The New York Yankees’ opening series brought more bad memories than it did grand enthusiasm.
The New York Yankees need to shake off these early struggles.
Fans were excited to open the season versus the lowly Baltimore Orioles who lost 115 games last year. After all, with a revamped starting rotation and powerful lineup, a sweep was all but inevitable, right?
Things looked promising after a 7-2 victory on Opening Day, but fate had other ideas. The Bronx Bombers struggled to generate offense and made some key mistakes in the field the next two games.
Hit the panic button! Prepare the fallout shelter! Get ready for years of Boston ruling baseball! All is lost! All is lost!
Whew, OK, sorry. No, there is no need to panic yet, but the Yankees need to remember last season. If they continue to struggle against losing teams, a World Series run becomes all the more difficult.
The lost weekend
The Yankees, in a word, had a weekend to forget. James Paxton’s Bronx debut was ruined by low run support and untimely errors. New York also didn’t do itself any favors by hitting 3-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranding 11 baserunners. A comeback in the ninth was quickly quieted in a 5-3 loss.
Sunday’s 7-5 loss was no better. The Yankees fell behind early and, despite several rallies, struggled to take the lead. Even worse, in this game, the Bronx Bombers were a lowly 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 14 baserunners.
Now, under normal circumstances, fans could brush this off as early season rust and that’s what it probably is. Losing two of three to kick off a 162-game season is far from the end of the world.
Except, the Yankees cannot afford to show any form of complacency this season. It was noted on Sunday’s broadcast the team was 23-14 against last-place teams last season. By comparison, the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox were 32-5 versus such teams.
Suddenly, star outfielder Aaron Judge’s comments after Saturday’s loss make sense:
Aaron Judge said the Yankees need to play like their backs are against the wall. In Game 3 vs. Baltimore.
"Last year, (there were) so many missed opportunities and games that we should have won. We didn’t come up with the big hit, a costly error. Every single game is important."
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) March 30, 2019
No easy road
Granted, a three-hour-seventeen-minute rain delay and generally cooler weather certainly didn’t do the Yankees any favors. Baseball is very much a summer sport, and early spring winds often turn what would be home runs into outs.
Moreover, the defending champion Red Sox lost three of four to the Seattle Mariners to open their season. It’s not as though they’re again matching the breakneck pace that gave them a 17-2 start last year.
Even still, the Yankees cannot let this early slow start become a habit against sub-.500 teams. This squad is built to win now and is considered a favorite to win the World Series. That means establishing momentum early and often and not letting so many scoring opportunities go to waste.
Not only that, but it’s not as though the AL East is an automatic two-team race between New York and Boston. Don’t forget the feisty Tampa Bay Rays won 90 games last year despite finishing third. They also just began their season by taking three of four from the tough-as-nails Houston Astros.
Get the cereal ready, baseball fans, because if the Yankees continue to struggle, Tampa Bay could turn the division into an episode of Wacky Races!
Also, let’s not forget the Yankees are playing shorthanded. Switch-hitting Aaron Hicks’ back is still sore and he has yet to resume baseball activities. Luis Severino is out until May with right rotator cuff inflammation and CC Sabathia is rehabbing his balky knee again. Strikeout artist Dellin Betances is also on the injured list, working to get his velocity back following early shoulder soreness.
Those absences may not seem like much given New York’s depth, but that quartet combined for a 14.5 WAR last season. Though all are on track to return over the next few weeks, the games missed really start to add up, especially when the Yankees struggle.
The easy answer for the New York Yankees is to just write off the Baltimore series as early struggles, but that’s not going to fly in the clubhouse. Judge’s words after Saturday’s loss show that. This team holds itself to a high standard and, to its credit, showed incredible fight all series long. Considering the number of times the Yankees looked as though they were sleepwalking through games last year, that’s a good thing.
Read my lips, devoted readers; this three-game series with the Detroit Tigers which starts tonight must exhibit some sort of turnaround. Detroit split a four-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays to open its season but, like Baltimore, is expected to go through a hard rebuild in 2019 after losing 98 games last year.
Simply put, the Yankees need to be smarter this series. Home run or bust will not do. Focus on strong at-bats and extending the inning. Don’t get ahead of what’s happening on the field, with no careless mistakes.
All in all, the Yankees are going to be OK. It’s a long season and let’s not forget the famed 1998 team started 1-4 before finishing with 114 regular season wins and a World Series ring.
But the game has changed now. Analytics mean players are even more expendable and rallying together on the “feel of the game” doesn’t fully do the job anymore.
And from an analytics standpoint, the New York Yankees should not only be beating teams like the Baltimore Orioles, but flat-out destroying them.
Here’s hoping the early struggles are put behind them soon, lest the Boo-Birds take up permanent residence in the Bronx.