2021 Opening Series Preview - NYY vs. TOR 4/1-4/4

 

Opening Day is finally here, and boy are those words so sweet.  Major League Baseball battled through a pandemic last season which shortened the season to just 60 games and had empty stadiums throughout the regular season, but we’ve finally turned the corner in this fight against COVID-19 and MLB clubs will welcome back fans (albeit in limited capacities) starting tomorrow, April 1st.   The Yankees are locked and loaded and ready to finally achieve their decade-long goal of bringing home World Series title number 28.

Game 1: Thursday, April 1 | First Pitch: 1:05pm | TV: YES Network, ESPN

Gerrit Cole (7-3, 2.84 ERA) vs. Hyun-Jin Ryn (5-2, 2.69 ERA)***


Game 2: Saturday, April 3 | First Pitch: 1:05pm | TV: YES Network, MLB Network

Corey Kluber (0-0. 0.00 ERA) vs. Ross Stripling (3-3, 5.84 ERA LAD/TOR)TBD***


Game 3: Sunday, April 4 | First Pitch: 1:05pm | TV: YES Network

Domingo German (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. T.J. Zeuch (1-0, 1.59 ERA)***

***all stats from the 2020 season

Photo Credit: MLB.com

The Yankees and Blue Jays will send their aces to the mound to open up the 2021 season on Thursday afternoon in the Bronx.  Both Cole and Ryu were stellar in their first season with their new teams in the shortened 2020 season after signing huge free agent contracts.  Cole made 12 starts for the Bronx Bombers last year, his final two against these same Blue Jays.  Cole was lights out in both of those starts – going seven innings, allowing one run in both – and earned the win in each.  Ryu faced New York twice last year as well, going 1-0 in his two starts, but with more mixed results.  The Yankees pounded Ryu on September 7th, but that game will forever be remembered for the ten-run inning the Jays put up against the Yankees in a 12-7 win.  In Ryu’s other start on September 24 he was lights out, shutting out the Yankees over seven innings of work in a 4-1 Jays win.


Game two will feature a battle of veteran hurlers, with the Yankees will turning to free agent acquisition Corey Kluber who is coming off a lost 2020 season and Toronto having Ross Stripling toe the slab.  After being traded to his hometown Texas Rangers in the offseason, Kluber was expected to anchor the young Rangers staff, but was lost for the season after just a single inning of work in his first start, tearing his teres major muscle in his pitching shoulder.  After being shut down the remainder of the season and rehabbing his injury in the offseason, Kluber has looked healthy again and showed signs of his former self by going 1-1 in four spring starts with a 2.77 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 13.0 innings pitched.  He’ll be expected to hold down the number two spot in the New York rotation behind Cole all season.  Stripling was acquired midseason from the eventual champion Dodgers last year and made five appearances (two starts) for the Jays.  Never an overpowering type of pitcher, Stripling has played a swingman-type role his entire career. He pitched to a 3.77 ERA in four spring outings.


In game three, the Yankees will hand the ball to Domingo German.  German, too, had a lost 2020 season, serving out the remainder of his domestic violence suspension from the end of the 2019 season.  When we last saw German, he was finishing up a very strong first full season as a starter, going 18-4 with a 4.03 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 153 strikeouts over just 143.0 innings pitched.   Aaron Boone noted he was pleasantly surprised by how good German looked this spring and his performance earned him a spot in the rotation after coming into camp having to battle for the spot with Mike King and Deivi Garcia.  In four spring starts, German allowed just two runs, going 0-1 with a 1.38 ERA and racking up 17 Ks in just 13.0 innings of work.  He certainly has question marks coming back from a DV issue, but if German can remain out of the news this season and continue to perform well, he’ll be an important factor in the Yankees’ success.  Toronto hasn't yet announced their game three starter, but manager Charlie Montoya hinted at it being well-regarded RHP T.J. Zeuch. The former first round selection appeared for the Jays just three times in 2020 after also receiving a cup of coffee with the club in 2019.  Zeuch faced the Yankees in two of his three outings last year, going a combined 6.1 innings with three strikeouts and two earned runs allowed. 


What to Watch For:

Health, health, health – I hate that I must start with this, but few teams have been impacted as much as the Yankees have by injuries over the past few seasons.  The Yankees will open the season down Zack Britton (surgery to remove bone chips in his pitching elbow), Luke Voit (meniscus trim), Miguel Andujar (hand and wrist soreness) and Justin Wilson (shoulder tightness).  Britton is expected to return around midseason, while Wilson should be ready to go within a week or so after his injury didn’t require any special surgery or treatment.  Voit underwent surgery on his knee yesterday and will be shut down for three-to-four week.  We should expect him back in early May.  In his place, Jay Bruce was named the team’s primary first baseman.  Andujar was set to set to see a specialist this week and there is currently no timeline on his return.

Photo Credit: Steve Nesius/The Canadian Press


Budding rivalry
– While it seems the Tampa Bay Rays will be factors in the AL East again this year, and the Yankees will certainly seek revenge after the Rays eliminated them from the playoffs last year, the Toronto Blue Jays might be the biggest threat in the AL East race in 2021.  The question with the Blue Jays will always be surrounding their pitching, but after adding Marcus Semien and George Springer to an already loaded lineup, the Jays will bring a terrifying offense to the park each night.  If the can get some length out of their starters and their bullpen can maintain some level of consistency, the Yankees will have a battle on their hands all season long in the race for the AL East division crown.


Bombs away – With stacked lineups on both sides, this opening series could quickly become a fireworks display.  Toronto's young lineup will be anchored by Vlad Guerrero, Jr., Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel and Teoscar Hernandez, while the Yankees will rely on healthy and hot starts from big men Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.  DJ LeMahieu is a constant atop the New York lineup and Aaron Hicks has reported he's back to 100% strength after he battled through post-Tommy John Surgery side effects all of 2020.  Gleyber Torres ended spring training on fire and should be an impact bat in the middle of the lineup as well.  Toronto's big winter splash, free agent signing George Springer is expected to make a huge impact at the top of the Jays' batting order this year, but is currently dealing with an oblique strain and his status for Opening Day is doubtful.

Photo Credit: Anthony J. Causi/New York Post


Welcome back fans
– New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has currently approved 20% capacity for all outdoor venues in New York which means the Yankees will be allowed up to roughly 10,800 fans per game to start the season.  A negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination is required for entrance.  Watching games in empty ballparks felt so wrong last year and although we’re still months away from packed houses, getting fans back into the ballparks across America will be a welcome sight.


Preview by: Andrew Natalizio

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