Welcome to Opening Day 2019. The Yankees begin the new season at Yankee Stadium this afternoon. The Orioles are in town for the three-game, four-day season-opening series. Tomorrow is the requisite “off-day after Opening Day in case Opening Day gets rained out” off-day. I like to call it “overreactions from Opening Day” day. At this time tomorrow, the Yankees will be either on their way to the World Series or doomed forever. Anyway, time to preview the series.
Their Story So Far
There is no story so far, obviously. The Orioles lost 115 games last season, fifth most in baseball history, and they didn’t do much over they winter. Front office changes took priority over roster changes. The O’s are less talented now than they were last year — remember, they had guys like Manny Machado, Zack Britton, Kevin Gausman, and Adam Jones for at least part of last season — though I have a real hard time believing an MLB team can lose 115 games in back-to-back seasons. They’ll be (slightly) better this year almost by default. The Orioles went 12-17-3 during Grapefruit League play, if you care about such things.
Scheduled Opening Day starter Alex Cobb exited his final spring tune-up start with a groin injury over the weekend, forcing the O’s to scramble a bit with their rotation. Cobb is already on the 10-day injured list. So is backup catcher Austin Wynns, who has an oblique strain. Mark Trumbo is rehabbing from offseason knee surgery and he’s on the 60-day injured list. He’s not coming back anytime soon. Cobb and Wynns could be active when the Yankees and Orioles play again next weekend in Baltimore.
According to ZiPS, the Orioles have one projected above-average hitter. That’s Trey Mancini with a 105 OPS+. Their second best hitter is a free agent (Danny Valencia at 96 OPS+), their third best hitter is injured (Mark Trumbo at 96 OPS+), and their fourth best hitter is a prospect in Triple-A (Yusniel Diaz at 95 OPS+). Five of their seven best hitters by ZiPS projected OPS+ aren’t on the active roster. Seems bad.
Rookie manager Brandon Hyde — he was previously Joe Maddon’s bench coach with the Cubs — does figure to have fairly set lineup, at least for the time being. The projected batting order:
- CF Cedric Mullins
- DH Dwight Smith Jr.
- 2B Jonathan Villar
- LF Trey Mancini
- 3B Rio Ruiz (vs. RHP) or Renato Nunez (vs. LHP)
- 1B Chris Davis
- RF Joey Rickard
- SS Richie Martin
- C Jesus Sucre or Pedro Severino
Smith won’t be the full-time DH. He’ll see time in the outfield with Mancini at DH, or Mancini at first base and Davis at DH, or Mancini at first base with Ruiz and Nunez in the lineup and Davis on the bench, so on and so forth. Former Yankee (between waiver claims, anyway) Hanser Alberto is the backup infielder and Rule 5 Draft pick Drew Jackson is a utility guy who should play quite a bit. Here are some 2018 Statcast numbers:
The redder the red, the more above average the player was in that particular category. The bluer the blue, the more below average. Players with an asterisk (*) next to their name didn’t play enough to qualify for the Statcast leaderboards last year. Point is, wow are the Orioles bad. I guess Nunez could be a guy who capitalizes on the extra playing time that comes from being on a terrible team? To me, Mullins is the only lineup regular who has a chance to be part of the next contending Orioles team.
Thursday (1:05pm ET): Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Orioles) vs. Andrew Cashner (vs. Yankees)
Thanks to Cobb’s injury, Cashner will start Opening Day on short rest. He threw two innings in a spring tune-up start this past Sunday. Cashner was pretty terrible last season, throwing 153 innings with a 5.29 ERA (5.32 FIP) and underwhelming peripherals (14.5 K%, 9.5 BB%, 40.4 GB%), and lefties and righties hit him equally as hard. His stuff doesn’t wow like it once did either.
Cashner shut the Yankees down last April (one run in six innings), then they roughed him up the three times they faced him thereafter (12 runs in 19.1 innings). And you know what that means today? Nothing. It means nothing. Over the last four seasons Cashner has a 4.51 ERA (4.61 FIP) in over 600 innings. That seems more meaningful.
