While Gary Sanchez was visiting doctors for further evaluation on his strained right bicep Monday afternoon, the Yankees cruised to an 8-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. Led by Michael Pineda’s 11 strikeouts over 7.2 innings, and two additional hits from Aaron Judge, the Yankees made quick work of the Rays, winning their home opener at Yankee Stadium in front of a buzzing crowd. Is this a sign of things to come? Can the Yankees hang around and win enough games to keep themselves afloat with the injuries they’ve had already?
Sanchez, along with starting shortstop Didi Gregorious, are both likely to return sometime in the first half of May. The key for the Yankees will be to be at, or above .500 when they return, and although much of their organizational depth lies in the form of top prospects, the Yankees major league product is certainly capable of holding up until the stars return.
The Yankees have gotten some significant underperformances from Masahiro Tanaka in his first two starts so far this season. While his fastball velocity has actually improved, he has lacked the feel for his splitter, and has had a lack of control overall. However, he is simply too talented of a pitcher, and has built an impressive resume in his first three seasons with the Yankees, making it likely that he will rebound from his tough start, and eventually regress to the mean by pitching closer to his 3.06 ERA from last season.
Elsewhere, the Yankees have gotten two gritty starts from CC Sabathia, the 37-year old vet, who late in the 2015 season discovered an Andy Pettite-like cutter, and has become one of the Yankees most reliable starters. The Yankees can continue to expect 6-7 innings of quality pitching from him every time around, and although he’ll have a clunker every now and then, his baseball smarts and newfound cutter should continue to serve him well as he finishes off the final year of his Yankee contract.
The rest of the rotation is full of upsides and question marks. Pineda, who was quite impressive on Monday afternoon, showed exactly why despite a couple of tough years in New York, the Yankees have held onto him.
Luis Severino is a similar story. After dazzling in his rookie debut in 2015, Severino struggled in his second year in the majors. Over the offseason of work for the youngster, Severino, still just 23, added a changeup to his arsenal. He used it often in his solid season debut against Baltimore, and if the pitch can become a true weapon, Sevy should be able to stick in the rotation and pitch well for the Yanks.
Rounding out the rotation is rookie Jordan Montgomery. After a few years as an under-the-radar prospect, Montgomery showed top flight potential in Spring Training. Using every bit of his stocky 6’6” frame, Montgomery showed an excellent ability to pitch downhill and locate his fastball and offspeed pitches low in the zone, generating a ton of ground balls, as well as getting 17 strikeouts to just 3 walks over 19.2 Spring Training innings. If he can continue to locate his pitches, he has great upside in the back of the rotation for the Yankees.
An Elite Bullpen
The one surefire thing about the Yankees for the 2017 season is that their bullpen is special.
Led by fireballers Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, and supported with a high-quality collection of sixth and seventh inning guys like Tyler Clippard, Adam Warren, Tommy Layne, Bryan Mitchell and Jonathan Holder, the Yankees bullpen is deep.
Easily the best unit of the team, the bullpen started the season with nearly sixteen scoreless innings. Although it is early in the season, the Yankees have the third-best ERA in the majors as a unit. Although they couldn’t do it in Baltimore, the Yankees should win more of the close one-run games than not, and this task will be even easier when offensive threats like Sanchez and Gregorious return and provide more cushioning in the form of runs.
Still, the Yankees bullpen is more than capable of being a major reason the franchise stays afloat until those two key pieces return.
The loss of Sanchez will be felt most dearly in the lineup. Pitched to as the club’s best hitter in the two-hole, Sanchez was just beginning to heat up in Baltimore after a 1/12 opening series in Tampa Bay. After the awkward swing landed him on the DL with a bicep injury, the Yankees will now have to look to Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka as the catchers for the next four weeks.
Romine, although solid defensively, is not a reliable hitter. In 343 career at bats, he has posted just a .219 average and .580 OPS with a mere five homers. At a position where the Yankees expected to have their best hitter, the Bombers will instead be forced to roll with a guy who is an offensive black hole, and that is a problem for a team that struggled to put runs on the board during the 2016 season.
However, much of the rest of the lineup has done well so far. Chase Headley has finally learned to hit against the shift, hitting an abundance of balls to the opposite field, while Starlin Castro has built off the .290 average he had in the second half last season to the tune of .310 so far this season.
Jacoby Ellsbury has started what could be a big rebound campaign for him, while Matt Holliday has provided pop and on-base ability from the middle of the order. Brett Gardner has continued to be a calming presence at the top of the order, and Ronald Torreyes has played admirably in the role of Gregorious, leading the team in RBIs through seven games.
As for the other youngsters, Aaron Judge has cut his strikeout rate in half, and has had three straight games with home runs, showing signs of a possible breakout rookie season, after a cup of coffee late last season when he struggled to control the zone. Greg Bird has been an exception and has started the season just 1/16, but is another guy who is simply too talented to keep hitting this poorly, and should find his way sooner than later after he returns from a minor foot bruise.
The Yankees certainly have the surrounding major league depth to survive a four-week absence of Gary Sanchez, but will need to continue to get production from their veterans in the lineup and young starters in the back of the rotation to remain afloat while Gary is out. If Sanchez and starting shortstop Didi Gregorius both return in early May and the Yankees find themselves at or above the .500 mark, the rest of baseball will certainly need to be on notice.
Want sports updates on the run? The 5KSports Facebook page is the place to keep updated on sports news, as well as raise awareness for autism: https://m.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1445553462354409&tsid=0.5401250420130691&source=typeahead