The Yankees snapped their six-year Opening Day losing streak with an authoritative 6-1 win over the Blue Jays yesterday afternoon. Always good to start the new season with a win. Been a while since the Yankees did that. Anyway, ready for some small sample size thoughts and observations? Let’s go.
1. Stress-free first game for new manager Aaron Boone. Some other rookie managers didn’t have it so easy yesterday. The Red Sox blew a 4-0 lead in the eighth inning without Alex Cora even warming up Craig Kimbrel. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler didn’t start one of his best players (Odubel Herrera) on Opening Day for matchup reasons and he yanked ace Aaron Nola after 5.1 scoreless innings and 68 — 68! — pitches. The bullpen promptly blew a 5-0 lead. Yikes. Both Cora and Kapler are getting raked over the coals today. Boone had it easy. The Yankees scored early and continued to tack on runs, Luis Severino was excellent, and bullpen retired ten of eleven batters faced. Nice and easy. Boone challenged a play he should’ve challenged (Justin Smoak coming off first base in the sixth), and after the final out, he had a chat with home plate umpire Kerwin Danley because the thought the second-to-last pitch of the game was a dropped strike three, not a foul ball as ruled, so even though the Yankees won and the game was over, Boone was still looking for answers. The players made life easy for Boone during his managerial debut — Dellin Betances told Brendan Kuty both Boone and Brett Gardner addressed the team after the win to say “just keep thing going and congrats on that first victory” — and I’m sure he appreciated that. We’ll see what happens in a closer game or when the first crisis strikes, though with any luck, there are many more easy games to come.
2. How great is the new look middle of the lineup? I understand the temptation to break up the Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez trio because three righties in a row just looks wrong, but man, it looked oh so right yesterday. The Judge/Stanton/Sanchez portion of the lineup batted five times and not once were they retired in order. Four of those five times through the lineup, they produced at least one extra-base hit. With Greg Bird sidelined, Didi Gregorius is the obvious left-handed hitter to break up the three big righties. We all love Didi, but he’s a good hitter more than a great hitter, and squeeze him between the righties and I feel like you’re giving the opposing pitcher a bit of a reprieve. You’re worrying about a potential bullpen matchup when those guys might put the game out of reach before the bullpen even becomes a factor, which is basically what happened yesterday. Russell Martin told Dan Martin there is “no break in that lineup” following yesterday’s game, and that is especially true with the middle of the lineup. I know yesterday the Yankees faced a lefty, and tonight they’ll face a tough righty (Aaron Sanchez), but I am still pro Judge/Stanton/Sanchez hitting 2/3/4. Every time that portion of the lineup came up yesterday, it felt like runs were going to be scored. Pitchers need to be perfect to get those guys and they know it. Let’s not overthink things here. Stack the great hitters together and good things will happen.
3. Even beyond the big guys in the middle, the lineup right now is just so deep. Neil Walker spent most of the last few seasons hitting 2/3/4 somewhere and yesterday the Yankees had him batting eighth. He doubled and had two other hard-hit balls. It felt like, top to bottom, everyone at the plate was capable of doing damage yesterday, even No. 9 hitter Tyler Austin, who has power. Everyone felt dangerous. We’re all going to focus on Judge/Stanton/Sanchez because they’re awesome and they’re the guys the Yankees are counting on to lead the way, offensively. They deserve all the attention, But when you have someone like Walker hitting low in the order, and either a speed threat like Tyler Wade or a power threat like Austin hitting ninth, you’re in good shape. There have been a few too many easy outs at the bottom on the lineup in recent years. Not so much last season, but the few years before that. Thankfully that is no longer the case.
4. Speaking of the deep lineup, the Yankees really wore Toronto’s pitching down yesterday. J.A. Happ threw 96 pitches in 4.2 innings and the bullpen averaged 5.8 pitches per out. Overall, the Yankees forced the Blue Jays to throw 172 pitches in nine innings, and that’s with most of the offense coming from quick strike homers rather than prolonged rallies. Heck, the Gardner/Judge/Stanton top of the lineup saw 79 pitches in 15 plate appearances, which included five full counts. Every time you looked up the Yankees were running a deep count, fouling away pitches, and not chasing out of the zone. There are going to be games where the pitcher is pounding the zone and the Yankees don’t really have an answer for it, could happen as soon as tonight, but generally speaking, it doesn’t feel like there is an easy out in the lineup right now. Gregorius is the only free swinger and hey, having one free swinger is no big deal, especially when he can pop a homer and spray the ball to all fields like Didi.
