March 28: The Legend of Luke
One down, 161 to go. For the second year in a row, the Yankees kicked off their schedule with a win, 7-2 over the Orioles. It marked the first time in more than a decade they’ve had back-to-back season-opening victories, since winning four in a row from 2005-08. The seven runs scored were their most in a win on Opening Day since 2007 when they beat the Rays 9-5.
Luke Voit got the party started early with a three-run first-inning dinger, crushing an 87 mph hanging slider 428 feet into the centerfield seats. Last year he struggled to drive breaking pitches, posting an average exit velocity of just 88 mph while whiffing on 40 percent on those offerings. He saw 217 curves and sliders in 2018, and cranked just one of them out of the park.
Thursday’s home run gave him 15 homers in his first 40 regular-season games with the Yankees — a 162-game pace of 61 homers. He added another RBI when was plunked with the bases loaded in the fifth. #FunFact alert! Voit is the third Yankee cleanup hitter with at least four RBI on Opening Day, joining Alex Rodriguez (2006) and Yogi Berra (1956).
Masahiro Tanaka, making his fourth career Opening Day start (the most by a Japanese-born pitcher), was solid and efficient in his 83-pitch outing, allowing two runs (one earned) while striking out five and walking none in 5 2/3 innings.
He earned our Obscure Yankeemetric of the game for that effort, becoming one of three Yankee Opening Day starters to give up no more than one earned run with at least five strikeouts and no walks. The others: Catfish Hunter (1977) and Mel Stottlemyre (1968).
March 30: Too little, too late
There will be no perfect season in the Bronx. Bummer. Cold bats and sloppy defense are a good recipe for a loss, and the Yankees followed that script to near perfection on Saturday afternoon in 5-3 defeat.
Despite putting 16 runners on base, the Yankees scored only three runs. As frustrating as the team’s situational hitting was last year, they produced that poor combo — more than 15 baserunners and three or fewer runs in a game just once (5-3 loss to Braves on July 2).
The newcomers provided most of the highlights as DJ LeMahieu got his first hit and RBI as a Yankee, Troy Tulowitzki smoked his first home run in pinstripes and James Paxton had a strong debut on the mound.
Paxton showed off his impressive fastball in holding the Orioles to two runs (one earned) on four hits with five punchouts in 5 2/3 innings. He kept the pitch away from the heart of the zone, getting a bunch of called strikes on the edges with the four-seamer while also elevating his heater for swinging strikes.
Last year Paxton ranked ninth among starters (min. 500 pitches) with a 25.6 percent swing-and-miss rate on his four-seam fastball — and he matched that number on Saturday as the Orioles swung at 32 of his four-seamers and whiffed eight times (25.0%).
Tulowitzki’s longball was a rare 358-foot opposite field solo shot in the ninth inning. Tulo has plenty of pop — he is one of seven players in MLB history with at least 200 homers as a shortstop — but most of that has been pull-side power in recent years: 45 of his 48 homers from 2015-17 went to left field.
March 31: Rinse, repeat, RISPFail
With a chance to salvage a series win against the Orioles on Sunday afternoon, the Yankees again failed miserably in clutch situations and suffered another disappointing loss, 7-5. This is the second straight season they dropped an early-season series at the Stadium against the Orioles.
Over the last two seasons, they are 2-5 vs the Orioles in April and 11-4 vs them in May thru September. The Yankees are also 5-7 at home vs the Orioles since the start of last season, the only team they have faced at least five times and have a losing record against in the Bronx.
In losing the final two games, the Yankees went 5-for-21 with runners in scoring position and stranded a combined 25 baserunners (11 on Saturday and 14 on Sunday). It was their most in a two-game span since June 12-13, 2017 when the also left 25 guys on base in the first two games of a series against the Angels. They actually split those two contests, so to find the last time the Yankees stranded 25-plus men in a two-game stretch and lost both games, you have to go back nearly three years to April 15-16, 2016 against the Mariners. Gross.
One player who has avoided the RISP-fail plague to start the season is DJ LeMahieu, who had two hits and an RBI for the second straight day. That effort earned him our Obscure Yankeemetric of the game, becoming part of an eclectic group of six players to have two-plus hits and at least one RBI in each of their first two games with the Yankees. The other five legendary names: John Olerud (2004), Don Slaught (1988), Hector Lopez (1959), Joe DiMaggio (1936) and Pat Collins (1926).
Giving up three homers to the O’s didn’t help the winning cause, either, as J.A. Happ was tagged for two of those longballs and Stephen Tarpley coughed up his first career homer as a major-leaguer. In 69 2/3 innings with the Yankees (including playoffs), Happ has given up 13 homers, or a rate of 1.68 per nine innings pitched. If he posted that over an entire season, it would be the second-highest homer rate by a Yankee pitcher that qualified for the ERA title (highest is 1.77 by Masahiro Tanaka in 2017).