The Yankees have a while to go before locking up an AL East trophy, so which teams pose the biggest threat to their chance to shine?
The Yankees wrapped up their first series matchup with the Toronto Blue Jays this past Thursday evening with a 6-2 win, aided by a masterful performance from J.A. Happ and a productive day for the offense led by DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Hicks.
With the conclusion of their first series against Toronto, the team has now faced off against every other AL East team. With divisional games making up 76 of each team’s 162 game schedule, the Yankees will see their fair share of each of these teams this year. With that in mind, here’s a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Yankees’ AL East foes.
Boston Red Sox
The Yankees have gone 4-2 thus far in their six games against the Sox, and as anticipated, Boston’s biggest weakness has been their bullpen. After letting Joe Kelly and now Craig Kimbrel walk in free agency, they have been forced to rely on pitchers like Ryan Brasier and Brandon Workman to shoulder the load instead.
The team has already taken advantage of Boston’s depleted bullpen, most notably on April 17th, when Brett Gardner hit a go-ahead grand slam off Brasier to lead the team to a 5-3 win. Despite their subpar bullpen, Boston cannot be taken lightly, as their lineup is still one of the deepest and most dominant in the league, led by sluggers Mookie Betts and JD Martinez. They are almost certain to be in the playoff race come September, and could even face off against the Yankees come playoff time.
Tampa Bay Rays
Strength: Opener strategy
The Rays have an impressive young core, led by a pair of aces in Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow as well as a lineup highlighted by breakout outfielder Austin Meadows. They also have built their team around using the “opener”, when a reliever starts off the game before their true starter comes in, something the Yankees have struggled with against numerous teams in the past.
After a 90-win season last year, Tampa Bay is hungry for a playoff appearance, and could definitely make some noise come October. However, their inexperience could eventually hurt them, as very few players on their team have any postseason experience. Their bullpen has also faltered of late, with relievers like Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo not pitching to the highest of their abilities. Even though the Yankees have had the Rays’ number in past years, they are another team that definitely could turn some heads and that could give the Yankees some trouble.
Toronto Blue Jays
Strength: Young bats
Weakness: Starting Pitching
The Blue Jays recently called up the top prospect in baseball in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and the Yankees got a first-hand look at how talented he is on Wednesday night when his go-ahead three-run homer off Zack Britton led Toronto to an 11-7 comeback win. Between Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Justin Smoak, and Randal Grichuk, the Blue Jays put together a more than respectable lineup and definitely are capable of putting runs on the board and making pitchers work. Their bullpen, led by Ken Giles, is also respectable, but their starting rotation is a big question mark. Marcus Stroman has looked elite at times but has also been inconsistent, and many expect him to be dealt at the trade deadline since Toronto likely won’t be competing for a playoff spot.
Beyond him, Toronto’s rotation isn’t particularly impressive, as Aaron Sanchez has been incredibly injury prone and Matt Shoemaker is out for the season with a torn ACL. With Toronto expected to be sellers at the deadline, they shouldn’t be too formidable of an opponent down the stretch, but they just took 2 of 3 from the Yanks so they definitely shouldn’t be dismissed as light work any time the Bombers match up against them.
Weakness: …Everything else
Baltimore’s abysmal 47-115 record last season made them the worst team in all of baseball, and they didn’t do much to improve their team this offseason, going full tank-mode. That being said, they were often a tough, pesky opponent for the Yankees last year, as the Yankees dropped 7 of the 19 games they played in against the O’s. Trey Mancini is a future superstar in the league and John Means has looked solid as well when the Yankees faced him. Beyond those two, Baltimore’s lineup, rotation, and bullpen don’t boast any impressive names, and their 19-43 record shows that they won’t be too competitive this year.
After dropping 2 of 3 against Baltimore to start the season, the Yankees have won six straight against them, so hopefully, their days of struggling against the O’s are behind them and games against Baltimore can be easy wins this season.