5. Something is wrong with Josh Donaldson. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons called it a “dead arm” after the game, but whatever it is, he can not throw. Donaldson had to make three throws to first base yesterday and all three were weak. We’ve seen plenty of infielders intentionally bounce a throw to first base on the turf. That is not what Donaldson was doing. He had no zip on his throws at all. Look at this:
6. The YES Network has an ESPN style strike zone overlay now. (I think Michael Kay referred to it is “Pitchcast,” but I could be wrong.) I don’t remember seeing it in Spring Training. It was there yesterday though, and I imagine it’ll be there the rest of the season. Here’s a screen shot:
The strike zone graphic, while well-intentioned, doesn’t do it for me. I feel like it takes away from the broadcast more than it adds to the broadcast. The strike zone overlay itself isn’t distracting, I’m used to it by now, but the overlay represents a level of accuracy that just doesn’t exist. Like it or not, the strike zone is subjective. Pitches just off the plate will sometimes be called strikes and pitches at the knees will sometimes be called balls. That’s baseball. The strike zone overlay makes the calls that go against your team more obvious — remember how many called strikes seemingly below the knees went against Judge during the postseason? — and that doesn’t add any value to the game-watching experience. At least I don’t think it does. All the strike zone overlay does is draw attention to imperfect umpires and an imperfect strike zone. I know a bad call when I see it. The strike zone overlay makes more borderline pitches look bad than we’d otherwise think. That’s how I feel, anyway. Shrug.
7. We need to talk about John Sterling’s home run call for Stanton. You can listen to it here. He blurted out the Italian phrase “Giancarlo, non si può stopparlo,” which apparently means “Giancarlo, you can not be stopped.” Two obvious problems here. One, Stanton isn’t Italian! The internet tells me he is part Puerto Rican, part Irish, and part African-American. And two, no one knows what the hell that phrase means. Everyone was plugging it into google translate — with different spellings, of course — and getting different results. Sterling’s best home run calls are simple. An a-bomb from A-Rod. Bern baby Bern. Robbie Cano, don’t’cha know. So on and so forth. “Giancarlo, non si pue de parlo?” No. Just … no. I’m not saying coming up with home run calls is easy — “Stanton drops the Mike” seems pretty great and straightforward to me — but Sterling might have to go back to the drawing board with this one. He’s been doing this forever. He’s allowed a mulligan. Use it here.
Got a whopping 15 questions in this week’s mailbag, the first mailbag of the 2018 regular season. Send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll get to as many as I can each week.
Frederick asks: How realistic would trading for Matthew Olson from the Oakland Athletics be to serve as a lefty power/OBP bat to play first base and insert between Judge/Stanton or Stanton/Sanchez? What kind of package would it take to get him? Surely if he can be had for a tolerable price and given a meaningful chance to play with the short porch, it would help clarify the Greg Bird situation (keep or move on)? Thanks!
I would bet against the price tag being “tolerable.” Olson went deep yesterday and has 25 homers in 60 games since being called up last year. That is pretty ridiculous. The A’s are starting to piecing together an interesting position player core with Olson and Matt Chapman in the corner infield spots, Stephen Piscotty and Boog Powell in the outfield, and Franklin Barreto, Jorge Mateo, and Dustin Fowler on the way. The asking price for Olson figures to be quite high right now. If he were doing what he’s doing with the Yankees, we’d want the moon.
I don’t love the idea of paying big for a first base bat anyway. I know Bird is out again, but there are too many first basemen available on one-year deals in free agency each offseason. The Yankees still have Bird and they hope to find out exactly what they have in him later this year, once he gets healthy. And if Bird doesn’t work out, the Yankees could always sign a Lucas Duda or Logan Morrison type. Trading a package of prospects for a first base only guy like Olson doesn’t excite me. I think he’s much more likely to be the next Duda or Morrison than the next Anthony Rizzo or Joey Votto, you know?
Ben asks: Once he’s healthy, what’s Ellsbury’s playing time going to look like? Could he be a real luxury as an early pinch runner, given his general levels of offensive and defensive competency, or is the lineup too stacked to justify bringing him in early enough to bat?
I don’t think it’s worth bringing Jacoby Ellsbury in as an early pinch-runner. I’m not sure who you’d even remove in that situation. Tyler Austin or Neil Walker? Brandon Drury? That’s pretty much it. Everyone else is too good to replace with a pinch-runner in anything other than a close game situation (down a run in the ninth, etc.). I know it’s not easy to see how Ellsbury will get playing time, but believe me, there will be times this summer we’ll wonder why he’s playing so much. He’ll give the starting outfielders regular rest — do they each sit once a week? more often than that for Brett Gardner? — and I think there’s a path to three starts a week doing that. And if someone gets hurt, that solves the “when will Ellsbury play?” problem. Look, I’ve dumped on Ellsbury as much as anyone over the years, but he has a chance to be a really useful part-time outfielder. Hopefully Aaron Boone and the Yankees find the right balance and everyone stays healthy and productive through Game 162.
Seth asks: It seems to me that Boone has been revealing lots of information whenever he’s been asked questions, or at the very least much more than Girardi ever did. For example, he said he is leaning toward splitting up Judge/Stanton/Sanchez and he revealed part of the Yankees interview process. Do you think he’s actually been revealing information too liberally or does it just feel too liberal after Girardi didn’t tell us/the media anything?
