Photo Credit: Noah K. Murray – USA Today Sports
Throughout the season, we’ll be taking the nine innings look at each series, previewing pitchers’ matchups, storylines entering the games and other talking points heading into the sequence of games. Without further ado, here’s a look-ahead to the four games north of the border this weekend:
1st inning – Baseball is finally back – Yes, I know, spring training was great and all. We were able to see players that we normally will not see in a Yankees uniform this season (Russell Wilson, I’m looking at you). It has been 147 days since there has been competitive baseball and, even though it does not feel like it sometimes, spring is in the air. It is great to have Opening Day back tomorrow.
2nd inning – How will these new additions work? – Just because Giancarlo Stanton dominated the headlines does not mean this Yankee team is the same. There are six different players in this year’s opening day lineup than last years, including Stanton, and a new starting pitcher in Luis Severino. Stanton brings firepower, but the loss of a pure hitter in Starlin Castro and a lefty bat in Greg Bird could prove to be more costly than normal.
3rd inning – Is Tyler Austin going to hold his own? – The 26-year old is the opening day starter in the absence of Greg Bird has not impressed in his 51 games in pinstripes, only hitting .236 and getting on base in less than three out of 10 plate appearances. Is it wishful thinking to get the Greg Bird of 2016 that put together a streak of 7-for-16 hitting? After a .222 spring, it might be. Look out for Billy McKinney to get the call-up if this happens.
4th inning – Who becomes the “pure hitter” in this lineup? – Sure, there’s a lot of power. Sanchez, Judge, Stanton, Gregorious are all names that come to mind. But with the loss of Castro, nobody in New York’s Opening Day lineup hit .300 last season and only three of the nine hit over .280. I look to Didi to become a better hitter and Judge to swing and miss less this season, but someone will need to fill that role for the Yankees so they do not rely on the home run too often.
5th inning – Judgement season – Aaron Judge is going to be heavily under the critics’ microscope in 2018 after his 2017 campaign and for good reason. But for Judge, this season has the potential to be better, as scary as that is. Depending on the lineup last season, teams could pitch around Judge to get a more favorable matchup. This year, you will be hard-pressed to find a Yankees lineup that doesn’t at least pair one of Judge, Sanchez and Stanton, if not putting all three together.
6th inning – Starting with the pitching – Now to the backbone of this Yankees team, the starting pitching. Luis Severino is getting the ball Thursday afternoon, with hopes that he can back up his sub-3.00 ERA from last season and there’s nothing saying he can’t after striking out 17 batters in 13.1 innings this spring. Masahiro Tanaka has the talent as we’ve seen (three starts of less than two ER in seven innings in September last season), but he will need to put it together. CC Sabathia is an interesting case. He learned how to pitch last year without having to blow people away, but there’s no guaranteeing he can keep that up.
7th inning – Gray and Monty – Now to the two most polarizing pitchers in this Yankees rotation. Starting with the former, this is a pitcher who struggled in the ALDS, allowing three runs in 3.1 innings, but then outperformed expectations in the ALCS by shutting out the Astros in five innings. This is a pitcher who had a sub-3.10 ERA in his first three seasons in Oakland and put together a 1.80 ERA in spring training. He’s poised for a good year. Montgomery’s biggest problem is free passes. In eight of his 29 starts last season, he issued three or more walks. If he can keep those in check, he misses a lot of bats to keep the Yankees in the game.
8th inning – Full season of this bullpen? Yes please – Last year Yankees fans were treated to only three months of the enhanced bullpen with David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle. Not only will they be great to watch again this season, but they can help save starters like Sabathia and Montgomery, helping them pitch more consistently and not tire out when the season’s crunch time arrives.
9th inning – Which Betances will we get? – The biggest wild card of this bullpen is without a doubt Dellin Betances. The last two years have been a far cry from the first two in which he allowed just 32 runs (28 earned) in 174 innings pitched. It was mainly acknowledged as a mental problem, so these first couple weeks for Betances will be critical to see which version of No. 68 we get in 2018.
Extras – The Yankees open on the road for the second straight year and are looking for their first Opening Day win since 2011, when they also opened the season on the last Thursday of March, defeating Detroit 6-3 in the Bronx. The winning pitcher? Joba Chamberlain. Talk about a throwback.
Happy baseball, and follow me on Twitter @lilboon for content and analysis of the Pinstripes all season long.