WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Hal Steinbrenner always says he's an optimist, regardless of circumstance.

That life outlook received its share of challenges in spring training, but the Yankees' managing general partner remains steadfast.

"I'm an optimist by nature, and when things are looking a bit down, I try to stay positive,'' Steinbrenner said in an interview before the Yankees' 10-5 victory over Army in their final exhibition game. "I think we have a good group of veterans. We have good pitching. We've had a couple of key injuries but they're going to come back, and we've tried to do what we can do to fill the void until they do. But we'll see.''

That process for Steinbrenner and his club begins Monday when the Yankees open the season against the Red Sox at the Stadium.

In a twist, the matchup of the traditional AL East powers is seen by many as a battle between two clubs that will end up fighting it out to avoid last place.

In the Yankees' case, that in large part is because of the injuries suffered during spring training. The usual hope that accompanies this time of year quickly turned into predictions of doom for a team already facing questions because of its age.

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The injuries, which Steinbrenner categorized as being of the "dumb-luck kind,'' started to mount shortly after the club's first full-squad workout.

Phil Hughes suffered two bulging discs while covering first base Feb. 18. In his first at-bat of spring training Feb. 24, Curtis Granderson suffered a broken right forearm when he was hit by J.A. Happ's pitch.

Mark Teixeira went down with a wrist injury March 5 and Derek Jeter suffered a setback with his left ankle two weeks ago. He will join Hughes, Granderson, Teixeira and Clay Rapada on the disabled list to start the season.

Teixeira, however, said the club is ready to embrace its "underdog'' role, a rare position for the Yankees.

"People can predict all they want, but it's a long season and who knows what's going to happen? Nobody knows,'' Teixeira said. "We have a lot of confident guys in there, a lot of professionals, guys who expect to win. Nothing has changed this year because we've had a few injuries.''

In discussing the dire expectations for the Yankees, Brian Cashman has used a phrase in recent days that's a hybrid of former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano's "survive and advance.''

"We need to find a way to survive and thrive despite what's occurred,'' Cashman said yesterday. "That's what good baseball teams do. The injuries occur to teams on a yearly basis. Whether they occur in March or July or August, they come. You have to find a way to survive and thrive regardless. Our job is to do that. We have a lot of talent.''

Teixeira said the diminished expectations may be prevalent elsewhere but not where it matters most.

"It's low expectations outside of the clubhouse,'' he said. "Expectations inside the clubhouse are the same. Again, we hear the chatter, you hear people talk, you hear fans, but we don't buy into it.''