I used to freak out about this stuff. These relievers aren’t available, I’m thinking about doing this with the lineup, that sorta stuff. I used to wonder why managers would volunteer information like that. Then I realized it doesn’t matter one bit. A team won’t take the opposing manager at his word. They’re going to develop a plan to attack hitters and they’ll they keep tabs on who may or may not be available in the bullpen themselves. They’re going to prepare for different scenarios like, say, Gary Sanchez hitting behind Giancarlo Stanton and Didi Gregorius hitting behind Stanton, because it does matter to some degree. Teams will cover all their bases, and when the lineup is posted, they’ll finalize things. They’re not going to trust anything the opposing manager says. I wouldn’t.
Jason asks: Hey – question for the mailbag – now that the last of the decent pitchers has signed, what sort of contract do you think Tanaka would have managed in this market? He is younger than Cobb and Darvish, but he was not as effective last year (ignoring postseason) and will always have the injury risk hanging over him.
Hard to think Masahiro Tanaka would’ve beat the $67M left on his contract. Alex Cobb did well for himself all things considered, but Lance Lynn was pretty good last year, and he has to settle for one year and $12M. Tanaka wasn’t good overall in 2017 — he was better in the second half and nails in the postseason, but overall, the numbers aren’t good — plus The Elbow™ looms over every pitch he throws, fair or not. Tanaka might’ve had to take a one-year deal in February or even March. He walked away from $67M and Jake Arrieta had to settle for $75M guaranteed, and Arrieta’s resume is pretty great. Would the Yankees have taken him back on $10M to $15M one-year deal? I think so, especially since his $22.14M luxury tax hit would’ve been off the books. Tanaka made a smart move not opting out. He likely saved himself from a big pay cut, and he got to stay with a contending team.
Nick asks: How do you feel about Kyle Higashioka? Last spring we talked about him pushing Romine out and now it seems like he might not even be third on the teams catching depth chart. Is he soon to be a 40 man casualty or the BUC of the future?
Higashioka pretty much is what he is at this point. He turns 28 in three weeks, so I’m not sure how much more upside is remaining with the bat, if any at all. He’s at the age where you’d expect him to peak as a hitter, right? Higashioka has some power and he’s a good defender behind the plate, but he just can’t stay healthy. He is what he is. A nice depth piece with minor league options remaining who can go up and down as the third catcher on the depth chart. Even playing part-time as a backup, I’d be worried about him holding up physically. If you need him for a few weeks to fill in, okay. But counting on him to stay healthy all year seems like bad news. That said, the Yankees are short on catching prospects at the moment, so I don’t think they’d designate Higashioka for assignment unless absolutely necessary. Running out of catching would be very bad. Very, very bad.
Manuel asks: As you surely have seen, the YES network is promoting their broadcast team with a new short video. Al Leiter is not a part of it. Do you know if he’s still gonna be a broadcaster on YES or not? I couldn’t find anything on the interwebs.
I have to give the YES Network folks credit, the nine-man booth commercial is pretty funny. Props to them for poking fun at themselves for having a ridiculously large cast of rotating analysts. Here’s the commercial if you’ve somehow missed it:
Paul asks: With German and Luis Cessa as the 6th starter, and presumably whoever is available getting the call, will the Yankees make sure they aren’t pitching back to back? Meaning, do they try to keep 2-3 days in between each of their starts, the ensure one of them is available more often?
Yes. Teams do this routinely, weather and schedule permitting, and also assuming they have two starters in Triple-A they’re willing to call up for spot start duty. Sometimes the rotation order gets thrown out of whack and there’s nothing you can really do about it, and sometimes you need a spot starter on a day one of their primary depth arms isn’t available. That’s life. You deal with it when the time comes. Triple-A Scranton begins their season one week from today and I imagine there will be a day or two between Domingo German and Cessa for that reason, to give the Yankees more flexibility should a spot starter be needed.
Max asks: Since Ford is back from the Mariners, and Bird is injured (again), is it too early to consider Ford a legit option at the big-league level? He walks more than he strikes out, and he’s got pop, and he’s still only 25, which isn’t young but is still technically “prospect age.”
I don’t think the Yankees view Mike Ford as a big league option, at least not over the Neil Walker/Tyler Austin platoon, and probably not over Billy McKinney either. Ford had a really great season last year — he hit .270/.404/.471 (144 wRC+) with 20 homers and way more walks (94) than strikeouts (72) — but he’s already 25 and it was his second go-round at Double-A, so it’s tough to know how much to read into those numbers. There have long been questions about his power — he hit 30 homers in 317 pro games prior to last year — and he’s not much of a runner or defender, so if he doesn’t hit, he’s kinda useless. To me, Ford is a Quad-A type, and hey, sometimes those guys turn into Garrett Jones and make themselves some money. My guess is if we see Ford in the Bronx this season — or any season, for that matter — a lot will have gone wrong.
