By Amy Tennery
NEW YORK, March 30 (Reuters) - The New York Yankees are looking to convert four straight postseason appearances into World Series glory as they launch their 2021 campaign on Thursday in a talent-rich American League, after a promising 2020 turned irksome amid a glut of injuries.
The Bronx Bombers started last year winning eight of their first 10 games in a shortened 60-game Major League Baseball (MLB) schedule, but struggled through a seven-game losing streak in August as top players including outfielder Aaron Judge, slugger Giancarlo Stanton and infielder DJ LeMahieu endured stints on the injured list.
Their season ended with a thud as they lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the AL Division Series, a conclusion Yankees manager Aaron Boone could only describe as "cruel."
"I'm as fired up as ever ... for us the first thing to do is win our division," said Judge, a two-time All-Star. "That starts with game one and in terms of game one we're going to have a tough opponent with Toronto (Blue Jays) at home."
The Yankees will have the benefit of their fiercely loyal hometown crowd, as teams across the league welcome back fans for the regular season after playing to empty stands due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Yankees will operate at a 20% seating capacity to start the year as they readjust to a 162-game schedule.
"The first goal for me is to continue to let guys know, 'Hey, even though we're playing 162 games, it's not sprint like it was last year, every game still matters'," said Judge.
The following week the Yankees will hit the road to take on another divisional rival, the Rays, who are in pursuit of revenge this year after losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in October's World Series, four games to two.
Of course the Yankees will need to stay healthy to avoid repeating history, which is already proving a challenge with pitcher Zack Britton sidelined until June and Luke Voit, last season's home run leader, undergoing surgery after suffering a partial meniscus tear.
Boone told reporters on Saturday that Voit was looking at three weeks of no baseball activity.
"It was kind of a decision between getting it treated and playing through it," said Boone. "(We) felt like calendar-wise, it was best to get this over and taken care of and hopefully put it behind him for the bulk of the season."
The New York Yankees begin their season on Thursday at home against the Toronto Blue Jays.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York Editing by Matthew Lewis)
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