WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A week from Opening Day, it’s now a reality that the Yankees will be without No. 1 starter Luis Severino, the switch-hitting centerfielder Aaron Hicks and middle-relief monster Dellin Betances.
On paper, that feels like a lot to worry about, right?
Maybe. Until you glance at another page, the one containing the 2019 regular-season schedule, and see that the Yankees probably could use their Triple-A Scranton affiliate for most of April, and into May, without ruining their title chances.
We already know the American League is populated by pushovers, beyond the top four or five teams. But looking at the way things line up early for the Yankees, it was as if Hal Steinbrenner called in a few favors with commissioner Rob Manfred.
These aren’t opponents. They’re bowling pins.
Of the Yankees' first 21 games, 16 are against the Orioles, Tigers, Royals and White Sox -- with 13 in the Bronx. Three of those teams finished with 100 or more losses last season, and Detroit gets the gold star for only dropping 98.
Their combined winning percentage was .356 and the weakest of that bunch, the 115-loss Orioles, seems to be a shoo-in this season to unseat the ’62 Mets for the most losses in history (120). That would be a nice confluence of events in the same year of the 50th anniversary for the ’69 championship club.
But back to Baltimore for a minute. Not only do the Yankees get them six of the first nine -- sandwiched around three vs. Detroit -- they have the O’s for 13 of the season’s first 50 games. After last season’s fire sale at Camden Yards, the Orioles’ ace is Dylan Bundy (5.45 ERA last season) and most recognizable offensive threat is the ghost of Chris Davis (.168 BA, 192 Ks).
The most challenging obstacle the Yankees will face during the bulk of these first few weeks will be staying warm. There’s a brief Astros’ cameo in Houston, and a two-game visit to the Bronx by the Red Sox, but otherwise this part of the schedule is a layup, even if Aaron Boone has to pretend differently on the record.
“It’s hard to win games in this league,” Boone said before Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the Astros at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. “If you don’t play well, you usually won’t win. So our job is to be ready to rock every single day and our guys are really good at that. So I don’t worry about our focus and our frame of mind and our intent every day.
“I look at every day as a matchup that anyone’s certainly capable of beating us or having a good day or whatever, if we don’t bring it and we don’t play well. I hate starting to look at that stuff.”
Privately, the Yankees have to love it, especially as nicked up as they are at the moment. Severino isn’t penciled in until May 1, at the earliest, but Hicks and Betances are expected back shortly after Opening Day, so that should be just in time for the April 8 start of the Astros series.
Even if the Yankees’ estimations are off -- and let’s face it, they haven’t been so great on the prognosis front lately -- there is enough redundancy built into their roster to absorb a number of bumps and bruises. Brian Cashman finally bent on signing Gio Gonzalez, who already is getting up to speed in Tampa, and the “opener” experiment is in full swing after back-to-back starts by Chad Green and Jonathan Holder.
The Yankees’ bullpen is stacked with strikeout machines to cover for Betances’ absence, and Hicks’ bat won’t be missed by a lineup that leads both Florida and Arizona with 45 homers and an .854 OPS this spring. Of course it’s the Grapefruit League, but we don’t see Aaron Judge’s six homers as a fluky thing.
As long as the Yankees’ primary pieces stay healthy for the next week in Florida (and that Monday exhibition in D.C.) they should be more than fine. In the meantime, Boone will keep his fingers crossed.
The versatile Tyler Wade, who’s now the backup centerfielder to Brett Gardner, had to leave Wednesday’s game due to hip tightness, a situation that isn’t deemed serious. It also was a bit scary when Greg Bird was drilled on the right elbow by a Wade Miley fastball, but he stayed in the game and said he was fine despite pulling on a compression sleeve over the arm to wear with his street clothes afterward.
“Wrap them all in Bubble Wrap at this point,” Boone said.
Just make sure to leave a few breathing holes.