Roy asks: The Yankees have said that Clint Frazier and Jacoby Ellsbury will start the season on the DL (now also Greg Bird). How does pay while on the DL effect team salary for the purposes of the CBT threshhold? Is Clint Frazier assumed to be on minor league salary? I know that he is part of that 40-man roster group (above the 25-man active) that is included in the $197 Million soft cap.
It’s like Frazier is on the active 25-man big league roster. The Yankees gave him a one-year split contract worth $559,200 in the big leagues and $135,943 in the minors, and as long as he is on the Major League disabled list, he gets his Major League salary. That means he gets paid the pro-rated portion of the $559,200 salary and counts the same amount against the luxury tax payroll. If the Yankees send him down once healthy, Frazier is paid the pro-ration portion of the $135,943 salary and counts the same amount against the luxury tax. When you’re on the big league disabled list, you get big league pay and service time, and the luxury tax payroll is hit accordingly. For all intents and purposes, the Yankees have 28 big leaguers counting against the luxury tax payroll right now. The 25 players on the active roster plus the three disabled list guys (Bird, Ellsbury, Frazier).
Steve asks: As the season opens with one of the most loaded Yankees teams since 2009, just curious which Yankees (barring major injuries/unexpected breakouts, etc) you would expect to have a decent shot at All Star nods this year.
Five at least. Same number as last year. Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, plus a reliever. It wouldn’t unprecedented for one team to send multiple relievers to the All-Star Game — the Yankees sent Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller two years ago — but it doesn’t happen often. These days it’s not easy for one team to send more than five players to the All-Star Game. Fans vote for the starters and stuff the ballot (coughRoyalsfanscough), and that leaves fewer spots to go to everyone else. Last year the Astros, Yankees, Nationals, and Indians led the way with five All-Stars each. Two years ago the Cubs had seven All-Stars because five were voted in as starters and Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta were too good to leave out. There are a lot of Yankees fans out there, so maybe they vote in like five Yankees as starters. Realistically, I think they end up with five All-Stars. Stanton, Judge, Sanchez, Severino, and a reliever. That’d be pretty cool.
Ron asks: Long time reader, first time writing. Was there no special team building, social, plain fun outing this year? I always enjoyed when Joe did it and was expecting Aaron to try something this year but I cannot remember seeing anything on any blog, news report, or Tweet.
There was. The day before the Grapefruit League opener the Yankees had actor/comedian Steve Shenbaum, founder of the communication and team-building training organization “game on Nation,” in camp to host … something. Not sure what, exactly. Here are some photos. Everyone is laughing, so I guess they all had a blast. In previous years the Yankees went to an arcade or had a pool tournament, things like that. This year they brought in Shenbaum to do whatever it is he does.
Mathieu asks: With Wade, Torres and Drury all capable of playing 2B and 3B, and with Andujar’s questionable D at 1st, is there a chance we see a permanent move for Andujar? How does his bat play as a first baseman as opposed to third?
If Brandon Drury plays well enough to cement himself as the long-term third baseman, I say trade Miguel Andujar before moving him to first base full-time. The offensive bar is quite high at first base — first basemen hit .261/.343/.472 (113 wRC+) last year while third basemen hit .256/.330/.438 (102 wRC+) — and though I think Andujar could meet that bar at first, he’d be so much more valuable at third. This isn’t like shifting Gleyber Torres from one up-the-middle position (shortstop) to another (second). First base is typically the last resort position and Andujar can play third base. I think he’d be more valuable to the Yankees as a trade chip than as a first baseman.
James asks: Would you see Aaron Boone employ 4-man outfield setup defense shift? Stanton, Gardner, Hicks and Judge?
Sure. The Astros used a four-man outfield — a four-man outfield and an infield shift! — against Joey Gallo yesterday. Check it out:
If you’re going to use a four-man outfield, you have to use it against a hitter who puts the ball in the air a ton, like Gallo. Looking over the ground ball rates of hitters currently in the AL East, the best four-man outfield candidates appear to be Curtis Granderson (32.6% in 2017) and Chris Davis (36.7%). It’s something to consider, sure. You can’t do it against just any hitter though. Has to be a fly ball prone hitter. Ground balls could be a problem with a four-man outfield.
Steve asks: How did our boy Luis Torrens look during spring training and where will he end up in the Padres system? I imagine he will be sent to the minors (AA?).
Torrens, who is still only 21, missed a bunch of time with an oblique injury in Spring Training. He appeared in only three Cactus League games and went 2-for-4 with a double and a triple. The Padres optioned him down to Double-A a week or two ago, so he’ll start the season there. Their ideal plan probably calls for Torrens to split this season between Double-A and Triple-A before returning to the big leagues as Austin Hedges’ backup next year. He hit .163/.243/.203 (18 wRC+) in 139 plate appearances last year as a Rule 5 Draft player. San Diego stuck with him that long, and now they get to option him down and let him continue his development in the minors.