Saturday (1:05pm ET): James Paxton (vs. Orioles) vs. Dylan Bundy (vs. Yankees)
The Orioles have Bundy listed as Saturday’s starter, though Joe Trezza says they might use Nate Karns as an opener instead, which is awfully rude for series preview writing purposes. Bundy, who is still somehow only 26, is coming off a season with a 5.45 ERA (5.17 FIP) and an MLB high 41 home runs allowed in 171.2 innings. His strikeout (24.5%) and walk (7.2%) rates were pretty good. His ground ball rate (34.0%) was not, and lefty batters annihilated him (.399 wOBA). Not much to see stuff-wise either.
Bundy made two starts against the Yankees last year and allowed nine runs in nine innings. They hit the poor kid hard every time they face him. He’s always approaching 80 innings in the third inning, it seems. As for Karns (vs. Yankees), he has not pitched in a big league game since May 19th, 2017, due to elbow issues (inflammation and nerve irritation). He’s a fastball/curveball guy who was quite effective against righties the last time he did pitch, which I guess makes him a good opener candidate against the righty heavy Yankees.
Sunday (1:05pm ET): J.A. Happ (vs. Orioles) vs. TBA
Still no word Sunday’s starter. David Hess and Mike Wright are the actual starting pitcher candidates. Paul Fry has been mentioned as a possible opener, though throwing an unspectacular lefty reliever at Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton seems not smart. I suppose Karns could open back-to-back days. That’s a possibility.
Hess (vs. Yankees) had a rough MLB debut last year, pitching to a 4.88 ERA (5.80 FIP) in 103.1 innings. The strikeout (16.3%), walk (8.2%), and ground ball (34.5%) rates were not good, and he served up 22 home runs in those 103.1 innings. Yikes! Hess is a fairly generic fastball/slider/changeup guy who had a negligible platoon split last year, which in this case means righties and lefties hit him equally hard.
Wright (vs. Yankees) has been around for a few years now as an up-and-down swingman. He finally ran out of minor league options and will stick on the big league roster for good, at least for the time being. Last season he had a 5.55 ERA (4.79 FIP) with yucky peripherals (19.1 K%, 9.3 BB%, 35.4 GB%), and those numbers are actually better than his career numbers (5.75 ERA and 5.21 FIP). Yeesh.
Any team and any pitcher can beat any other team on any given day in this sport, but geez, the Orioles aren’t exactly going to make their opponents sweat with the starters they’re set to run out there. On paper, the Yankees have a clear pitching advantage — a clear everything advantage, really — this series. Whether it translates into wins remains is another matter.
Gotta say, I did not expect Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier to make it through the offseason with the Orioles. I figured they would get traded at some point. The last thing a terrible rebuilding team needs is good relievers. Better to cash them in as trade chips before something goes wrong, you know? Anyway, here is the O’s bullpen setup:
- Closer: RHP Mychal Givens
- Setup: LHP Richard Bleier, RHP Miguel Castro
- Middle: RHP Pedro Araujo, LHP Paul Fry, RHP John Means
- Long: RHP Jimmy Yacabonis
Only seven relievers with that rotation? Bold. Castro, Means, and Yacabonis can all go multiple innings though, so I guess that keeps them covered. Araujo was a Rule 5 Draft pick last offseason. He missed a bunch of time with elbow trouble last year and needs to spend 14 days on the active roster this year to satisfy the Rule 5 Draft requirements. Once that happens, Araujo can be shuttled up and down like any other rookie.
Givens and Bleier give the Orioles a respectable end-game duo. Givens is hell on righties and my guess is he’ll be matched up against Judge and Stanton, regardless of whether it is the eighth or ninth inning. Bleier? He’s the one who got away. We’ve spent some time the last few weeks talking about players the Yankees regret trading and Bleier is one. They sent him to the O’s for cash in February 2017. Since then, he has a 1.97 ERA (3.80 FIP) with a 65.3% ground ball rate in 96 innings. Oh well. Can’t win ’em all.