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CC: Yankees good enough to win it all

CC Sabathia warned fans and critics not to

CC Sabathia warned fans and critics not to overlook the Yankees, who he thinks are sliding into the unfamiliar role of underdog in the AL East. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

CC Sabathia will throw the first pitch of the Yankees' 109th season at around 1:10 p.m. Thursday at Yankee Stadium.

Wednesday, he threw out the first verbal brushback of the season in what promises to be a bruising battle between the Red Sox and the underdog Yankees -- that's right, underdog Yankees -- in the AL East.

After noting that most experts favor the Red Sox over the Yankees, Sabathia was asked whom he is picking.

"I'm definitely picking us," he said. But not just to win the division.

"That's to win the whole thing."

Bold talk from the leader of a rotation that has question marks in spots four and five and A.J. Burnett in spot two. But Sabathia scoffed at the notion the Yankees don't have enough talent to compete for a World Series title.

"I wouldn't show up if I didn't believe that," he said. "I've played on plenty of teams where the season's over before it started. One of the reasons I wanted to come here was to have the chance to win it every year. I definitely believe we have a chance to win this year."

It may seem odd for the Yankees, with their payroll approaching $200 million and two seasons removed from their 27th world championship, to play the underdog card. But Sabathia played it Wednesday as the Yankees got ready at the Stadium for their season opener against the Tigers.

"We're not the favorite," he said. "So that kind of feels good to have everybody not picking us. Let's go out and kind of sneak up on some people. As crazy as it sounds with the talent that we have in here, nobody seems to believe in us but us."

Even general manager Brian Cashman has admitted the Red Sox won the offseason. Boston added first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and leftfielder Carl Crawford while the Yankees lost out on free-agent ace Cliff Lee and saw Andy Pettitte retire. The Yankees' biggest free-agent acquisition was setup man Rafael Soriano.

"The Red Sox got better," Sabathia said. "They made some improvements. They had a lot of injuries last year, which hurt them. So we just have to wait and see how it plays out on the field."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he doesn't mind the idea of being thought of as the underdog.

"It's different," he said. "It's not something you hear very often. I can't remember the last time I heard those words used . . . I don't remember a year people were talking about the Yankees being underdogs and flying under the radar, but I don't know if we're going to sneak up on anyone. I think people are always pretty excited when we come to town. But it is unusual."

Not every Yankee agreed with Sabathia's take on the Yankees being underdogs, though. Mark Teixeira said, "We're very confident" and "we don't come here to come in second place."

And Derek Jeter said the preseason talk didn't matter at all to him.

"I don't pay much attention to who's the underdog, who's the favorite," Jeter said. "We've gone into seasons where people say we're favored and we haven't won. We've gone into seasons people saying we weren't supposed to win and we won. So it doesn't make a difference. We're motivated every season to go out and try to win a championship. That doesn't change depending on other people's opinions."

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