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Orioles-Yankees series preview: Well, here goes nothing

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The Orioles have nothing to lose except for 162 games. The Yankees are aiming to win it all.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles - Game Two
It’s Jonathan Villar in the Orioles uniform, in case you didn’t recognize him.
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

If there’s one thing that can be said about the 2019 regular season schedule, it’s this: The Orioles are going to get punched in the face right away. Starting the season on the road against the Yankees and then having the third series of the year for the O’s home opener against these same Yankees isn’t the worst way to start, but it’s pretty close.

Lest we forget, the Yankees won 100 games last season. This still left them eight games shy of the American League East crown, something that calls for the playing of a tiny violin. The best people from that team are mostly all back. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge are back to crush all of the dingers. Magic man Luke Voit, who batted .333/.405/.689 as an unexpected emergency fill-in last year, is back for more in a more regular role.

The Yankees have so much young talent that they signed neither Manny Machado nor Bryce Harper this offseason and those may even be defensible decisions.

The starting rotation is back, except they traded away the struggling Sonny Gray to the Reds, acquired the non-struggling J.A. Happ in the middle of last season, and picked up James Paxtron from the Mariners basically because they could. The bullpen is back.

That’s not to say the Yankees are without potential problems. Their best 2018 starter, Luis Severino, is expected to miss at least a month with a shoulder injury. Could this be the start of the chain reaction that leads the Yankees into the decade-plus of failure that I wished for them after the Jeffrey Maier game in 1996? No, of course not. They’ll be fine. Maybe not fine enough to keep pace with the Red Sox, but fine enough to demolish the Orioles.

Strikeout machine Dellin Betances is also battling a shoulder injury. The Yankees pen, which re-signed Zack Britton and added Adam Ottavino over the offseason, will barely even miss a stride without Betances. This team scored 851 runs last year and only gave up 669. That’s absurd.

Game 1, Thursday 1:05pm

Starting pitchers

  • Andrew Cashner (2018 stats: 28 GS, 153 IP, 5.29 ERA, 5.32 FIP, 1.582 WHIP, 99 SO, 65 BB)
  • Masahiro Tanaka (27 GS, 156 IP, 3.75 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 1.128 WHIP, 159 SO, 35 BB)

The original plan was that neither one of these guys would be starting this game. The Yankees’ backup plan looks a lot better than the Orioles one does, with Yahoo Sports deeming Cashner the third-worst Opening Day starter in MLB - and even that might be generous. Tanaka rates 10th of 30.

In four games where he faced the Yankees last year, Cashner was surprisingly non-horrible, with their batters hitting .263/.314/.411 against him, with 20 strikeouts racked up against seven walks allowed. Had he pitched like that against other teams, his would not have looked like yet another one of Dan Duquette’s stupid starting pitching signings.

Tanaka turned the big 3-0 over the offseason. That’s not old for a human being but it is where things become dicier for baseball players. The downhill has probably started. The only question is how long before the downhill turns into “off the side of a cliff.” The answer is most likely what Game of Thrones tells us to say to the god of death: Not today.

Game 2, Saturday 1:05pm

Starting pitchers

  • Nate Karns (opener; did not pitch in 2018)
  • James Paxton (2018 w/ Mariners: 28 GS, 160.1 IP, 3.76 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 1.098 WHIP, 208 SO, 42 BB)

What do you think it’s like to have a starting pitcher with almost a 5:1 strikeout/walk ratio? Yankees fans already knew thanks to what the injured Severino did last year. For #43 prospect Justus Sheffield and two others, they acquired Paxton for the next couple of seasons.

Paxton also reached “baseball over the hill” over the offseason. His fastball velocity averaged 95.4mph last year, exactly in line with his career, so barring an abrupt decline, he’ll be good again.

The use of Karns as an opener will make this game different for the Orioles even if it may not be good. Do they plan to use a long reliever after Karns to get as far as the sixth or seventh inning, or make this more of a bullpen game? I expect the former, though they haven’t said they won’t do the latter either. For Karns, it’s not exactly easing him back into MLB action by throwing him right to the wolves. If you’re good enough to get to MLB, you probably relish the challenge, anyway.

Game 3, Sunday 1:05

Starting pitchers

  • Dylan Bundy (31 GS, 171.2 IP, 5.45 ERA, 5.17 FIP, 1.410 WHIP, 184 SO, 54 BB)
  • J.A. Happ (NYY/TOR combined: 31 GS, 177.2 IP, 3.65 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 1.131 WHIP, 193 SO, 51 BB)

If there’s one thing to be said about the Yankees starting rotation without Severino, it’s this: They old. Happ is 36 and CC Sabathia, who won’t be appearing in this series because he got suspended five games for throwing at now-Oriole Jesus Sucre at the end of the last regular season, is 38. The downhill hasn’t really stuck Happ yet either: He averaged 92mph on his fastball last year, nearly a career high. That’s almost fast enough that you can’t call him a crafty lefty!

With lefty starting pitchers going against them in the second and third games of the season, there’s a chance for new Orioles manager Brandon Hyde to show us whether he will deploy vastly different lineups against those pitchers. Does somebody like Chris Davis get benched entirely against one or both of Paxton and Happ? Does he get bumped down in the order? Maybe it’s too early in the season for Hyde to do anything other than give Davis a chance to fail.

Here is a true fact that still makes me wince: Bundy gave up 41 home runs last season. If that continues into this year, we can probably simultaneously forget about his having any trade value or ever contributing to the next good Orioles team. Facing a Yankees lineup that led the league with 267 home runs last year right out of the gate, Bundy doesn’t get an easy start to the season. At least there isn’t summer heat and humidity yet.

**

There may not be much difference in quality between the 2018 and 2019 Orioles. What is different is that fans can begin the season knowing to expect nothing from this team, so there will be no disappointment if they are once again very bad and set to trade their few good players in July.

Perhaps they will pleasantly surprise us! Even a 100-loss season would feel like massive progress compared to what happened last year. What’s sad about the idea of watching this team in March and April is that we probably won’t get to see any of that progress until at least June, and maybe not until August. There’s a lot of bad, largely hopeless baseball between now and then.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win in this series against the Yankees?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    3 (The Orioles sweep the Yankees)
    (41 votes)
  • 7%
    2
    (30 votes)
  • 41%
    1
    (163 votes)
  • 40%
    0 (The Yankees sweep the Orioles)
    (162 votes)
396 votes total Vote Now