this division, I'd surmise, is the mood.

The A's know they're good. They have a very deep roster, a tension-free camp and a sense that last year's admirable team spirit is very much intact. Let's set aside the still-lowly Seattle Mariners and try to forget that the dreadful Houston Astros have somehow wandered into the American League. The big boys, for reasons having nothing to do with Oakland, are decidedly nervous.