Matt asks: Last week Tyler Austin was optioned to AAA, and yesterday he was recalled before the season started. Suppose Austin plays the whole year in the majors, without being optioned out. In that scenario, do the Yankees lose an option on Austin? If that is the case, why wouldn’t teams wait until the last day of spring training to option out any of their players?
Players have to spent 20 days in the minors to burn an option. It doesn’t have to be 20 consecutive days, just 20 total days throughout the season. Austin has spent zero days in the minors on an option this year because he was called back up for Opening Day. The season hadn’t started yet when he was sent down. It doesn’t matter when you option out a player in Spring Training for that reason. Only regular season days count against an optional assignment, not spring days. Austin has one more option remaining. The Yankees were prepared to burn it before Bird got hurt.
Good start to the season? Good start to the season. The Yankees snapped their six-year Opening Day losing streak and gave Aaron Boone his first win as a manager Thursday afternoon, beating the Blue Jays 6-1. Giancarlo Stanton raked, Luis Severino dominated, and Giancarlo Stanton raked some more. I could get used to this. 162-0 here they come.
“I Feel Sorry For The Baseballs”
Couldn’t have asked for a better start to the new season and Stanton’s Yankees career. Brett Gardner led off the first inning of the first game of the new year with a little flare line drive to left field that Curtis Granderson inexplicably dropped. Clanked right off his glove. Granderson should’ve caught it and he knows it. Error on the first play of the new season ain’t good. For the Yankees, it was a blessing.
J.A. Happ rebounded to strike out Aaron Judge for the first out of the game and the season, which brought Stanton to the plate. First pitch: Two-seamer at the knees for a called strike. Nice pitch. Can’t do anything with it. Second pitch: Another two-seamer, this one a bit higher above the knees. Not an awful pitch, but a pitch Giancarlo could handle. He walloped a two-run home run out to right-center. To the very necessary video:
Anyway, two innings later, Judge smoked a two-out double into the left field corner, giving Stanton a chance to tack on another run. Alas, he flew out to center to end the inning. But! It shows why Judge and Stanton (and Gary Sanchez) should hit back-to-back-to-back. Break them up and Not Stanton is hitting there with two outs and a man on base. We all love Didi Gregorius. But yeah, we all want Stanton at the plate in that spot, not Didi.
Two innings later, Giancarlo got another chance with two outs. Judge worked a two-out walk to end Happ’s afternoon — Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was not about to let him face Stanton a third time — and Stanton ripped a double into the left-center field gap against John Axford. Judge scored all the way from first for a 3-0 lead. Sanchez followed with a double of his own for a 4-0 lead. I’m telling you, just stack the big righty bats and let ’em eat.
But wait! Giancarlo was not done. In the top of the ninth, Stanton whacked his second home run of the game, this one into the second deck in dead center field. Old buddy Tyler Clippard was on the mound for that one. I guess the only surprise there is that the ball didn’t disintegrate on contact. To the action footage:
A Dominant Season Debut For Sevy
Do you know long it’s been since a Yankees’ starter had a scoreless outing on Opening Day? Fifteen years. Roger Clemens threw six shutout innings against, coincidentally enough, the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre in 2003. It has now been zero years since a Yankees’ starter last had a scoreless outing on Opening Day. Severino manhandled the Blue Jays on Thursday, holding them to one hit and three walks in 5.2 scoreless innings.
The one hit was legit. Granderson lined a single to center in the fourth. Two of the walks came back-to-back with two outs in the first inning, and the other came with one out in the sixth inning. Between his second and third walks, Severino retired 13 of the 14 batters faced and allowed only three balls to be hit out of the infield. He struck out seven and generated eleven swings and misses with his 91 total pitches. Also: Seven ground ball outs and only three in the air. Severino’s ground ball ability isn’t appreciated enough (50.6% last year).
Back in the day Severino would’ve been left in at least to complete the sixth inning, if not sent back out for the seventh. Things are different nowadays. Boone pulled him with a man on first and two outs in the sixth, with a 4-0 lead. And I have no problem with it whatsoever, not after last year’s workload, especially with the DeathPen looming. Ninety-one low-stress pitches, get Severino out of there feeling good about himself. Well done, Luis.
The Bullpen Closes The Door
Pretty much a perfect game for the 2018 Yankees. The big bats put runs on the board early, Severino dominated, and the bullpen made the lead stand up. Chad Green was the first man out of the bullpen and he did what Chad Green does, striking out three of four batters faced. That includes fanning Granderson to end the sixth inning, closing the book on Severino’s outing. Glad to see 2018 Chad Green is still doing 2017 Chad Green things.
