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Orioles opponent preview: Miami Mar—er, actually, New York Yankees

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Thanks to a COVID outbreak and an impromptu scheduling change, the Orioles’ home opener will come against an AL East behemoth instead of a National League also-ran.

MLB: New York Yankees at Washington Nationals
I’ll never get used to seeing Zack Britton in Yankees colors.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine, six months ago, if I had time-traveled from the future and told you that the Orioles would play their first home game of 2020 against the New York Yankees.

“Uh, yeah, of course they will,” you’d respond. “It’s right there in the schedule. Season opener, Yankees at Orioles, on March 26.”

No no, I’d respond. It’s not going to happen until July 29.

“Wait....what?”

Oh, and this game wasn’t even supposed to be against the Yankees. It was scheduled to be the Marlins.

“The...huh? The Marlins?”

Yeah, but now the Marlins have to stop playing for a week because they’ve had an outbreak of coronavirus.

“Corona-what-now?”

Oh, you’d better sit down, friend. We have much to discuss.

And so here we are. The Orioles’ abbreviated 60-game schedule was thrown into utter chaos after just three, sending the team on a whirlwind voyage from Boston to Miami to Baltimore in a span of two days, postponing two games, and leaving the Birds unsure of when, or if, or against whom, they’d get to play their home opener. But as MLB scrambles to deal with the fallout of the Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak — which may have also spread to the Phillies — its cobbled-together solution is to let those two clubs’ scheduled opponents, the Orioles and Yankees, play against each other instead.

Frankly, the solution probably should’ve been to shut down the season entirely. I wonder why MLB decided not to do that? I gue$$ we’ll never know. It’$ a total my$tery.

In any case, now the Orioles, who’d been slated to play the Marlins four times this week, will play two against the Yankees at Camden Yards tonight and tomorrow. Unless something else goes horribly wrong before then, which is always a possibility. So let’s preview the Birds’ impromptu opponents.

The Yankees’ season so far

The Yanks, like the Orioles, come into the series with a 2-1 record. They won their opening series on the road against the defending champion Nationals, though they were actually outscored in the three-game set, 12-9. And the Yankees, like the Orioles, have had an unexpected two-day break, as their two scheduled games in Philadelphia on Monday and Tuesday were postponed because the COVID-afflicted Marlins had just used the visiting clubhouse.

The Yankees, too, have been hopping around the East Coast the last few days, traveling from D.C. to Philadelphia, where they didn’t play a game, and then — just before they were to head back to New York — changing course and making their way to Baltimore last night.

The rotation

The Yanks made a huge splash in December when they signed prize free agent ace Gerrit Cole to a nine-year, $324 million deal. Considering that December feels like it happened approximately a century ago, it’s easy to forget that 2020 is, in fact, Cole’s debut season with the Yankees. He made his debut in last week’s season opener in Washington and threw a complete game — albeit a rain-shortened, five-inning one. Cole was as dominant as you’d expect, allowing only three baserunners during his outing, with an Adam Eaton homer the only hit.

There’s no other way to put this: the Orioles are going to hate having Gerrit Cole in their division for the next decade. The 29-year-old is arguably the most overpowering pitcher in the game. He leveled up his career from awesome to super-extra-incredibly-awesome last year with the Astros, when he won 20 games, posted a league-best 2.50 ERA, and racked up a dazzling 326 strikeouts and 13.8 strikeouts-per-nine mark. He’s slated to start against the Orioles in tonight’s series opener, so good luck to them.

Behind Cole are three veteran holdovers from last year’s Yankees rotation: lefties J.A. Happ and James Paxton and right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Happ is slated to make his season debut against the Orioles tomorrow night, following an uninspiring 2019 campaign (a 4.91 ERA in 30 starts). The O’s, in particular, roughed him up last year, batting .326 with a 1.010 OPS against Happ and scoring 17 runs in his 22.1 innings (6.85 ERA).

The O’s won’t see Paxton or Tanaka in this series, but both have historically had success against the club (3.54 ERA in seven starts for Paxton; 3.72 in 15 starts for Tanaka). Manning the fifth starter’s spot for now is 25-year-old right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga, who’s made just nine career starts in the bigs.

The bullpen

A fixture of the Yankees’ recent successful teams has been their bullpen, which always seems stocked with hard-throwing strikeout artists. Last year was no exception; their 2019 relief corps boasted four hurlers who threw more than 60 innings and averaged at least 11.9 strikeouts per nine. All four — Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, and closer Aroldis Chapman — remain on the team this year, though Chapman is currently on the COVID-19 list after testing positive for the virus in summer camp.

In Chapman’s absence, the Yankees’ closing duties fall to a guy you’ve probably heard of: Zack Britton. The Orioles’ former closer isn’t quite the unhittable force he was during his glory years in Baltimore, but he’s still a darn good pitcher. He picked up a save against the Nationals in the opening series, issuing a hit and a walk but no runs.

Besides Britton, the Yankees currently have just one lefty in their bullpen, free agent pickup Luis Avilan, With the expanded 30-man roster to start the year, the Yanks are carrying a few rookies to get some experience and eat some innings, including righties Mike King, Brooks Kriske, and Nick Nelson.

The offense

Now this is where the Yankees can really put opponents away, as the Orioles can very well attest. Last year, the Birds had no answer for the Yanks’ firepower up and down the lineup. The results were, frankly, embarrassing. In their 19 games against the Orioles last season, the Yankees averaged nearly eight runs a game and posted a 1.018 OPS. They also crushed an unfathomable 61 home runs. I know the ball was juiced, but my goodness.

Seventeen different Yankees hitters smacked a home run against the Orioles last year, including 13 by Gleyber Torres — whose otherworldly destruction of the Birds left Gary Thorne speechless — and 10 by Gary Sanchez. Bad news, O’s fans: those two hitters are still on the Yankees, and probably will be for a long time.

In fact, nearly the entire Yankees lineup from last year has returned in 2020. All seven Yankee hitters who played 100 or more games in 2019 are back, and now they’ve also added a healthy Giancarlo Stanton, who was limited to 18 games last year by biceps and knee injuries. The former MVP already has two home runs in his first three games, and, as one of the few Yankees not to homer against Baltimore pitching last year, may be salivating at the chance to test Oriole Park’s homer-friendly dimensions.

Stanton has started only at DH so far, with the outfield manned by slugger Aaron Judge in right field, Aaron Hicks in center, and Brett Gardner, the Yankees’ longest tenured player, in left. Quality reserve Mike Tauchman and converted infielder Miguel Andujar will sub in as needed. Around the infield, the Yankees have partnered Torres — now the everyday shortstop after Didi Gregorius’ free-agent departure — with Gold Glover DJ LeMahieu at second, as Luke Voit and Gio Urshela man the corners with Sanchez behind the plate.

Orioles pitchers are about to face their toughest test of the young season. These ain’t the Marlins, folks.

Series scheduled games

  • Wednesday, July 29, 7:35 PM: Gerrit Cole vs. Asher Wojciechowski
  • Thursday, July 30, 7:35 PM: J.A. Happ vs. John Means

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    2
    (24 votes)
  • 42%
    1
    (77 votes)
  • 44%
    0
    (81 votes)
182 votes total Vote Now