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MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

For diminished Yankees, goals remain lofty

Girardi maintains belief in veteran club despite key season-opening injuries

For diminished Yankees, goals remain lofty

NEW YORK -- Looking on the bright side for the New York Yankees, at least there shouldn't be much of that "Evil Empire" stuff going around.

Not that anyone from any of the other 29 franchises is going to feel particularly sorry for the New York Yankees. Nobody else has 27 World Series championships. Nobody else has qualified for the postseason 17 times in the last 18 years.

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The Yankees have set a standard of excellence in North American professional sports. The competition rarely says "thank you" for that sort of thing.

No, the Yankees will receive neither sympathy nor empathy from their Major League peers when they hit a rough patch. And a rough patch is what they have hit, beginning a season with four mainstays of their lineup -- and their identity, for that matter -- on the disabled list.

But doesn't it become just a bit more difficult to paint the Yankees as the all-purpose baseball baddies when they are banged up like this? It is one thing to see them typically as the richest, most privileged family in the neighborhood. But doesn't that perspective lose some bite when they are more readily identified as hurt and aging?

The problems officially began on Monday at Yankee Stadium with an 8-2 Opening Day loss to the Boston Red Sox. There are people in the world of baseball who are saying that the real argument in 2013 for these two antediluvian rivals will be over fourth place in the AL East. But Opening Day is no time to resort to worst-case scenarios.

Even Monday's loss, though it came at the hands of Boston, should not have represented a major change of direction. CC Sabathia's performance has typically been that of a true ace for the Yankees, but not on Opening Days. Including Monday, Sabathia has started five straight Opening Days for the Yankees. He is 0-2 with a 7.42 ERA over those five starts.

Sabathia's top velocity on Monday was just 91 mph. But both he and Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that the velocity would return to its mid-90s level as Sabathia built up arm strength.

"I feel good," Sabathia said. "The arm strength will be building up as the season goes on. I'm sure the velocity will come back ... the more I throw."

Beyond this one area of difficulty in Sabathia's otherwise admirable career, the rest of the problems might have more staying power. The Yankees have just 11 players who were on their 2012 Opening Day roster. On Monday, there were just two starting position players who had started for the Yankees at the beginning of 2012.

Still, Girardi insists that the team's standards and the expectations haven't changed. And that had better be the case, because if the standards and the expectations vanish, the Yankees stop being the Yankees and become somebody less.

"I know there are some different faces in the clubhouse," Girardi said on Monday. "But the expectation is the same.

"Our belief is to go out and win every day. It's an opportunity for a lot of guys to get some more playing time and to show us what they can do, but I don't think you ever think about that. I think that's a negative thought. Go out and win every series."

The opener was attended by 49,514, a record for a home opener at the new Yankee Stadium. Late in the game, the wind came up, the rain came down and the place emptied out, while the game continued. By the end, the ballpark scene was equal parts desolate and bleak.

The Yankees, however, should not be written off, because they still have the kind of pitching -- barring an epidemic of injuries on that half of the roster -- that will keep them in games and competitive.

What you can say about the Yankees right now is that without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, et al, they no longer summon up images of the big Bronx Bombers.

But once we have acknowledged that fact of life, even non-Yankees fans can move farther from the notion of this operation as the big, bad bully on the baseball block.

Tears aren't going to be shed over the Yankees' difficulties by anybody other than Yankees fans. But in their current circumstances, it becomes increasingly difficult to look at the Yankees as convenient villains for any baseball story. To be an "Evil Empire," you really need to appear to the rest of the world as somebody who is still favored to win it all.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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