Derek Jeter: Yankees Need Captain Healthy in Order to Survive in AL East

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Derek Jeter: Yankees Need Captain Healthy in Order to Survive in AL East
Al Bello/Getty Images

Derek Jeter claims that he is on pace to return to the field by the season opener. This will be extremely important if the New York Yankees want to reach the postseason.

After telling the media at a press conference that this offseason was "absolutely terrible," he responded to questions about returning in time for the April 1 opener (via Andrew Marchand of ESPN):

Why wouldn't it be realistic? I broke my ankle in October. It has been quite some time. I'm right where I'm supposed to be up until this point. The ankle has healed perfectly. Now, it is just a matter of getting everything else in shape. You have to wait for the bone to heal before you can do other activity.

Jeter went down with a fractured ankle in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers. The Yankees ended up falling in the 12th inning of the game and then lost the next three in a sweep.

If that does not tell you everything you need to know about his value to the team, his stats should. During the postseason, the shortstop had a .333 batting average. Not only did this lead the team, but the rest of the lineup batted a combined .174 in the playoffs.

The team's inability to hit in the clutch was on full display in October, but it was a full-season issue. The Yankees were 17th in baseball with .256 batting average with runners in scoring position. Jeter hit .310 in that situation, the highest on the team with over 50 at-bats. 

This is something that will come back to hurt them during the 2013 regular season.

If Jeter is unhealthy for any duration of the season, the team will struggle to score in any way besides home runs.

Al Bello/Getty Images
The coaching staff helps Derek Jeter off the field after the injury.

In addition, The Captain provides an emotional boost for the lineup. You could see in the ALCS that the team seemed to just give up when he went down with the ankle injury. Playing on the first day of the season will give the squad confidence to go out and win.

Against the toughest division in baseball, this will be an absolute necessity.

New York should have a lot of confidence as perennial World Series contenders. However, there has not been competition like this in a long time.

The Baltimore Orioles won 93 games last season and took the Yankees to the maximum five games in the ALDS.

Al Bello/Getty Images
The Orioles gave the Yankees a tough battle in the ALDS.

Even they will have a hard time competing against the Tampa Bay Rays, who had the best team ERA last season and should be very good again, even without James Shields.

In addition, no team in baseball improved more than the Toronto Blue Jays.

In the offseason, the squad acquired Melky Cabrera, Jose Reyes, R.A Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and others. This roster is certainly talented enough to compete for a championship this season.

This leaves the Boston Red Sox as likely the worst team in the division, but there are still plenty of All-Stars on the roster, and anything is possible with a new manager.

Each of these four teams will make it tough for the Yankees to advance to the playoffs after a quiet offseason. It would not be surprising if both wild-card spots come from the AL East, but that still keeps two teams out. 

New York will have a difficult road ahead, regardless of what happens. If the team's leading hitter from last year, Jeter, is unable to play, reaching the playoffs might be almost impossible.

Hopefully for the Yankees, he will be able to reach his goal and play on Opening Day.

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