Finally, we get to watch real games that count. The Yankees split the first series of the 2018 season with the Toronto Blue Jays 2-2. After taking the first two, the Yankees couldn’t find a way to rally in the third and fourth games.
Aaron Boone Is REALLY Under the Microscope
There was much optimism when Aaron Boone was selected as the next manager of the New York Yankees. Boone is of course best known to Yankee fans for his heroic home run in the 2003 ALCS.
However, it has only taken four games for the criticism to flow in. The first occurrence was Boone’s decision to allow Dellin Betances to throw a second inning against the Blue Jays in the third game of the series.
Initially, the decision seemed great. After surrendering a leadoff single to former Yankee Curtis Granderson, Betances settled down and escaped the 7th inning without any further damage. The 8th inning was a different story as Yangervis Solarte led off the inning with a solo home run off Betances, putting the Blue Jays up 4-3. Kevin Pillar would steal his way around the bases, making it 5-3. That remained the final score as the Yankees were unable to make a late rally.
In game four, Boone gave David Robertson the option to face Josh Donaldson or walk him in favor of switch-hitter Justin Smoak. Smoak had already hit a home run in the previous inning off of Tommy Kahnle. However, Smoak has struggled in his career against Robertson, going 0 for 5 with four strikeouts. Donaldson had fared much better against Robertson, going 3 for 8 with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs. The matchup didn’t work out this time, but Boone’s decision to allow Robertson to face Smoak is the correct choice in the long-term. Boone has played here, so surely, he’s familiar with the New York media.
Unlucky with Injuries so Far
Much of the talk this spring surrounded the Yankees’ surplus of outfielders. With the acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees began the 2018 season with five good outfielders competing for the three outfield spots. There was speculation that the Yankees would need to trade at least one of their outfielders, but fortunately the Yankees’ decided to stand pat.
Aaron Hicks is on the 10-day DL with a muscle strain. Billy McKinney received a call up and got his first MLB hit. Unfortunately, he hit the outfield wall awkwardly shortly after and is expected to be out for several weeks.
A couple innings later, Adam Warren left the game early after he was hit by a comebacker.
It’s a bit of bad luck, but it’s never good when it happens this early in the season.
Aaron Judge Looks Good in Center Field
After the injury to Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge made his first MLB start in center field. Not surprisingly, Judge tied the record as the tallest player to play the position. Additionally, at 282 pounds, Judge is also the heaviest player to ever play center field. He looked comfortable out there. Of course, the Yankees drafted Judge as a center fielder in 2013. Brett Gardner will start in center field until Hicks returns, but it’s reassuring that Judge is fully capable of filling in there.
The 7, 8, and 9 Hitters Have Kept Us in Games
While most of the media focus has gone toward the bullpen “choking,” the bottom third of the Yankees lineup has been effective. In the first four games of the season, the Yankees have scored 17 runs. The 7, 8, 9 hitters for the Yankees have driven in 7 of those runs. The lower trio also drove in all four runs in game two. Instead of fixating on losing a couple of games late, perhaps people should realize that our bottom third is partly why the Yankees are 2-2 and not 1-3.
Betances Will Be Fine
The small samples that relievers pitch always makes their statistics seem extreme, especially early in the season. Betances has pitched three innings and has an ERA of 9.00 with four hits against. However, Betances is not as bad as his stats suggest. Unlike last year’s abysmal 6.64 BB/9, Betances actually seems to have his control back. He walked only two batters in 6 2/3 innings pitched this Spring Training, along with only one walk this regular season so far.
One statistic that supports the resurgence of Betances is xFIP. Basically, xFIP attempts to neutralize the luck factor of baseball to find a pitcher’s “true” ERA. Betances’ xFIP is 2.30, slightly lower than his career xFIP of 2.42. The theory is that over a larger sample, a pitchers ERA will eventually regress closer toward these advanced metrics (in Betances’ case, his lifetime ERA of 2.35 shows that he has had normal luck over his career).
The Yankees have managed to finish the first series 2-2 without a home run from Gary Sanchez or Judge. The season is young, and there is no evidence to suggest that this team isn’t the playoff team that many predict it to be.