The Yankees will look to avenge last year’s unceremonious one-game playoff exit when they host the team that eliminated them, the Astros, on Opening Day Monday afternoon.
Masahiro Tanaka will get the starting nod in Game 1 of 162. Tanaka struggled this spring, posting a 7.36 ERA on 16 hits in four starts (11 IP) before “dialing it up” (per Joe Girardi’s request) against the Phillies last Tuesday. He allowed seven more hits, but all involved are encouraged that Tanaka is ready for the season.
“He wanted to go out and have a good outing,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild told ESPN. “You could see it demeanor-wise…I think overall it was pretty good.”
Michael Pineda (12-10, 4.36 ERA in 2015) is a strong candidate to be the second starter. He’s shown flashes of brilliance in two seasons in the Bronx, but has frustrated more often than he’s invigorated.
Nathan Eovaldi, likely the Yankees’ third man in the rotation, was among the most well-supported starters in baseball last year. So while his 14-3 record might be an aberration (he had a 4.20 ERA), he could still be a productive innings-eater.
Luis Severino dazzled in 11 starts last year, and has earned a spot on the big league roster with his stellar spring performance (16.1 IP, 2-0, 3.86 ERA, 19 Ks, 1.10 WHIP). He could move up the hierarchy as the season progresses, but for now the Yankees will probably slot him fourth.
C.C. Sabathia and Ivan Nova have had a highly-publicized battle for the fifth spot, but they could wind up splitting that duty as the season progresses. Sabathia will be put in the rotation for now.
The Bombers’ bullpen promises to overwhelm opponents, but they will start the campaign shorthanded. Aroldis Chapman, who will serve a 30-game suspension before joining the club on May 9, is expected to be the closer after thriving in that role in Cincinnati the last four seasons. Last year’s closer, Andrew Miller, will tough it out despite a broken bone on his non-throwing hand.
“I can’t imagine not playing because of something on my right hand," Miller said.
Whether or not Miller is available, Dellin Betances will have to step up and carry an otherwise unproven relief core.
There’s not much variance from the lineup that produced the league’s second-highest runs per game average (4.7) last season, but the one new face is an important one. Starlin Castro, who replaces Stephen Drew at second base, is a career .281 hitter with multiple All-Star game selections for the Cubs in six seasons. Castro has mostly played shortstop, but he’s shown throughout Spring Training that he’s capable of handling the other side of the second base bag. He could occupy the nine-hole, serving as a “second leadoff” while protecting the light-hitting Didi Gregorious.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner should fill the first two spots in the order. Ellsbury started strong in 2015 before injuries derailed him, while Gardner garnered his first All-Star selection last year.
The heart of the order will involve a combination of Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann. All four are advanced in age but clubbed a staggering total of 109 home runs in 2015.
Chase Headley, likely to be burdened with a heavy workload at third base because there’s no true backup for him on the team, rounds out the lineup.