With a 5-0 lead in the eighth, Boone went to Dellin Betances, who promptly allowed a first pitch solo homer to Kevin Pillar. Go figure. Interesting inning for Dellin. First pitch homer, then defensive replacement Tyler Wade made a marvelous defensive play up the middle to take a base hit from Aledmys Diaz, then Devon Travis ripped a liner right at Neil Walker at first base. The third out was a routine pop-up to Walker in foul territory. Eventful! Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth. The bullpen: 3.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 5 K. That’ll do.
Boone is 0-for-1 on challenges in his young managerial career. Josh Donaldson, who is so very obviously nursing some kind of injury, nearly pulled Justin Smoak off the first base bag with a lollipop throw on Tyler Austin’s ground ball to end the sixth. The call on the field was out, Boone asked for a review — Neil Walker doubled earlier in the inning and came around to score on the Austin grounder — and the replay crew decided to uphold the call. Worth a shot. Didn’t work. Try again tomorrow.
The Yankees did add an insurance run in the seventh inning on Gardner’s solo home run to right. That turned a 4-0 lead into a 5-0 lead. Gardner had a weird day. He opened the game with the line drive Granderson dropped, then he ripped two line drives right at Smoak at first base for outs, and then he managed to get just enough on a high fly ball for the solo homer. Thirty pitches in five plate appearances for Gardner. Business as usual.
Judge’s third inning double extended baseball’s longest active hitting streak to 14 games. Who knew? That’s regular season only, of course. Judge went 2-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts. Aaron Hicks had two singles and Brandon Drury and Walker had one hit each. Drury singled, Walker doubled. Sanchez doubled and Gregorius walked too. Every Yankee reached base at least once except Austin, who went 0-for-3 before being removed for a defensive replacement.
And finally, the Yankees did not have a rookie on their Opening Day roster this year — Austin and Wade exceeded the rookie limits last year based on service time — but the Opening Day roster’s average age was 28 years and 150 days. This is the club’s youngest Opening Day roster since at least 1993, according to Bryan Hoch. Neat!
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head on over to MLB.com for the box score and video highlights, and if you must check out the standings this early in the season, go to ESPN. Here is the Opening Day win probability graph:
Only 161 more games to go. The Yankees and Blue Jays will be back at it Friday night with a normal 7pm ET start. Masahiro Tanaka and Aaron Sanchez will be on the mound in a matchup of Comeback Player of the Year candidates. Sanchez’s chances are better than Tanaka’s, I think. Tanaka was just bad last year. Sanchez was hurt most of the year.
“Today usually would be an anxious day for me as a player, but here I feel pretty relaxed,” said new manager Aaron Boone yesterday. “I’m sure I’ll toss and turn a little bit tonight and I’ll be a little bit anxious (on Opening Day), just making sure all of the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted and all that. But I feel like we’re prepared. I feel like we had a good spring. I feel like our staff is prepared. I feel like our players are prepared. And that’s a good feeling to have. Now we get to roll it out there and see how good we are.”
Giancarlo Stanton is a Yankee. Brandon Drury and Neil Walker are Yankees. David Robertson, Sonny Gray, and Tommy Kahnle will be Yankees all season. And, of course, homegrown All-Stars like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino are all still Yankees. Their transition from exciting youngsters to championship caliber core is complete. Now they just need the championship, and the first step in that journey is today.
Not-so-fun fact: The Yankees have lost their last six Opening Days, and eight of their last nine. They have the longest active Opening Day losing streak. That’s no fun. The Yankees haven’t won on Opening Day since CC Sabathia outdueled Justin Verlander in 2011. They haven’t won an Opening Day on the road since way back in 2006, when they beat the Athletics in Oakland. Been a while!
Of course, what happened from 2012-17 has no bearing on today, so that Opening Day losing streak is nothing more than an annoying talking point. Hopefully the Yankees can put an end to it today. Time to move on to bigger and better things. Here are the first lineups of the new season:
New York Yankees
1. LF Brett Gardner
2. RF Aaron Judge
3. DH Giancarlo Stanton
4. C Gary Sanchez
5. CF Aaron Hicks
6. SS Didi Gregorius
7. 3B Brandon Drury
8. 2B Neil Walker
9. 1B Tyler Austin
RHP Luis Severino
Toronto Blue Jays
1. 2B Devon Travis
2. 3B Josh Donaldson
3. 1B Justin Smoak
4. LF Curtis Granderson
5. DH Kendrys Morales
6. RF Randal Grichuk
7. C Russell Martin
8. CF Kevin Pillar
9. SS Aledmys Diaz
LHP J.A. Happ
The internet tells me it is cool, cloudy, and rainy in Toronto today. Definitely not baseball weather. Safe to assume the Rogers Centre roof will be closed this afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 3:37pm ET, though the Blue Jays are retiring the late Roy Halladay’s number during a pregame ceremony, which might run long. You can watch today’s game on YES. Enjoy the first of 162.
