Major League Baseball's schedule makers threw the Yankees a bone for opening weekend of the 2019 season, but the team essentially choked on it.
The Yankees are among a quartet of American League teams heavily favored to gain a spot in the 2019 postseason and New York's roster is strong enough win the World Series. The Baltimore Orioles are in the very beginning stages of a full-blown rebuild, fresh off a 115-loss season. Yet, it was the Orioles that came out of New York with two wins in the three-game series.
An interesting outcome beyond the scoreboard results, which have the standings turned upside down, are the somewhat diverging messages coming from the Yankees' best player and its manager.
Aaron Judge came out with a strong statement about the Yankees play after Saturday's contest.
"We've gotta have that mindset that our backs are against the wall, every single game," Judge told reporters after the Yankees' 5-3 loss to Baltimore. "In the playoffs, especially in '17, going down to Cleveland and Houston, our backs were against the wall and we came out and played our butts off. That's got to be our mindset. Our backs are against the wall. You can't take anybody lightly and we gotta capitalize on situations when they come up."
Meanwhile, after the Yankees lost their second straight game, the club's manager, Aaron Boone, spoke in a different tone.
"We have high expectations for ourselves, and bottom line is, we think we're going to be a really good team," Boone said. "We're going to have series where, you don't put your best foot forward. I'm confident we're close to doing that, and we plan on that starting tomorrow (Monday) night."
The Yankees would benefit from heeding Judge's more urgent declaration, which essentially comes across as all 162 games matter and dominating inferior opponents is extremely important.
In 2018, the Yankees went 12-7 against the Orioles. Now, this is not a poor record, but to put it in perspective, Baltimore won just 47 games in 2018, meaning 14.8 percent of its wins came against a team with 100 victories. Meanwhile, the 2018 champion Red Sox, took 16 out of 19 games against the Orioles.
Need more proof that the Yankees remain stuck in a trend dating back to last season?
The Yankees went 59-32 (.648 winning percentage) against teams with a losing record in 2018. The Red Sox dominated such clubs, going 67-21 (.761 winning percentage).
Yes, it is true the Yankees won 100 games, but it is not difficult to see that they could have pressed the Red Sox a bit more down the stretch had they performed better against teams like the Orioles and others unable to win at least half its games.
This season, the Yankees have a chance to generate a strong record based on a substantially easy schedule through their first 84 games. In that time frame, the Yanks will play 55 games against teams that finished with losing records in 2018. That's 65 percent of their games through June, giving the Yanks the chance to force Boston to play catch up.
This kind of schedule might be able to help offset what has quickly become a walking M.A.S.H. unit as the Yankees placed Giancarlo Stanton on the 10-day injured list with a left biceps strain. Stanton joins Dellin Betances, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks and Luis Severino -- a collection of All-Star caliber players -- on the injured list.
Regardless of the key injuries, the Yankees will remain decidedly better than many teams they face for the first three months of the season and New York's performance cannot be lackluster during that period. As Judge stated, there cannot be any letdown and Boone's mindset suggesting 'all will be well' is way too soft even if this is just the beginning of April.
The Yankees are not alone in terms of underperformance in the opening weekend. Among the leagues' other postseason favorites, Boston lost three of four to the Mariners, the Astros won one of four against the Rays and the Indians lost two of three games to the Twins.
However, the Yankees, despite significant injury concerns, have a clear advantage in the schedule, which should provide the club time to get back to full strength. If the Yankees can play to their full potential, the team could ride a sizable lead to the finish line, much like the Red Sox managed in 2018.
Three games or not, the trend of playing down to poor teams goes back to last season and the Yankees must find a way to reverse it. If the Yanks cannot turn the tide and if the team continues to suffer health setbacks, trying to recover in the second half might be too difficult a task.