The Yankees dropped two out of three to the Blue Jays to open the 2021 season and they looked bad doing so. The same fears of Yankees fans that eliminated the team in the last four postseasons were on display all weekend at Yankee Stadium.
1. The last time we saw the Yankees play in October, they couldn’t hit elite starting pitching, couldn’t hit right-handed relief pitching and couldn’t drive in runners in scoring position, and so their season ended in the ALDS against the Rays. Well, the first three games of 2021 might as well have been a sixth, seventh and eighth game from that series because the Yankees performed like the same exact team, which wasn’t good enough to get out of the first round of the postseason. And why wouldn’t they? They are the same exact team with the same exact manager. Why would they expect different results. They shouldn’t.
2. Aaron Boone passed his first test of the season when he started Gary Sanchez on Opening Day and allowed him to catch Gerrit Cole. Sanchez was the Yankees’ best player on Opening Day, providing the only offense with a a two-run home, and also adding a single, important walk and threw out a would-be base stealer. Sanchez and Clint Frazier were the only two position players to do anything on Opening Day, and pretty much all weekend. The Yankees scored eight runs in three games against their direct competition for the division and Sanchez’s two home runs, the only two Yankees home runs this season, produced half of the team’s runs. It was a very bad weekend for fans who don’t like Sanchez, didn’t want the Yankees to tender him a contract for 2021 (as if that were ever an option) and want Kyle Higashioka to be the team’s starting catcher.
3. Boone passed his first test by starting Sanchez, but I knew his second test would come on Sunday, and I knew he wouln’t pass it. It would be the Yankees’ first time playing back-to-back games in 2021, and with five games in five days he would undoubtedly look to give regular everyday players a day off. Sure enough, there was Aaron Judge at designated hitter on Sunday, Clint Frazier in right field, Brett Gardner in left field and Giancarlo Stanton on the bench. Stanton entered Sunday having played 50 games in 24 months, an average of about two games per month over the last two calendar years. He played all 50 of those games as the DH. As a Yankee, Stanton has always gotten hurt running the bases. Well, he barely ran the bases on Thursday and Saturday. On Thursday, he went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts, so three times he walked from the dugout to the batter’s box, took a few swings and walked back to the dugout, never needing to run. On Saturday, he walked with two outs and never left first base, flew out, popped out, walked and eventually scored from second on a single and flew out. So in two games, Stanton had to run once, though he somehow needed a day off from being the DH.
4. Weeks ago, Boone said Aaron Hicks would be the No. 3 hitter. That doesn’t make it any better or make it OK. Hicks shouldn’t be batting third. I don’t care about some arbitrary timeline of stats for him. There’s no way with the other hitters on this team he should be batting third. There’s this idea he should lead off, and that’s even funnier than thinking Higashioka should play over Sanchez. (Why would the Yankees want to start every game with only two outs to work with in the first inning?) Hicks had an impressive weekend at the plate, going 1-for-12 with two walks and eight strikeouts. (He did drive in a run when he hit a ball to second base with the bases loaded and one out, trying his absolute best to end the inning with a double play, but the Blue Jays were unable to turn it.) Hicks was as bad as anyone could imaginably be in a three-game span, and his inability to make contact was magnified by the fact that he bats third, which he does because Boone is still trying to prove he’s the smartest baseball mind, even though his 2020 ALDS Game 2 strategy has forever taken him out of that conversation. There will be a time this season when Yankees fans say, “Remember when Hicks was batting third and Gio Urshela was batting sixth?” The same way Aaron Judge started 2017 batting eighth and remained there for most of his should-have-been MVP season and the same way DJ LeMahieu wasn’t even in the Opening Day starting lineup in 2019. Urshla was bad enough in the first two games of 2021 that Boone moved him down for the third game, so it looks like Urshela is on his way to permanently batting where he should: eighth or ninth. As for Hicks, his time to get moved down will come. For as bad as Hicks was this weekend, Aaron Judge was right there with him. Judge single-handedly lost Opening Day and finished the weekend going 3-for-14, leaving 11 runners on base. Judge’s free pass has an expiration date and it’s this season. He has been able to go about his business without criticism for the last three seasons because of what he did in 2017, but that was a long time ago now, and the last and only time he has played a full season.
