Friday, April 2, 2021

A Completely Predictable Yankees' Opening Day Loss

"Life is one damn thing after another."
-- Mark Twain

"It's not true that life is one damn thing after another. It's the same damn thing over and over."
-- Edna St. Vincent Millay


Cliché Alert: You know how you just know

"You just can't predict baseball," Yankee broadcaster John Sterling likes to say. It's not true: Sometimes, baseball is incredibly predictable.

I was so pumped for 2021 Opening Day. But I knew in the top of the 6th inning that the Yankees were going to lose.

Already, I am being told by some Yankee Fans that I'm getting too upset over one game.

No. It is not about one game. It is the same damn game, over and over and over again.


For the record: The Yankees' bullpen was already significantly weakened. The usual closer, Aroldis Chapman, was serving the 1st game of a 2-game suspension. In other words, he won't be available tomorrow, either, but he will be available on Sunday. And Zack Britton is injured, out until at least June.

In other words, this was not the day to be playing musical chairs with the bullpen. This was the day to trust your pitchers.

The opponent was the Toronto Blue Jays. Regular readers of this blog know that I tend to refer to them as "the pesky Blue Jays," or sometimes just "the Peskies," because, no matter whether they're good or bad, no matter whether the Yankees are good or bad, the Jays seem to give the Yankees trouble, especially when I'm watching, going all the way back to my 1st live game on May 27, 1978.

As teams tend to do when their ace pitcher is healthy on Opening Day, each team started its ace. The Yankees sent Gerrit Cole out, and the Jays sent out Hyun-jin Ryu. Cole struggled to start the top of the 2nd, allowing 3 straight singles and a run. Other than that, he was fine for the 1st 5 innings.

But the Yankees struck back in the bottom of the 2nd. Gary Sanchez hit a home run with Gleyber Torres on base. It remained 2-1 Yankees through 5.

But with 1 out in the top of the 6th, Cole gave up a game-tying home run to Teoscar Hernandez. Then he walked Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Now, a manager who knows what he's doing would have sent his pitching coach out to talk to Cole, settled him down, and let him continue pitching. Unfortunately, the manager of the New York Yankees isn't a man who knows what he's doing. The manager of the New York Yankees is Brian Cashman, and he is obsessed with a pitch count, and Cole had thrown 97 pitches. So Cashman sent his errand boy, Aaron Boone, out to remove Cole.

Chad Green was brought in, and he induced an inning-ending double play. By some miracle, Cashman let Boone let Green pitch the 7th inning, and he got through it without allowing a run.

There, the miracles ended. Cashman did not let Boone let Green, who had thrown only 17 pitches, pitch the 8th inning. Jonathan Loaisiga was sent out. He got the Jays out 1-2-3. But Cashman did not let Boone let Loaisiga, who had thrown only 8 pitches and has been a starter, pitch the 9th inning. Submarine-style pitcher Darren O'Day was brought in, and he got the Jays out 1-2-3.

The Yankees were in a great position to win the game in the bottom of the 9th. Cliche Alert: Walks can kill you, especially the leadoff variety. Sanchez had been the story of the game to that point, having homered and thrown out a runner trying to steal 2nd. And he drew a leadoff walk. Mike Tauchman was sent in to pinch-run for him, and he stole 2nd.

Jay Bruce, in his 1st regular-season game for the Yankees, struck out. But Tauchman stole 3rd. Clint Frazier drew a walk. Brett Gardner was sent into to pinch-run for Frazier. The batter was defending batting champion DJ LeMahieu. Things were looking good.

LeMahieu grounded to 3rd, and Tauchman was thrown out at the plate. And Aaron Judge struck out to end the inning. Yes, walks can kill you, especially the leadoff variety. I said that was a cliche. I did not say it was a certainty.

Once again, Major League Baseball has put in that stupid rule that, if the game goes to extra innings, each extra inning starts with the player who made the last out on 2nd base. This rule did not help the Yankees much last season. It didn't help them yesterday, either.

And, of course, Cashman did not let Boone let O'Day pitch the top of the 10th. (To be fair, O'Day had thrown 22 pitches in just 1 inning.) And before I even remembered the rule, Randal Grichuk, who always seems to hit the Yankees well, doubled home Jonathan Davis. Nelson then struck out the side. As our old friend Phil Rizzuto would have said, "But the damage is done. I tell ya, Bill White, it's unbelievable."

Julian Merryweather struck out the side in the bottom of the 10th: Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres.

Blue Jays 3, Yankees 2. WP: Jordan Romano (1-0). SV: Merryweather (1). LP: Nelson (0-1, although it was less his fault than others').

As Thomas Jefferson put it, in the Declaration of Independence, Let facts be submitted to a candid world:

Giancarlo Stanton went 0-for-5 with 3 strikeouts. Aaron Hicks went 0-for-4 with 3 strikeouts. Gio Urshela went 0-for-4 with 2 strikeouts. Jay Bruce went 0-for-3 with a strikeout. Gleyber Torres did get a hit in 4 at-bats, but in the other 3, he struck out. And the Yankees left 10 men on base.

Now, maybe, just maybe, if Cole had been left in, he would have gotten out of the 6th inning, and pitched the 7th. Then maybe Green would have pitched the 8th and the 9th, and perhaps Loaisiga could have pitched the 10th, and, if it went that long, maybe a few more innings. As I said, he has been a starter.

Instead, Cashman played musical chairs with a seriously weakened bullpen. And the team didn't hit when it needed to.

The only lefthanded hitters in the starting lineup were Hicks and Bruce. Coming into this season, Bruce has 318 career home runs, and a swing tailor-made for Yankee Stadium. But he turns 34 tomorrow, and has a lifetime batting average of .245. His acquisition reminds me of the early 2010s, when Cashman brought in "overage destroyers" like Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay, and it didn't work.

Furthermore, having a batting order that begins LeMahieu-Judge-Hicks is just plain stupid. In terms of style of hitting, Hicks should be the leadoff man, LeMahieu should bat 2nd, and Judge 3rd.

But Cashman doesn't seem to believe in lefty hitting. He still thinks of the Boston Red Sox as the Yankees' main rival. This is true. But he acts as though the reason the Red Sox win is the Green Monster, that nice, close left field wall at Fenway Park, so he's built a team to attack that wall. But the Yankees only play 9 games a year there.

He needs to build a lineup that will utilize the strengths of his home ballpark: Lefty power hitters, and spray hitters from either side of the plate. The only guy in yesterday's starting lineup who fulfills the 1st category is Bruce (sometimes), and the only one who fulfills the 2nd is LeMahieu.

Yes, Judge is strong enough and good enough of a hitter to hit home runs to the opposite field (right field), but he also acts as though he's on the old TV show Home Run Derby: "It's a home run or nothing." Singles hitters usually don't get the glory, but Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson hit singles as well as home runs.

So, no, this is not about one game in a new season. This is about game after game after game, year after year after year. If the Yankees had a mascot, it would be a groundhog.

The Bombers kicked off the 2021 season just how they ended 2020. They couldn’t get a strong enough start from their ace. The failed at every opportunity to deliver a situational hit. They stared at strikes and provided terrible at-bats in high-leverage situations.

These are the exact characteristics the Yankees need to dispel this year if they want to win a World Series, but that goal is off to the worst start possible.

We all knew what the Yankees needed to do in order to make results like this not happen: Get better lefthanded hitters, stop using up the bullpen, get a better bullpen.

Brian Cashman, you lost this game.

And we have 161 games to go. Lord, help me: This is going to be a long season.

No comments: