So yeah, due to various trips and a lot of coursework it’s been a while since the last time posted, but that’s okay because there’s only one person who really reads this blog anyway. Hey dad.
Nonetheless, yesterday of course was opening day, so there’s really no better time to get back into the proverbial swing of things. For whatever reason, the Yankees played the Tampa Bay Rays yesterday afternoon in the first game of the 2017 Major League Baseball season. Wow, it feels good to type that out. We are officially watching baseball that actually matters. After a fairly lackluster offseason around the league, this has been a long time coming.
Unfortunately, the Yankees were back to their old opening day tricks in game 1, losing their first game of the season for the sixth year in a row by a final score of 7-3. All 7 of the Rays runs came in the first 3 innings of the game, and all 7 were attributed to starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who only last 2.2 IP. It was a really really rough outing for Tanaka, especially after his near immaculate spring. It’s just another subtle reminder that spring training games don’t count I suppose.
As per his usual game strategy, Tanaka was pitching a lot to the lower half of the zone, which is typically good if you’re a pitcher and you want to keep the ball out of the air. That’s not the story of what happened though. While he managed to strike out 3, Tanaka only got one out on the ground, yielding a disproportionate amount of fly balls, two of which turned into home runs. The first was by the Yankee-killer himself Evan Longoria, who hit the first home run of the 2017 MLB season. It was a shot that just cleared the left field wall at Tropicana in the first inning. The second was a solo shot by Logan Morrison in the 3rd.
It’s just a part of Tanaka’s game that he’s going to give up a decent amount of home runs. In his first three seasons he’s had a HR/9 of 1.14 and a HR/FB % of 14.1, which is pretty terrible. The reason why Tanaka has been able to thrive as an MLB pitcher though is that he doesn’t allow a lot of runners on base, sporting an excellent career WHIP of 1.04. So, usually when the inevitable home run comes along, it’s relatively harmless.
Sunday was a bad combination of Tanaka allowing a lot of runners on base (9) and allowing a couple home runs in a very short span of game. You hate to see it happen, but Tanaka, much like the Yankees, has historically been a slow starter, so don’t take this first game as any indication of what his season will be like. I’m personally pretty high on the guy right now since he’s coming off one of his best seasons and he’s pitching in what could potentially be a contract year should he do well enough to opt out of his contract at the end of the season.
The one positive thing that came out of Tanaka’s poor performance was the fact that we got to see a good portion of the bullpen in action, specifically the middle relief guys who represent somewhat of a question mark for the team this season. They were pretty stellar all-in-all, allowing 0 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk in a combined 5.1 innings pitched. They also struck out 7. The order went Tommy Layne, Adam Warren, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve, each getting an inning of work with the exception of Warren, who went 2.1 IP.
Things were nearly but really not quite as bad on the offensive side of the ball as well. The team scored 3 runs on 9 hits, going 3-10 with runners in scoring position. The bottom half of the lineup essentially carried the team, with Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, and Aaron Judge combining to go 7-12 with 3 runs and 1 RBI. The Yankees opened their scoring in the top of the second inning with a couple of singles by Castro and Headley, followed by an RBI double by Aaron Judge. He absolutely smoked the ball into left field, a one-hopper off the wall. Judge finished the game 1-4, only striking out once, which sets his K% to 25% on the season, a drastic reduction from last year. Let’s see if it holds up.
Where the bottom of the lineup shined, the top of the lineup was absolutely miserable. Brett Gardner, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and Matt Holliday combined to go 1-17 with 1 BB and 4 K’s. The lack of output from these hitters and Tanaka’s rough outing are the two main takeaways from this game.
Thankfully, these are the types of performances that we have no reason to expect from these guys as we move forward into the season. It was a rough game, but there’s a reason why they play 162 of them. What the Yankees need to do is just focus on improving from their April last season, when they went 8-14 on the month. That’s a really difficult hole to climb out of. If the team had even gone .500 last April, they potentially make the playoffs. So, the first loss of the season? Not a huge deal. It was going to happen eventually. There’s a lot of young guys on the roster, and growing pains are inevitable. Hopefully this team can put things together relatively quickly though and get off to a better start this year.