Meaningful baseball is back! Time to preview the first series of the new season.
The Last Time They Met
The Yankees lost the season series 10 games to 9 last year, despite outscoring the Blue Jays by 12 runs (90 to 78). Their Pythagorean win expectation with that run differential was 11 games, which might not mean much in and of itself, but that two-game swing was essentially the difference between winning the AL East and settling for the Wild Card last year. These two teams last met in the final series of the 2017 regular season, with the Yankees taking two of three in the Bronx. Some notes:
- The Yankees ran wild on journeyman minor leaguer Rafael Lopez in the first game, stealing four bases in four attempts. Jacoby Ellsbury, Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks, and Didi Gregorius were the culprits.
- Masahiro Tanaka had his best start of the season in that game, pitching to the following line: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 15 K. And 13 of those strikeouts were of the swing-and-miss variety.
- Aaron Judge hit one of his more impressive home runs of the season in game two, against Marcus Stroman. It clocked in at 118.3 MPH off the bat (the 12th hardest-hit ball of the year), and traveled 484 feet (the fourth-deepest home run). You can marvel at it here.
- The Yankees dropped the third game 2-1, dropping their record in one-run games to 18-26 for the season.
Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for both a series and season recap.
Troy Tulowitzki is on the disabled list with bone spurs in his right foot, and isn’t expected back until late April at the earliest. And, while he will start the final game of the series, it’s worth noting that Marcus Stroman was held back by right shoulder inflammation in the beginning of Spring Training. The Blue Jays are otherwise healthy to start the season.
Their Story So Far
It’s the first series of the season for any team, so there’s no real story to be told. That being said, here are what a few projection systems see for the Blue Jays this year:
- FanGraphs – 86-76
- PECOTA – 83-79
- FiveThirtyEight – 81-81
The Lineup We Might See
Manager John Gibbons has been bandying about the idea of shaking up the lineup depending upon who’s on the mound. Curtis Granderson and Devon Travis have been splitting the leadoff duties, most notably, and the expectation right now is that the former will leadoff against righties, and the latter against lefties. Where Granderson will bat against lefties (if he’s starting at all) is another question entirely. This is the lineup we’ll probably see on Opening Day:
- Curtis Granderson, LF
- Devon Travis, 2B
- Josh Donaldson, 3B
- Justin Smoak, 1B
- Russell Martin, C
- Kendrys Morales, DH
- Randal Grichuk, RF
- Kevin Pillar, CF
- Aledmys Diaz, SS
The Starting Pitchers We Will See
Thursday (3:37 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. LHP J.A. Happ
Happ proved that his surprisingly stout 2016 wasn’t a fluke by delivering another strong campaign in 2017, and even improving by some measures. His strikeout percentage (+2.2 percentage points), walk rate (-0.1 percentage points), and groundball rate (+4.4 percentage points) all improved, and his FIP dropped from 3.96 to 3.76 as a result. He did give up a few more runs, leading to an increased ERA – but that was almost entirely a product of the increased run environment, as his ERA+ only dropped from 134 to 130. Happ missed about six weeks (from mid-April to late-May) with elbow inflammation last season, though, and he’ll spend most of this season at 35-years-old.
The southpaw is a five-pitch guy, with a low-90s four-seamer, a low-90s sinker, a mid-80s change-up, a mid-80s slider, and a high-70s curveball. The fastball and sinker are his bread and butter, and, when it’s on, his curveball is a swing-and-miss pitch.
Friday (7:07 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Aaron Sanchez
Sanchez led the American League in ERA in 2016, and followed that up with a blister-ridden, all but lost 2017 season. He made just 8 starts last year, tossing 36 IP with poor peripherals, and he bounced between the rotation and the disabled list until late-August, when he was finally shut down for good. Sanchez looked like an ace in 2016, and he’s still only 25, so he could be a real difference-maker for the Blue Jays this year. You can bet that they’ll pay close attention to his fingers throughout the season, regardless of how well he performs.
Sanchez has premium stuff, with a mid-90s four-seamer, a mid-90s sinker, and a big-breaking curveball, but he’s more of a groundball pitcher than the strikeout artist that you’d expect from that profile.
Saturday (4:07 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Marco Estrada
For two years Estrada baffled opposing teams despite (or by) almost exclusively throwing an 89 MPH fastball and a 78 MPH change-up, and it was annoying to everyone that wasn’t a fan of the Blue Jays. That changed in 2017, though, as he posted a 4.98 ERA (92 ERA+) in 186.0 IP, largely due to balls flying out of the park. Estrada was never a groundball pitcher, but he posted a career-low 30.3% groundball rate last year, which resulted in 31 longballs despite a better-than-average 11.2% home run per flyball rate. Grounders are good, flyballs are bad – and that was especially true last year. 2015 and 2016 were the best seasons of his career, and Estrada will be 34 for most of this season, so it’ll be interesting to see if this is the beginning of the end.
