By Jacob Westendorf
A promising start was met with a disappointing finish. The last game of the Yankees’ 4-game set against the Blue Jays was a representation of the entire series.
The Yankees won their first two games behind strong pitching from Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka. They finished with the bullpen melting down in each of the last two games.
Ultimately, a road split to begin the season is not such a bad thing. Here are some things we learned from the Yankees’ 2-2 start.
1.) Boone a work in progress – It was never going to be easy for Aaron Boone. He has the New York spotlight on him every time he makes a decision. The bullpen decision making was supposed to be easy because of how dominant it was slated to be. Instead, they made his life more difficult. Saturday he kept Dellin Betances in for an extra inning. That backfired as Betances struggles with runners on base continued. Kevin Pillar even stole home before Betances threw a pitch. Betances threw the ball to the backstop.
Sunday with the Yankees leading 4-3 in the 8th inning, Boone and Robertson chose to walk Josh Donaldson in favor of facing Justin Smoak. Smoak had killed the Yankees each of the last two games. He found a way to do so again with a grand slam during a great at-bat. Smoak deserves credit, but Boone should have made the decision to have Robertson pitch to Donaldson instead of loading the bases for no reason.
Boone will use this as a learning experience. Hopefully, his decision making is better in bigger games.
2.) Yankees lineup is going to be scary – We sort of knew this going into the season. Any lineup that includes Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez is going to be fun to watch. This weekend, however, showed some flashes for what the other guys in the lineup can do. Brandon Drury had a solid opening to his weekend. He hit a big 3-run home run off of Marcus Stroman that gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead Sunday. Tyler Wade had a big double Friday night to put the Yankees ahead for good. Neil Walker has been hitting the ball hard. Tyler Austin hit two moonshots Saturday to keep the Yankees in the game. These are guys in the lineup that are expected to be role players. They performed in their role. Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez haven’t started hitting on all cylinders yet. Greg Bird has not been in the lineup. Aaron Hicks is missing time. There are reinforcements on the way. For now, however, the slogan coined by my colleague Matt Bove #WeAreAllMonsters should be something to have Yankees fans very excited for the rest of the year.
3.) Severino and Tanaka looked sharp – These are the two men tasked with carrying the Yankees’ staff. Tanaka has been the Yankees’ opening day starter every year save for one since he came over from Japan. Severino is the team’s new ace. The two were dazzling in their season debuts. Tanaka had one hiccup giving up a home run, but other than that he was dominant. He retired 13 of his last 14 hitters faced. Severino showed the stuff that got him to finish third in last year’s AL Cy Young voting. The focus was mostly on the lineup each of the first two days, but these two were probably the biggest reason the Yankees started 2-0.
4.) Sonny days ahead- Sunday wasn’t the smoothest start for Sonny Gray. He had some ups and downs after a fantastic spring. He flashed some great stuff in his first start. He finished with eight strikeouts, but a high pitch count only allowed him to finish four innings. He gave up seven hits and walked three batters. That’s something that should correct itself as the season gets into the full swing of things. Regardless, the Yankees should be encouraged by the stuff their big midseason acquisition from a year ago showed in his first start.
5.) Betances’ struggles continue – Dellin Betances is one of the most dominant relievers in baseball when he is locked in. Unfortunately, it’s been awhile since the Yankees have seen him locked in. He gave up a home run in his first outing, but was able to escape without much more damage. The hope was that would add to some of his confidence. Instead, Betances’ struggles were on full display Saturday afternoon. Betances could not hold runners and eventually was humiliated by one stealing home off of him.
The good news for the Yankees is Betances’ struggles with base runners last year were coupled with his inability to throw strikes. He was in the strike zone for each of his first two outings. His breaking ball wasn’t sharp at times, but those are things that should be correctable. At this point, base runners are going to continue to be a scary thought when Betances is on the mound. It’s an issue he’s been unable to correct.
The Yankees are handcuffed because they probably can’t bring him in with runners on. When he is in, they’re hoping for a clean inning because if runners get on base it can turn into a disaster like it did Saturday.
It’s not time to give up on Betances by any stretch, but there is some cause for concern moving forward.