The Yankees offense made it feel like 2020.
Which in 2021 is particularly offensive, although these Yankees certainly cannot be accused of being offensive during the first weekend of the season.
There were 10,066 spectators in the stadium on Easter Sunday, a packed hall with 20 percent capacity rules, and if you closed your eyes, it would have been easy to believe that this was another game played like 2020 with no fans. Such was the weak effort of the Yankees lineup. Such was the silencing effect of one unsuccessful at-bat after another.
“We didn’t gather much,” Aaron Boone said.
By losing the rubber game of this series 3-1 to the Blue Jays, the Yankees counted two deficiencies. During the first six innings he struck out only once, but was 1-for-10 with men on base and hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position. The Yankees then went up nine, down nine with five puffs in the last three innings.
So while they kept what was expected to be a fierce Toronto lineup to just three runs each game, the Yankees lost two of three to open 2021 because their own expected fierce lineup came into April more like lambs than lions. They lost two of three to a Toronto team playing without their key offseason acquisition, George Springer, who was out with an oblique injury. And they lost two of three with little offense, although Toronto used replacement starters Saturday (Ross Stripling) and Sunday (TJ Zeuch) with Robbie Ray and Nate Pearson injured.
“We had a bit of a cold weekend,” Boone said.
If this was just a “little bit” of a cold weekend, no Yankees fan should want to see a deep freeze. Even winning Saturday with five runs, the Yankees didn’t hit the ball particularly well.
This provided three more games of evidence that when the Yankees don’t pass the ball over a fence, they will have a hard time generating runs. Gary Sanchez hit two home runs to produce three runs. The Yankees’ other five runs this weekend came with RBI singles in the box by DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Hicks, a two-run single by Jay Bruce and a ground run by Brett Gardner.
A couple of timely punches and the Yankees could have swept this series. Instead, they were 4 of 24 (.167) without extra-base hits in the three games with runners in scoring position and 10 of 47 (.213) with men on base.
The culprits were many. One, Giancarlo Stanton, was given Sunday off because, Boone said, he didn’t want the frequently injured designated hitter to play five days in a row at the start of the season. But the biggest problem of all was the Aarons, Judge and Hicks, at numbers 2 and 3 of the lineup. They were 0 of 8 on Sunday and 4 of 26 on the series. The judge made another double play with the runners in scoring position. But he also burned a liner at 114.6 mph right next to second baseman Marcus Semien in his first at-bat.
Hicks had a weekend of one flaccid at-bat after another. He had one hit in 12 at-bats and that was a ground single from the glove of a downhill Semien.
Boone likes the ambidextrous Hicks at hole three for his skills on base and for offering the rare diversity of lefties in the lineup. But while walks are valuable, the third-place hitter must also be able to hit at a high level, and Hicks’ batting average has gone from .266 to .248, to .235 to .225 in the past four years. . He’s 1 of 12 this season.
When asked if he would consider taking Hicks out of the three holes, Boone said, “I’m always willing to mix things up.” But he added: “In the long run, Aaron Hicks will be fine.”
Boone felt that way about the entire lineup, citing the “good track record” on the order and the refusal to overreact to a series. Clint Frazier offered, “It’s just a matter of time with the lineup we have. … It’s going to click. No need to press the panic button. “
Yes, it was just a series, the first to welcome fans after a season of pandemics. The Yankees doused the comeback enthusiasm with one quiet at-bat after another. The silence it produced in the Stadium was a strong indicator of a lost weekend.