The Yankees are the same, yet so different from last year. No Nick Swisher. No Raul Ibanez. No Russell Martin. Enter Kevin Youkilis and some baseball nomads.

Other than that, they look the same. The difference? They aren’t healthy, not by a long shot. There are injuries or holes at first base, center field, third base and catcher. The pitching staff is pretty much the same. Here is a breakdown of the Bronx Bombers (using that term lightly, of course).

Greatest strength: Pitching staff.

Don’t laugh. This team is a mess offensively. And the bullpen is a question if for
nothing but Mariano Rivera coming back from a torn ACL and turning 43. At least the Yanks can trot out five starters who give them a chance to win with David Phelps making spots starts if need be.

Greatest weakness: Age and injuries.

Mark Teixeira (torn tendon), Curtis Granderson (forearm), Derek Jeter (ankle), Alex
Rodriguez (everything) and whoever is next. This team is so beat up and all of the
players mentioned are a year older. Even the general manager went down in the
offseason skydiving for war veterans. It will be a challenge to keep the roster together at any time this season.

Most important player: Robinson Cano

Too easy of a choice. With Jeter’s lingering ankle injury and the injuries to Tex and
Granderson, Cano must produce. He is also in a contract year and will be the face of the franchise if he isn’t already. Cano went back to some of his old habits in the postseason last year, however, and has to get his focus back and play harder, plus come up with big hits in October to get the big paycheck. The Yanks need him now more than ever.

Most important pitcher: Ivan Nova

We already know what CC Sabathia will do if healthy (bulldog, innings eater, stop losing streaks, etc) and what Andy Pettitte will do (get hurt by July, come back in September, pitch average in October and contemplate another year). Phil Hughes will never materialize. Hiroki Kuroda had a nice 2012 and should be fine. The wild card is the all-of-a-sudden not-so-confident Nova. He won 16 games in 2011 and fell on his face in 2012 and barely stayed in the rotation. He is the absolute key to this staff because he is young and brings so many different pitches to the plate against all types of hitters.

Key part of the schedule: August 9-22.

The Yanks play three against Detroit, three against the Angels and three at Boston with a day off and then a three-game homestand with Toronto. This may very well be the make-it or break-it time in the schedule and will set-up September and a playoff run. Plus, it will show if the Yanks are legit or not.

Key six-pack: Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson,
Mariano Rivera and CC Sabathia.

By late May, the Yanks need these six healthy and playing well. If not, things will get
ugly very quickly.

Projected record and finish: 92-70. AL East champs. ALDS loss.

Yea, the Blue Jays made moves. The Rays have pitching. Buck’s boys in Baltimore
are somewhat back. But Boston is still way down. Toronto has to prove it. Tampa
Bay has no offense. And Baltimore can’t do what they did last year again, can they?

This division is still New York’s to lose. And the Yankees still have enough talent and offense to win games in the regular season and beat #4 and #5 rotation pitchers. The problem is the postseason, where they are still nowhere near built for a run or a ring.