A bevy of injuries to some of their best players isn’t stopping the Yankees from expecting to erase the sour taste of losing to the hated Red Sox in the American League Division Series a year ago.
“We won 100 games last year and we’re even better than we were last year,’’ Giancarlo Stanton said Wednesday before a Yankee Stadium workout in front of Thursday’s Opening Day assignment against the Orioles. “So, that’s a great thing to come into a season. We’ve got to feed off it. We have to put it together.’’
At the start there are key players missing who must not only return from the injured list, but be productive when they do.
Staff ace Luis Severino is joined on the IL by center fielder/leadoff hitter Aaron Hicks, stud setup reliever Dellin Betances, veteran lefty CC Sabathia and shortstop Didi Gregorius, the Yankees’ best overall player last year.
According to Aaron Boone, losing in seven games to the Astros in the 2017 ALCS, when Joe Girardi was managing, and getting bounced from the ALDS in four games by the Red Sox last October have stoked his second Yankees club.
“I’d like to think we are hungry regardless of the results from last year, but there is no doubt about that, especially for a lot of these guys going back now a couple of years. They have had some really good teams here that have been close,” Boone said Wednesday. “The disappointment of it ending, when you feel like you have a team capable of greatness, I think it does add a log to the fire. It does add a little extra kick to wanting this to get done and I think that adds to everyone’s hunger a little bit.’’
The Yankees initially were going to start Severino on Thursday, but he landed on the injured list, before throwing a pitch in a spring training game, with an inflamed right rotator cuff. That forced them to switch to Masahiro Tanaka, who will make his fourth career Opening Day start.
Right-hander Andrew Cashner, who went 4-15 with a 5.29 ERA in 28 starts last year with the Orioles in his first stab at the muscular AL East, will start for the visitors. He was 1-2 with a 4.26 ERA versus the Yankees a year ago.
Asked about facing a faceless Orioles lineup, Tanaka was diplomatic.
“I have gone through the lineup and obviously there are new faces,’’ said Tanaka, who is 4-3 with a 3.72 ERA in 12 career starts against the Orioles and 3-2 with a 2.76 in seven games at the Stadium. He is 0-2 with a 9.49 ERA in three Opening Day starts. “In my mind I am trying to figure strategy to get guys out.’’
Tanaka didn’t want to share with the public what that strategy was because “it would work against me,’’ he said.
With Severino out, Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ have enough to smother an Orioles lineup whose best-known player is Chris Davis. He hit .168 with 16 homers and 49 RBIs in 128 games and fanned 192 times last year. And he has $92 million coming to him across the next four seasons.
Opening Day doesn’t count any more than a game next week or in late September, yet it marks the beginning of another six-month season and provides results that can be dissected, instead of spring training numbers.
“The first days, first week of the season we all kind of tend to overreact to everything,’’ Boone said. “You like to see guys get first things out of the way whether that is a hit, an extra-base hit, getting into the flow of the season early on.’’
And having the Orioles in The Bronx makes that a lot easier.
— Additional reporting by Dan Martin and Ken Davidoff
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