Annually you promise not to overreact. But you annually promise not to pay attention to spring training, but there are the games and there are the results and the stats and …
So it is with Opening Day. You know, win or lose, that there are still 161 games left – and, yes, gloriously this year we are back to 161 left – but then the first game is played and nothing looks quite as bad as 0-1 after all the anticipation. Then an off-day arrives to provide further time to marinate in it, and rational thought joins the T-Rex and the woolly mammoth on the extinct list.
So after the 2021 Yankees fell 3-2 in 10 innings Thursday to the Blue Jays to drop to an unsightly, ghastly, unacceptable 0-1, just take a deep breath for a quick history lesson, at least for the three decades I have covered the Yankees as a beat writer or columnist.
In 1990, not only did the Yankees win the season opener – they began 2-0. They went on to have the franchise’s worst record since 1913. Buck Showalter’s first Yankee team in 1992 began 6-0 and produced the organization’s last losing record. They have had 28 winning seasons since. Their opening record in those years: 15-13.
The Yankees three-peated from 1998-2000 and lost the opener twice. In fact, in 1998 they were 0-3 and 1-4 and there was a Joe Torre Watch. Yeah, I am not proud of my participation. If you need the info, the 1998 Yankees won 114 games. The last time the Yankees won the World Series, in 2009, they gave up 17 runs in dropping the first two games of the regular season to an Oriole squad that would go on to lose 98 times.
I get that 0-1 – especially followed by an off-day – looks like a cow in a Speedo: just not appealing to the eye. But of the six teams roundly projected for the most victories in 2021 who played Thursday, only the Padres won their opener. The Dodgers, Yankees, Braves, White Sox and Twins all fell to – shield your eyes – 0-1. You know who won openers? The Pirates, Tigers and Rockies. Projection systems have those teams at 60-something wins.
The Rockies actually beat the defending champ Dodgers, who one esteemed Los Angeles columnist predicted would be “the best team in baseball history.” So if Los Angeles is going to register the most wins ever, it now has to go into overdrive at 117-44 the rest of the way.
I would bet on the Dodgers being great this year – 0-1 and all. And my expectation is that the Yankees are the best team in the AL East, even at 0-1.
But I will let you in on a tenet of my coverage: the better I think you are going to be (player or team), the more critical my viewpoint. It is the backend compliment. News is generally what you don’t expect. So I am constantly scrutinizing why this player or team anticipated to be excellent would not be.
It is not difficult to unearth with these Yankees. They displayed key shortcomings on Opening Day, notably that Gleyber Torres is an inadequate shortstop and their heavily righty-leaning lineup can appear so meek when it does not get the ball out of the park or power righty relief overwhelms them. But this is not new. These have been recent Yankee deficiencies overcome to be at least high-end contenders by waves of talent.
The Yanks still have the talent. But for much of the last few decades I do annually search for why this year could be 1965. That season, the Yanks still had Mantle and Ford and Maris, but their record 39 straight winning seasons ended. The Yankees are in the midst of the second longest streak ever.
And I will spend the season inspecting if it will crumble because of the defense of Torres and catcher Gary Sanchez, the uncertain starting rotation behind Gerrit Cole and if the righty lineup has gone the wrong way (is Aaron Judge still a force?).
But those were going to be the questions 1-0 or 0-1.