Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
First, let's state the obvious: You can't drop a series to the 2019 Orioles. Throw away all your cliches about how it's a long season with many ups and downs, and any major league team can beat another on any given day, blah blah blah.
Those justifications don't apply here because the Orioles are truly not a major league team. Last year, they lost 115 games, and that was with contributions from Manny Machado, Zack Britton and Adam Jones. All of those players are gone, as is iconic manager Buck Showalter.
On Opening Day, scouts at Yankee Stadium were speculating about whether Baltimore will pass the 1962 Mets for the worst team in the modern era. One scout called them a "Triple-A" team, and another felt that might be giving them too much credit. "Double or Triple-A," he said.
By Sunday, the Yanks had somehow managed to lose two of three to this tanking opponent, and much of the initial focus centered around their total absence of clutch hitting. In the series finale alone, the Yanks left 11 runners on base, and were 2-for-13 with men in scoring position.
These were frustrating moments for players and fans alike, but do not typically represent an area of deep concern. Hitting with runners in scoring position comes and goes in the game, and says little about a team's talent.
But in this case, the Yankees' lineup is missing enough key contributors that it's fair to worry a little. The team will continue to feel Didi Gregorius' absence all season, unless he is able to return late (a midsummer comeback from October Tommy John surgery has always seemed ambitious to us). Aaron Hicks is a highly underrated star, and his back injury creates a hole at the top of the lineup.
The news on Monday morning that Giancarlo Stanton was headed to the injured list with a biceps strain was enough to make you say, okay, maybe this offense is going to be a problem for a while.
It's not alone. The Yanks' other main reason for worry actually came in their only win of the series, when Aroldis Chapman's fastball sat mostly at 93-96 miles per hour as he closed the Opening Day win.
Scouts sitting behind the plate noticed it immediately, and they were not alone. By Saturday, manager Aaron Boone and Chapman were downplaying it, while pitching coach Larry Rothschild acknowledged that it was something to watch.
One scout noted that the issue didn't just pop up Thursday, but was evident while Chapman was throwing on a backfield in Tampa the week before.
Privately, team officials say that Chapman is not dealing with a significant injury, and note that he is still getting outs. They are also eager to see him in a save situation, where perhaps his adrenaline takes his fastball up a notch.
That did not present itself over the next two ugly days. It will be something to watch closely during the upcoming series at the Stadium against Detroit, another opponent the Yankees should roll over.
Once it's whole again, the offense will do what offenses always do: Struggle inexplicably on some days, while scoring enough runs on others.
But with Dellin Betances already down, and the Yankees' formula for a championship built around their dominant bullpen, Chapman needs to find his fastball, and quickly.