Estrada plies his craft with a fastball in the high-80s to low-90s, a change-up in the upper-70s, and a cutter and a curve that he uses sparingly.
Sunday (1:07 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Marcus Stroman
The 26-year-old Stroman was excellent last year, leading all starting pitchers in groundball percentage (62.1%), and finishing 8th in the majors in bWAR (5.7) and tied for 9th in ERA+ (149). He doesn’t strike out a ton of batters, with his 19.7% strikeout rate checking in at nearly two percentage points below league-average, but he limits walks and keeps the ball on the ground, so he can thrive with even a modest of whiffs. The Yankees lit him up last year, though, scoring 14 runs in just 23.2 innings.
Stroman is extremely reliant on his low-to-mid 90s sinker and mid-80s slider, so much so that those pitches often constitute 80% of his selection in a given game. He also dabbles in a mid-90s four-seamer, a low-80s change-up, and a low-80s curve, but there are games when he’ll throw one or two of each and be done with them.
The 23-year-old Roberto Osuna is entering his fourth season as the Blue Jays closer, and he’s a darn good one. His ERA wasn’t as sparkly as it had been in years past, checking in at 3.38 (137 ERA+), but he posted career-bests in strikeouts (33.3%), walks (3.6%), grounders (48.0%), and FIP (1.74), and he’s one of the few relievers with four distinct pitches (four-seamer, sinker, cutter, slider). The Blue Jays have leaned on him heavily through three seasons, and his struggles mostly came after the break last year, so that does bear watching.
There isn’t a lot of name value beyond Osuna, but the Blue Jays have depth with Ryan Tepera and Danny Barnes in high-leverage roles, Aaron Loup in the middle innings, and free agent addition Seung-Hwan Oh, who has a fairly strong resume. They also some free agent fliers on Tyler Clippard, John Axford, and Craig Breslow.
There are a lot of former Yankees in Toronto, including:
- Russell Martin
- Curtis Granderson
- Jaime Garcia
- Tyler Clippard
- Yangervis Solarte
- Danny Espinosa (this might be pushing it)
- John Axford (this is definitely pushing it – he was in the Yankees farm system in 2007)
Who (Or What) to Watch
I’m intrigued to see how Aaron Sanchez looks this year, as he was the guy that was being hailed as a future ace this time last year … and it wasn’t too much of a stretch, either. I’d also enjoy seeing Tyler Clippard give up some home runs for old time’s sake.
March 29th: The Yankees officially announced their Opening Day roster this morning. It is as expected, only with Tyler Austin replacing the injured Greg Bird. The roster has been updated below. Also, Tyler Wade and Jonathan Holder have new numbers. Wade will wear No. 12 (had been No. 39) and Holder will wear No. 56 (had been No. 65)
March 24th: The Yankees have not yet made an official announcement, but the 2018 Opening Day roster is set. Domingo German was optioned out Saturday, and Brian Cashman told Pete Caldera that Jonathan Holder will be in the Opening Day bullpen as the eighth reliever. Here is the Opening Day roster:
Greg Bird Tyler Austin
STARTING PITCHERS (5)
RHP Sonny Gray
LHP Jordan Montgomery
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
RELIEF PITCHERS (8)
RHP Dellin Betances
LHP Aroldis Chapman
RHP Chad Green
RHP Jonathan Holder
RHP Tommy Kahnle
RHP David Robertson
LHP Chasen Shreve
RHP Adam Warren
DISABLED LIST (3)
Greg Bird (ankle, 10-day DL retroactive to March 26)
Jacoby Ellsbury (oblique, 10-day DL retroactive to March 26)
Clint Frazier (concussion, 7-day DL retroactive to March 26)
Cashman said German is going to Triple-A Scranton to remain stretched out as a starter. German and Luis Cessa are presumably the sixth and seventh starters in whatever order. Usually when a sixth starter is needed, it’s more about who’s available to pitch that day rather than who the team wants to pitch that day though.
Anyway, there are no surprises with the Opening Day roster. We were just waiting to find out the identity of the eight reliever. Wade played well in Spring Training and won a roster spot, and the Drury trade and Walker signing all but guaranteed Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres would begin the season in Triple-A. They’ll be up soon enough.
Obligatory reminder: The Opening Day roster and the end-of-season roster tend to look very different. Here is last year’s Opening Day roster, for example. Holder is keeping a roster spot warm for Ellsbury, who has already resumed playing in Grapefruit League games. He could be back soon. Frazier’s concussion looks to be more long-term, unfortunately.
The Yankees begin the season against the Blue Jays on Thursday, March 29th. There are still five days to go before the season opener, so the Opening Day roster could change if someone gets hurt — example: Drury taking a pitch to the elbow yesterday, though he escaped with a bruise — but hopefully that won’t be the case.