Folks, spring is here! Not just because of the vernal equinox, but because we have eight days left until Opening Day. All 30 teams will be playing on March 29th, and that, of course, includes the Yankees crossing the Canadian border to open their 2018 season against the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.
First-year Yankees skipper Aaron Boone has already announced that Luis Severino will take the mound on Opening Day. Coming off of an excellent season that ended in a third-place finish for the AL Cy Young Award, Severino is entering his third year in pinstripes. After Severino, the order of the rotation will be Masahiro Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia, Sonny Gray, and Jordan Montgomery.
For the Blue Jays, southpaw J.A. Happ will stand atop the mound. Happ has performed rather well against the Yankees, as he owns a career 3.51 ERA in 16 starts against the Bombers, including an 8-2 record. Conversely, Luis Severino has struggled mightily against Toronto, as he has a 5.52 ERA in six starts. But make no mistake, Severino is the ace of this team, and I have all the confidence in the world he will perform well on the 29th, and of course well beyond that.
For a bit of historical perspective, the Yankees lead the all-time series against their divisional rivals, sporting a 336-277 record against Toronto, although they went just 9-10 against them last year despite outscoring them. Annual summations aside, this series really represents the antithesis of either side. For the Yankees, we all know the beginning of the Baby Bomber Era is here. Brian Cashman has done an incredible job of stockpiling the greatest collection of talent the Yankees have had in a decade, and perhaps the franchise’s strongest farm system since the mid-90s, and all that team ended up doing was winning four World Series titles. The Yankees astonished everyone when they fall a game short of winning their 41st pennant last year.
As for the Blue Jays? It’s difficult to think that this team won the AL East just three years ago, and was just two games shy of winning the pennant in the same year, and again fell short in the ALCS in 2016. Last year, they fell to fourth place in the AL East, finishing 76-86.
But that being said, this is still a Blue Jays squad with ample talent and more than enough to contend for a wild-card spot. 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson still commandeers the hot corner for Toronto and has compiled an OPS of .939 or better every year since 2015. Troy Tulowitzki remains entrenched at shortstop and played in only 66 games last year, so health is obviously key for him. Toronto GM Ross Atkins acquired former Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson in free agency, signing the Grandy Man to a one-year, $5 million deal.
Canada’s sole MLB team would do well to capitalize on this season. Josh Donaldson, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, the aforementioned Grandy Man, and Steven Pearce will all join the highly-touted free agent class of 2019, which has become synonymous with The Avengers. This could very well be the last competitive team in Toronto for a little while, although the Blue Jays do have one of the better prospect pools in baseball.
All told, the Yankees have not done well against the Blue Jays in recent seasons. In fact, they had a winning record against the Orioles, Rays, and division champion Red Sox last year, so there is little doubt that their woes against the Blue Jays contributed to falling just short of winning the division.
Now, I have already mentioned before what a typical 2018 Yankees lineup will look like, but which members of the Evil Empire stand out against their Opening Day opponents? Reigning Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge has compiled a 1.378 OPS (surprise surprise) in his short career against the Birds, a total of 80 plate appearances, which includes 10 home runs. Yes, it’s a very small sample size, but still a good starting point. Gary Sanchez, with 88 career plate appearances against the Blue Jays, has six round-trippers and a .885 OPS.
Despite his health woes, Greg Bird has also performed exceptionally well against the Blue Jays, as he boasts a .866 OPS against them. Brett Gardner, with far more experience against divisional foes than any current Yankee hitter, has a .834 OPS in 135 games against Toronto’s second love (after the Maple Leafs, duh). Presumptive Opening Day second baseman Neil Walker might have only 23 career plate appearances against the Blue Jays (since he had spent his entire career in the NL), but he too can brag about a nice, shiny resume against Toronto, as he owns a .908 OPS against them. Identical to Walker’s resume against the Blue Jays is Giancarlo Stanton’s, who might have only 25 career plate appearances against them but has produced a 1.440 OPS.
So, my advice to J.A. Happ and the rest of the Blue Jays’ rotation? Good luck, because you’re going to need it when Opening Day begins. Badly. New York Yankees baseball is officially back next Thursday, and I look forward to hearing about a dozen “See ya!” calls from Michael Kay in favor of the Yankees during this series.