5. Jay Bruce provided 25 percent of the Yankees’ offense in the series, blooping in a bases-loaded, two-run single on Saturday. If Luke Voit doesn’t hurt his knee at the end of spring training, Bruce isn’t a Yankee right now, which means the Yankees deemed him not as good or as valuable as Mike Tauchman or Tyler Wade. That didn’t stop Boone from batting Bruce fifth on Sunday. Yes, fifth. I thought Bruce might bat around fifth on Opening Day because of his past success against Hyun Jin Ryu (4-for-11 with two home runs), but he batted eighth on Opening Day. Boone waited to move him up until Sunday. He must have been impressed by that two-run bloop single.
6. Like Sanchez, Frazier is the one other position player Yankee you could say had a good weekend. Frazier went 4-for-9 with two doubles and two walks, and it’s not unrealistic to think by the end of the season he could be the Yankees’ best hitter. So there he was batting ninth on Opening Day, three spots behind Urshela and one spot behind Bruce. Yes, he would be the best 9-hitter in the league, however, he has no business batting in that spot. I know someone who would be great in that spot, and he plays center field for the Yankees.
7. In the three games, the Yankees faced right-handed relievers for 42 percent of the series. Here’s the line: 11.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 10 BB, 16 K, 2.31 ERA. Two of the runs came after the Yankees were able to load the bases with walks. The Yankees didn’t have trouble getting on base with 16 baserunners in those 11 2/3 innings, but like always, they had trouble getting those runners in. Making contact is the thing these Yankees are the worst at. And no one should preface anything about this weekend with “It’s three games” or “It’s April” because it’s not just three games and it’s not just April. The things we saw from the Yankees this weekend are what has eliminated them from the postseason the last four seasons, and that includes bad starting pitching.
8. It would be cool if Gerrit Cole started pitching like he did as an Astro. That would be fun. Because having to leave in the fifth and sixth inning of starts due to an elevated pitch count isn’t going to work out well when the rest of the rotation is expected to go five innings at most. Cole went 5 1/3 innings on Thursday, Corey Kluber went four innings on Saturday and Scumbag Domingo German went three innings on Sunday. The starters gave the Yankees 12 1/3 of 28 innings against the Blue Jays. The Yankees are already down Zack Britton and Justin Wilson. If the starters continue to do what they did this weekend, the Yankees will be down more than just those two, or worse, Chad Green and Darren O’Day won’t get hurt, they will just get fatigued and ineffective and continued to be used.
9. How about Scumbag German? You would think the Yankees dealt with someone like him because of his elite talent. Instead they kept a scumbag through suspension and public and internal backlash and that scumbag is barely a fifth starter. German lasted three innings in his first start since 2019 and allowed three earned runs and two home runs in those three innings, needing 68 pitches to get nine out. What a loser. To make matters worse, Boone made excuses for his performance in his postgame press conference, and even went as far to say “he looked sharp” early in the game. There wasn’t really an early for German since he was gone before the fourth, but in the first inning he did only allow on extra-base hit, so hats off to him!
10. Boone used the word “cold” several times to talk about his team after losing the series on Sunday. They weren’t cold. This is who they are. I’m sure they will beat up on the Orioles over the next three days (at least they better) because that’s what they do. Beat up on the league’s worst for six months (Baltimore, Boston, Kansas City, Texas), struggle with the few good teams the play (Toronto, Tampa Bay, Houston, Oakland, White Sox) and then get to the playoffs and fold against elite pitching. I thought bringing the same team back in 2021 was a mistake. Cashman gave up on Sonny Gray after 2019, saying, “I don’t feel like we can go through the same exercise and expect different results,” and yet, the Yankees are going through the same exercise in 2021 as they did in 2020, and most of the team was here in 2019 and 2018 as well. So far, the results haven’t been different.
Subscribe to the Keefe To The City Podcast. New episode after every game.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!