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03/28/08 10:00 AM ET

Yankees Opening Day outlook

Returning cast trims the fat for new look, attitude this season

It was a different kind of Spring Training for the Yankees, who were individually called during the offseason and warned to report to camp in shape. After enduring a disastrous first half in which far too many players spent time on the disabled list, the Yankees were going to emphasize physical conditioning.

New manager Joe Girardi meant business, and he wanted his roster to know it. The result? A team that looks trimmer, hungrier and more prepared than last year's. Will they be able to wipe clean the disappointment of watching the Red Sox celebrate another World Series title while the Yankee drought hit seven years? One thing is for certain -- if they don't, it won't be from a lack of preparation.

Calling card


The Yankees didn't lead the Major Leagues in runs scored by accident. Even with their core players a year older, this team is still going to be able to beat up on bad pitching with abandon. How many teams boast a No. 8 hitter (Robinson Cano) that drove in 97 runs last year? Perennially a threat to score 1,000 runs, there's little reason to think the Yankees' lineup -- led by reigning MVP Alex Rodriguez -- couldn't do it in 2008.

Projected starting lineup
1. LF Johnny Damon
2. SS Derek Jeter
3. RF Bobby Abreu
4. 3B Alex Rodriguez
5. 1B Jason Giambi
6. 2B Robinson Cano
7. C Jorge Posada
8. DH Hideki Matsui
9. CF Melky Cabrera
Projected rotation
1. RHP Chien-Ming Wang
2. LHP Andy Pettitte
3. RHP Mike Mussina
4. RHP Phil Hughes
5. RHP Ian Kennedy
Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Mariano Rivera
Setup: RHP Joba Chamberlain
Setup: RHP Kyle Farnsworth
Middle: RHP LaTroy Hawkins
Middle: TBA
Long: TBA
Achilles' Heel
The Yankees' biggest question is, who is going to record all of these outs? By trusting their youth movement, the Yankees are leaving themselves open in the event of injuries, inconsistency, or both. Veterans Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte provide a stable No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, but 39-year-old Mike Mussina struggled so much that he lost his rotation spot in 2007. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy are impressive, but inexperienced. Having Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen solidifies the path to Mariano Rivera, but it also leaves their best arm assigned to just the eighth inning.

You'll know they're rollin' if ...


Wang and Pettitte perform as expected, Mussina proves serviceable and Hughes and Kennedy live up to their prospect billing. Jason Giambi not only stays on the field, but pops a few homers now and then, and A-Rod abstains from the slumps that followed his previous two MVP campaigns.

You'll know they're in trouble if ...
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shuttle is back in effect and Hank Steinbrenner is flooding newspapers with complaints about how general manager Brian Cashman let Johan Santana get away. Girardi loses command of his clubhouse, Giambi limps off the field again, and Jorge Posada shows he's not immune from the advancing years of a big league catcher.

Testing, testing
They might as well get it out of the way early. The Yankees don't have to wait long for their first test against the defending World Series champs, visiting the Red Sox at Fenway Park for a three-game series on April 11-13. After a two-day swing down to Tampa Bay, the Yankees come home to play -- who else? -- the Red Sox in an abbreviated two-game set.

Interleague Play
In addition to the usual Subway Series action (May 16-18 at Shea Stadium, June 27-29 at Yankee Stadium), the Yankees visit the Astros (June 13-15) and Pirates (June 24-26), and play host to the Padres (June 17-19) and Reds (June 20-22). The Mets should give the Yankees their biggest trouble of those National League clubs, but nothing is ever certain. You could have said the same about the Yankees' trip to play Colorado and San Francisco last year, and they limped back to the East Coast with one win in six games.

The Bottom Line
The Yankees are going to go as far as their pitching takes them. They'll score enough runs to bash bad teams into submission, but finishing second in the American League East may not be enough to guarantee postseason play, as it was last year. If the pitching falters, the Yankees will have to work the phones or trust their up-and-coming prospects to avoid their first dark October in more than a decade.

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