In all likelihood the Yankees will have to play the 2013 season hard all the way through game number 162. The American League East could be the most competitive that it's been in years with the Blue Jays, Rays and Red Sox all improved (at least on paper) and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim poised to have a better season with the addition of Josh Hamilton and having Mike Trout in the lineup all season.
There will not be many easy games on a schedule filled with division rivals, but luckily for the Yankees the schedule starts off relatively slowly.
Once the schedule picks up, though, there will be few breaks for Joe Girardi's club.
Here are the three most difficult stretches the team will face in 2013:
In the last 20 days of June all 18 of the Yankees' games will come against teams that finished over .500 in 2012.
From June 11-16 the squad will be on the West Coast, visiting last year's AL West champion in the Oakland Athletics as well as the Angels. They'll then come home for a nine-game homestand, hosting former Yankee Don Mattingly's Los Angeles Dodgers for two games, the Rays for four games and the Rangers for three. They'll wrap up the month in Baltimore for a three-game rematch of the 2012 Division Series with the Orioles.
It's easy to see all six of the teams the Yankees will play at the end of June in the playoffs and these games could have a lot of meaning in a competitive American League playoff picture.
It's a good thing the Yankees will have a few days off for the All-Star Break in mid-July because they're going to have to work hard to win games at the end of the month.
After the All-Star Game at Citi Field the team will travel to Fenway Park, where the Yankees always have trouble, for three games against the Red Sox. They will then go to Texas for four games against the Rangers.
Things won't get any easier when they come home, as they'll host the Rays for three games before going to Los Angeles to play two games against the Dodgers before the trade deadline.
Depending on how pitching rotations end up, it's possible the Yankees could face David Price, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in three consecutive games.
August 9-September 1
The Dog Days of Summer won't be easy for the Bombers, who will play seven games between August 9 and August 15 against the Tigers (three) and Angels (four) followed by 15 straight division games leading into September.
Where will the Yankees finish in the AL East in 2013?
These games could easily determine what kind of September the Yankees have: meaningful or playing out the string. They'll go to Fenway for three, come home to play the Blue Jays in a three-game set then go to Tampa Bay and Toronto for three games apiece. They'll wrap up the month and start September at Yankee Stadium against the Orioles.
With 15 consecutive games against each of the Yanks' division rivals, the team will be in control of its own destiny leading into September. It could create some space between any team or fall out of the race.
These three stretches could prove to be vital for the 2013 Yankees, but for now, fans should focus on the short-term: Pitchers and catchers report to Tampa in just eight days and the push for the team's 28th World Series title will begin in earnest.