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It is finally here. The 1st game of the 2014 New York Yankees season. I’ve been waiting for this day since Opening Day 2013 when the Yankees rolled out a lineup headlined by Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells and Chris Stewart.

We all know how the 2013 New York Yankees season went down, and I’m not going to dwell on the past, but it was a challenging year for this Yankees fan. I’m not going to pander for your condolences or hope that you offer me well wishes, I know I’ve been spoiled the last 20 years so it was a humbling experience to see my favorite team struggle on a game-by-game basis. We all knew that the Yankees would roll out the “red carpet” this offseason to free agent acquisitions, but I don’t think we really thought it would turn out the way it eventually did.

With that said, it all begins tonight against the Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park. The final season of Derek Jeter is upon us and there are several new “faces” that will help attempt bringing a 28th World Championship back to the Bronx. Lets kick off the 2014 New York Yankees season by looking at some keys heading into this opening series with the Houston Astros:

1. How will this newly pieced together Yankees lineup “mesh” in their 1st series?

8 of the 9 players that will start in the New York Yankees Opening Day lineup tonight, did not play in the Opening Day lineup a season ago. The only player back from the 2013 Opening Day lineup is Brett Gardner, everyone else was either injured (Jeter and Teixeira), acquired last season (Soriano) or signed during the offseason (Ellsbury, Beltran, McCann, Roberts and Johnson). Clearly the Yankees realized bringing back Overbay and Wells wasn’t a smart idea for 2014 success.

I’ll be honest with you, and this is the Yankees “homer” in me, I’m excited for this lineup. Yes, I know they’re old, I know they’re brittle and whatever snarky comment you want to throw in there, but they are a competitive lineup.

Most teams in Baseball would love to have a “heart of the order” that included Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira and Alfonso Soriano in it. Most teams in Baseball would love to have Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of their lineup. It’s a lineup that will send fear into opposing starting pitchers and will more importantly be competitive in 2014.

I want to see how a team that has been thrown together in the offseason translates onto the field this first month and in this first series of the season.

2. Can the starting pitching carry this team?

CC Sabathia recently spoke about how important the Yankees starting rotation will be to this team’s success in 2014. Sabathia stated that for New York to be successful, the starting rotation will have to carry a huge load on their shoulders and he’s absolutely right. The Yankees cannot be successful this season if the starting rotation does not do their job every game.

New York won 85 games last season, with a team that did not resemble the Yankees we are “use to” these last 20 years. Could you imagine how many games New York could’ve won had CC Sabathia had a “normal” season or if Hiroki Kuroda pitched well in the 2nd half or if Phil Hughes didn’t collapse every time he threw a pitch on the Yankee Stadium mound? Would the Yankees have won maybe 90 games or more had the starting rotation done their job? It’s very well possible.

There’s added pressure on CC Sabathia to perform this season and I believe he is up for the challenge in 2014. This added pressure has “dimmed” the spotlight on Michael Pineda & Masahiro Tanaka as they enter their first full season in pinstripes and that’s a good thing for the New York Yankees. Even in a game against the Houston Astros tonight, CC Sabathia will have to set the tone for this rotation early and often.

3. Will the Yankees “farm hand bullpen” be able to carry the legacy left by Mariano Rivera?

How’s this for statistic you normally don’t hear when talking about the New York Yankees: 5 of the 7 relievers on the Yanks Opening Day roster are all farmhands from the Yankees minor league system. Closer David Robertson and relievers David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno & Dellin Betances are all from the Yankees Minor League system. Not bad for an organization that has historically traded away their “farm hands” over the years, right?

Similar to the Yankees lineup, this bullpen has me excited for the 2014 season. The “pure Baseball fan” in me is ecstatic to see a bullpen dominated by players that have come through your farm system and not players that used to be closers or middle relievers of the past (Tom Gordon & LaTroy Hawkins immediately come to mind). New York is “rolling the dice” a bit by letting their youngsters showcase themselves at the start of this season and help lock down the late-innings from the starting rotation.

The biggest spotlight is going to be on David Robertson as he takes over the closer role from Mariano Rivera, the 1st time Rivera isn’t the Opening Day closer since 1997, and I believe he’s up for the challenge this season. Unfortunately for Robertson he will be dealing with a short-leash from New York media and Yankee fans alike as he will have a hard task of replacing a un-replacable legend in Mariano Rivera. Robertson has a bad trend of making things interesting in close games during his late-inning heroics (hence the “Houdini” nickname he’s adopted over the years) and he cannot allow that to happen now as he’s the closer for the Yankees.

I’m excited to see what all these players have got as I have been very impressed by David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno and Dellin Betances over the past year. If the bullpen is successful this season, it could be up there with one of the better “under the radar” pen’s in the game.

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Lots of fans & analysts alike are doubting the Yankees in 2014 and that’s a good thing. Nobody thought the arch-rival Boston Red Sox would be able to accomplish anything and look what they were able to do this past season. It’s a hard pill for Yankee fans to swallow, but you better hope that the Yankees find similar success to that of the Red Sox in 2014.

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What are your keys to the Yankees/Astros series? Feel free to tweet me or go to The Bower Show’s Facebook page now!