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For Yankee fans, Opening Night 2005 could not have come soon enough. A brutal winter, the anticipation of seeing Randy Johnson in pinstripes and the disappointment left over from last year’s collapse, have created an urgency among the fans to see their team play ball.

This year’s edition of the Yankees should be an improvement over last year’s, especially when you consider the starting pitching. Javier Vazquez, Jon Lieber and Jose Contreras, all starters at the beginning of 2004, have been replaced with Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown are the only holdovers from 2004.

Last year’s team was saved and ultimately failed by its’ bullpen. The famed combination of Rivera, Gordon and Quantrill, QuoGorMo for short, was deadly until wearing down at the end of the year. The Yankees have brought in Felix Rodriguez and reacquired Mike Stanton to help distribute the load. In addition, Steve Karsay looks to have recovered from shoulder surgery and could be an effective contributor for the first time since 2002.

The Yankee lineup is very similar to the 2004 edition with only two changes. Tony Womack will be playing second and batting ninth and Tino Martinez has returned to the Bronx to share first base and designated hitter with Jason Giambi. Giambi will be under the greatest scrutiny this year as he has been one of the principal faces of the BALCO scandal. Hideki Matsui seems to be blossoming into one of the best players in the American League and Alex Rodriguez should benefit from having a year in New York under his belt.

Defense may be the only weakness on this team. The infield defense is solid, especially with the addition of Tino Martinez at first, but the outfield could be a problem. Bernie Williams has definitely lost a step and Hideki Matsui regressed defensively in 2004. Gary Sheffield is the strongest defender of the group, but expect a lot of balls to get through the gaps this summer.

With this abundance of talent, it is easy to expect at least ninety-five wins and probably more, barring a rash of injuries. Of course, great ability generates great expectations and fans of the Bombers will settle for nothing less than a parade down the Canyon of Heroes in late October. It should be a fun season to watch.

Image via Yankees.com