Yanks have one goal in mind
Talented club focused on claiming first title since 2000
TAMPA, Fla. -- When the Yankees open their 2007 campaign on Monday, they will do so with the usual celebratory pomp and circumstance that has been accepted as part of the organization's flavor.
They'll also line the chalk at Yankee Stadium thinking somewhat of their unsettled pitching rotation, slapped together in patchwork fashion after several physical issues interrupted the final weeks of what had been a fairly pain-free Spring Training.
While no one could have projected that oft-injured right-hander Carl Pavano would be the one warming up in New York's bullpen as introductions begin, making his Major League return after 1 1/2 years on the shelf, the Yankees aren't outwardly fretting.
Even with ace Chien-Ming Wang down to a strained hamstring and in-season changes to the rotation a near certainty, the Yankees' strength entering the campaign wasn't really centered around starting pitching anyway.
More to the point, their strength was of the brute variety. The Yankees scored a Major League-leading 930 runs last season and did little to mess with a good thing, bringing back much of the same cast of characters for another year of assaulting American League pitching.
Though their lefty-laden lineup may prompt teams to lean toward arranging southpaws against the Yankees, the order presents a nightmare for a hurler, no matter which arm he throws with.
Top to bottom, there simply aren't many easy outs to seek, and an emphasis on plate patience -- headlined by right fielder and probable No. 3 hitter Bobby Abreu -- figures to help the Yankees work into the soft underbelly of middle relief.
"It's great," said leadoff hitter Johnny Damon. "The whole lineup, after me, you've got to face all of these other guys. It's got to be scary for a pitcher coming in."
Of course, as Derek Jeter points out, scoring runs has never really been an issue for the recent Yankees clubs.
"We've been scoring runs for a while," Jeter said. "We've got a lot of guys who can hit and a lot of guys who can beat you. We're capable in scoring in a lot of ways."
The biggest difference, manager Joe Torre believes, will be improvements in the bullpen.
With the manager steadfastly promising to use 37-year-old closer Mariano Rivera for just three outs a night, thus ensuring that the right-hander's valued arm is available for September and October, middle relief and setup men will be increasingly relied upon to record outs.
The Yankees feel well-equipped to handle those demands, bringing back setup men Kyle Farnsworth, Scott Proctor, plus lefty specialist Mike Myers from last year's relief corps. New to the mix is a trusted reliever in 32-year-old Luis Vizcaino, a rubber arm acquired from the Diamondbacks in January's Randy Johnson trade.
"With our bullpen," Torre said, "we feel like if we get five innings out of a starter, we can fill it in."
On the flip side, while many regular-season games have turned into swelled number slugfests, the Yankees have spent the last six seasons with a zero in the category that really counts around 161st Street and River Avenue -- World Series titles.
Jeter said he senses a certain hunger and restlessness enveloping the organization.
"You sense it because you're going home," Jeter said. "You're watching another team win, that's how you sense it. You put a lot of work in to win a championship. If you don't do it, man, it's a wasted year."
The emphasis on championship baseball has not changed in the Bronx and certainly never will under George Steinbrenner's stewardship. But the results are what count in the end, the sort of mindset that left a player like Jeter unfulfilled after what is generally considered his finest all-around campaign in 2006.
"Definitely, over the last couple of years, everybody has said, 'Oh, Mr. Steinbrenner has spent a ton of money,'" Jason Giambi said.
"It doesn't guarantee you a world championship. If you had a phenomenal football team and spent $200 [million], you could have a dynasty. In baseball, any team can beat any team on any given day. That's what makes baseball so great."
But while the Yankees still aim to bring the 2007 World Series to New York, general manager Brian Cashman spent much of the winter shuffling the deck of the organization, planning for pennant pushes to come.
The Yankees have held onto young rising talent like Wang and second baseman Robinson Cano, changing the organization's attitude somewhat.
With more promise like top Minor League hurler Phil Hughes on the horizon, Cashman added pitchers Ross Ohlendorf, Humberto Sanchez and Kevin Whelan in winter deals -- names that may not impact the Yankees right now, but are good bets to see big-league time in pinstripes.
"I think we've been pretty clear that our preference is to keep our prospects for ourselves," Cashman said.
But those are stories for another day. The Yankees are ready to begin their march toward that elusive 27th World Series title, doing so with a celebrated roster and on arguably the biggest stage in professional sports.
It's a scenario that creates legends out of success stories, but also magnifies the shortcomings immensely -- it may be a new season, but no one who was in the clubhouse at Detroit's Comerica Park has forgotten the sting of last year's abrupt American League Division Series exit.
It's the Yankees' goal to not let that sort of disappointment back into their storybook.
"That's a New Yorker thing," Giambi said. "When you're down, they want to see how you're going to get back up. It's a tough town. But at the same time, when you're an athlete, you cannot ask for a better place to play."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.