The Baltimore Orioles hammered the New York Yankees and C.C. Sabathia on Opening Day to the tune of a 10-5 defeat. Not much needs to be said about the game as a whole from the Yankees side. It was a sloppy performance from nearly every pitcher who hit the mound. But some good things happened for both ballclubs on the field that could prove interesting for both teams' chances this season. Some other scary developments appeared for both sides, as well. Let's start with the Orioles.
1) Adam Jones, OF. Jones is an incredible talent. He is a true five-tool prototype outfielder, but he is very young and people still question his ability to be patient at the plate. Yesterday he drew two walks in the process of reaching base in all five of his plate appearances. That may not sound like a big deal, but the kid only walked 23 times while logging 477 official at-bats last season. His selectiveness clearly paid off as he picked up three hits and knocked home two runs.
2) Nick Markakis, OF. Markakis is establishing himself as one of the premier outfielders in Major League Baseball. Not too much needs to be fixed about this guy's game, but he still is probably reaching his potential. A 2-for-4 performance with a couple of RBIs in the opener doesn't hurt.
3) Dennis Sarfate, Jim Johnson, George Sherrill, RPs. These three guys really put out the fire when the Yankees were making a comeback. The Yanks were down 6-1 after the fifth, but they struck back for two runs in each of the next two innings to make it a one-run game. Once Sarfate entered the game with one out in the seventh, it was lights out for the New York offense. They combined for 2.2 innings, one hit, two walks, one strikeout and most importantly, no runs to close the game out.
4) Cesar Izturis, SS. Izturis is a defensive whiz at the 6 position. He made a play in this game that changed the momentum. With the Orioles up 6-1 in the sixth, Jorge Posada homered, Robinson Cano walked, and Xavier Nady hit an RBI double. After two outs were recorded, Derek Jeter hit a ground ball up the middle that seemed destined for the outfield and an RBI. Izturis managed to stop the ball, and gun down Nady who had rounded third base too hard, assuming the ball would go through. Izturis proceeded to hit a two-run home run off of lefty Phil Coke to expand the lead to 8-5 in the four-run Baltimore eighth. Not bad for a guy who hit one home run last year. He also had a single in the third and scored a run.
5) Brian Roberts, 2B. Roberts is heading toward the end of his peak years, but Baltimore decided to keep him in the offseason. There was one moment in the offseason when a rumored Roberts-for-Gavin Floyd deal popped up, and I vociferously called for the O's to make the trade. Roberts went 3-for-4 with two runs, a walk and a double. If he has some superstar gas left in the tank, this group of kids that Baltimore is assembling could turn out to be impressive.
1) Jeremy Guthrie, SP. Though Guthrie cruised through the first five innings, he clearly ran out of gas in the sixth, when he gave up two runs before recording an out, and was saved from another by the aforementioned Izturis play. I wouldn't worry too much if I were a Baltimore fan, but they really need innings out of him this season if the bullpen is going to have a chance to gel and rest. I'd probably chalk it up to an early season adjustment that needs to be made.
2) Chris Ray, RP. Ray could turn the O's bullpen from a midlevel group to a plus group if he exhibits the kind of stuff he had as the team's closer. Yesterday, he gave up a two-run bomb to Hideki Matsui that pulled the Bombers within one. Not what the O's are hoping for from him in a close game.
3) Team performance. The Orioles basically blew a 6-1 lead, and could have easily lost last night's game despite a bad start from the opposing pitcher and a pretty good one from their own. Teams have to intimidate their opponents when they have a large lead. The Yankees clearly never felt out of the ballgame until Izturis' bomb. Holding leads is a big key for this team, especially considering the state of the pitching staff.
New York Yankees
1) Brett Gardner, OF. Gardner went 1-for-3 yesterday, which isn't overwhelming, but his speed had an impact. He nearly beat out a bunt, something I anticipate him doing a lot this year. He also succesfully sacrificed over some baserunners, executed a hit-and-run with Derek Jeter and threw out a runner at home plate. The Yankees could definitely use an intangibles guy, and the speedy little rookie looked the part yesterday.
2) Johnny Damon, OF. Damon went 2-for-3 yesterday with a triple. His slugging in that 2-hole could prove a real strength. With Jeter and Gardner ahead of him, he could be a serious X-factor in this lineup's production.
3) Derek Jeter, SS. If there is any need for an indicator of this player's importance to this team, just look at last season. Jeter slumps, the Yankees miss the postseason for the first time since he was called up late in 1995. The new leadoff hitter went 3-for-5 yesterday, and looked comfortable at the top of the order. The aforementioned hit-and-run with Gardner highlights a new solution for Jeter's propensity to hit into double plays. This section of the offense strikes me as potentially really good. Teixeira and A-Roid should have a lot of good chances.
4) Jorge Posada, C. Posada went 1-for-3 with a walk and a mammoth home run off of Jeremy Guthrie last night. With his injured shoulder last season he displayed almost no power. Seeing him comfortably cream a pitch off of a good pitcher yesterday made my little heart pitter-patter. Posada also gunned down the speedy Brian Roberts on a steal attempt yesterday, eliciting similar feelings of elation throughout New York. He also apparently made a good throw on Cesar Izturis' stolen base, despite C.C. Sabathia's notoriously slow time to home plate. What I said about Jeter's importance to the Yankees applies doubly to Posada because of the weak position that he plays and the fire he brings to the team.
5) Hideki Matsui, OF. Matsui only went 1-for-5 yesterday, which is not good. But he also hit a home run off of Chris Ray. Now that he is unfit to play the field, a lot relies on his ability to drive the ball and back up the two big boppers in the Yankees' lineup. He is a huge question mark because of the knee injuries he has sustained over the last couple of seasons, so seeing him hit a ball out is a very good sign for the Bombers.
Honorable Mention: Robinson Cano, 2B. Cano went 1-for-3 yesterday, but drew a walk. His batting average has dipped precipitously over the last 2 seasons, and the obvious reason is his lack of patience. If he can work the count, he could play a huge role on this team, because he sure can hit when he doesn't get himself out.
1) C.C. Sabathia, P. I have almost nothing to say about his performance. He struggled to throw strikes with his fastball and his breaking ball. He walked five batters, including one with the bases loaded, in 4.1 innings while allowing eight hits. He didn't strike anyone out. He looked uncomfortable in his mechanics and failed to bend his back on his release. It was just ugly. He has a reputation of blowing up in the playoffs, and I am officially concerned about his mental toughness. He can shut me up by dominating over his next several starts.
2) Mark Teixeira, 1B. 0-for-4 with a walk. The patience is nice, but without Alex Rodriguez for a month, the Yanks need Teixeira to not leave five runners on base. He needs to carry the load, and he looked uncomfortable yesterday. I am nowhere near as concerned about him, however, because I like his mentality and Atlanta and the Los Angeles Angels both relied on him down pennant runs before.
3) Phil Coke, Brian Bruney, RP. These two blew up in the eighth inning to squash a Yankee comeback. Coke was dominant last September and this spring. It was his second inning of work when Cesar Izturis took him deep, but that home run is simply unacceptable. The guy has no power, and it was a tight situation. Such things happen though, and I think the kid has a high ceiling. Final line: 1.2 innings, two runs, one walk, two hits, two strikeouts. Bruney, on the other hand, gave up two runs in .1 innings. He looked lost, walking two and giving up a hit. He is supposed to pitch for the Yanks in the eighth inning this year, and he did not look good yesterday. Jose Veras better be ready to step into his role if this continues.