At some point in the next five weeks and one day, the Yankees will finalize and announce their starting rotation order for the beginning of the 2018 season. They may have already picked out an order for all we know. Hopefully everyone makes it though Spring Training in one piece and the Yankees are able to set their starting five in whatever order they deem best.
So far new manager Aaron Boone has mostly brushed off questions about the rotation order — “To me, the order in which they pitch isn’t necessarily as big a deal,” he said over the weekend — and he’s yet to name an Opening Day starter. According to our poll, RAB readers would give the ball to Masahiro Tanaka in the season opener, though Luis Severino isn’t far behind. Either works for me.
“A lot that goes into (the rotation order) will be where these guys are physically,” said Boone to David Schoenfield over the weekend. “How we want to build in rest and off days as we look at the first month or two of the season, and we’ll look a little bit how they match up maybe against some teams.”
Like Boone said, the rotation order on Opening Day isn’t that big a deal. They’re five games in a 162-game season. The only thing that makes these games different is the ability to line up the rotation however you want. It’s tough to rearrange things in the middle of the season, and sometimes even going into the postseason. On Opening Day though, teams can set things up however they want.
Because of that, I think there are two things we can say about the rotation order with some level of certainty right now given the schedule and the team’s tendencies. They are:
- CC Sabathia will start the fifth game of the season.
- The Yankees will order their rotation with the fourth series of the season in mind, not the first.
The Yankees open the season with four games in Toronto, which means four games on turf. That’s not good for Sabathia’s degenerative right knee. In fact, last season the Yankees avoided starting Sabathia in Toronto (and Tampa Bay) whenever possible simply to keep him away from the turf. Because of that, I think they skip him that first series entirely, and have him start the fifth game of the season instead, which happens to be the home opener.
As for the second point, the Yankees are making an early trip up to Fenway Park this season. They’ll be there for a three-game series from Tuesday, April 10th through Thursday, April 12th. Those are the 11th, 12th, and 13th games of the season. The schedule sets up in such a way that the Yankees can start their top three starters in that series, all with an extra day of rest:
- Five games in five days (four vs. Blue Jays, one vs. Rays)
- Five-games in five days (one vs. Rays, four vs. Orioles)
- Red Sox series
Two full turns through the rotation with an off-day following each. Perfect. The Yankees and Red Sox are, clearly, the two powerhouse teams in the AL East, and they figure to fight for the division title all season. I expect the Yankees to take advantage of the schedule and line up their top three starters for that series against the Red Sox. Every head-to-head game will matter so much. (The Red Sox can do the same, by the way. They can easily line up their top three starters for that series too.)
Now, the weather has a tendency to throw a wrench into rotation plans, especially in April, and there’s not much the Yankees or anyone can do about that. Starting Sabathia in the fifth game, away from the turf, will be a piece of cake. The Yankees begin the year with four games in a dome, so the weather will be a non-issue. Lining up the rotation for the Red Sox series — I assume Tanaka, Severino, and Sonny Gray would be the guys in whatever order — will take a little weather luck. What can you do? Just have to hope for the best.
The Sabathia thing is so ridiculously obvious that I would be stunned if it didn’t happen. Keeping him away from the turf in Toronto is a no-brainer, especially when it comes with the added bonus of starting him in the Yankee Stadium opener. The Red Sox thing is a little trickier because of the weather. The schedule does make it easy to line specific guys up for those games though, and I expect the Yankees to do that. If the weather cooperates, great. If not, well, at least they tried.