TAMPA, Fla. -- As usual, the demise of the New York Yankees is grossly overstated.

Granted, the Yankees will go into the season with more injuries than any team would want – Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are all on the disabled list.

And yes, the team continues to age.

But to honestly believe, when it’s all said and done, that the Yankees won’t be a factor in the stronger-than-ever American League East is a bit of overkill.

When you talk to the Yankees, they believe it’s more wishful thinking from some, rather than fact.

“How can people talk about the demise of the team before you even start the season,” said Yankees’ captain Derek Jeter, who has recovered from a broken left ankle suffered in the American League Championship Series. “I always found that to be interesting.

“I don’t pay attention to it. In our sport, we play every day. It’s impossible to say what’s going to happen during the season before it even starts.”

And Jeter has a point, since we’ve heard this song before in each of the last four years. In that time, the Yankees have won the division three out of four years, averaging 97.5 victories and they’ve won the 2009 World Series.

“We still have a lot of talent,” Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman said. “We’re banged up, we’ve lost some important people. We’ve got some injuries early, but that’s a part of the game.

“It’s our job to prove people wrong. It’s a long season and we’re in it to win it.”

The reason the Yankees still have a chance to win is simple: pitching. It’s really what wins. Ask the Tamp Bay Rays, who keep winning despite the lack of hitting.

“We have a pretty good pitching staff,” Yankees’ ace CC Sabathia said of his squad, which also features Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all time. “We can’t control what people say about us. We can just go out and do what we need to do and pitch well and maybe people will jump on.

“We don’t worry about that. We know what we have in here.”

The rotation of Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova is strong. Nova, their fifth starter, has won a total of 28 games in the last two seasons.

The Yankees will need that kind of production to keep up because the AL East is a beast division. The Toronto Blue Jays made a huge splash in the off-season, adding Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes.

Baltimore, which made the playoffs last year, is still good and so is Tampa Bay, which had the best ERAs (3.19 for starters and 2.88 for the bullpen) in the AL last season.

“Our division, alone, is going to be a massive dogfight,” Cashman said. “You could just take every name in the division, pick a name out of the hat and line it up that way. That’s probably the best guess anyone can come up with.”

The funny thing, coming into this season, is that some baseball experts have the Yankees finishing fourth and the Red Sox in last in the division. For years, it was always the other way around with both teams on top of the rest. “It’s crazy,” Sabathia said.

Not surprisingly, Jeter is focused. He said the only thing that matters is what his team does. “I’ve never concerned myself about what other teams are doing,” he said. “You worry about them when you’re playing them.”

Plus, it’s not like the Yanks will be shorthanded all season. The wounded players are coming back. Granderson (right forearm) is due back in May and so is Tex (right wrist). A-Rod, who had left hip surgery, is expected to return after the All-Star Break. “I’m doing OK,” Grandy said. “I’ll be back soon.”

Still, some skeptics might question how well the injured players will perform upon their return, especially the older players. Cashmen, though, still likes his crew of veterans and proven winners over other teams filled with potential. “We are old,” he admitted. “Some of my old is better than a lot of people’s young.”

In reality, for the Yankees, it’s just a matter of staying afloat and not getting buried early in the season. Again, that’s where pitching comes in and some timely hitting.

“I still feel good,” Sabathia said. “I still think we have the guys in here to step up and fill in while Curtis and Tex get back and hold the fort down, and be able to take off from there.”

One day, all those Yankee naysayers will be right. They won’t make the playoffs and this winning-machine will have to start over and rebuild.

But that day hasn’t come. The Yankees have enough pitching to make the playoffs yet again. Just watch.