The Orioles pitching staff extends batting practice into games. They provide a Fantasy Island-like ambience to opposing lineups — dreams come true.
Gleyber Torres has enjoyed the hospitality most, with 13 homers in his first 16 games against the Orioles — or as many as Jackie Bradley Jr., Marwin Gonzalez and Adam Jones have all season.
Facing these Orioles warps reality and distorts statistics. The Yankees enter Tuesday collectively hitting .301 with a 1.031 OPS, averaging 8.06 runs for the first 17 games against Baltimore this season. The Yankees are 15-2 in those games, and if Yankee fans are looking for an uplifting comparison, this is akin to what the Red Sox did against the Orioles last year en route to a title.
Boston hit .295 with a .920 OPS, averaging 6.68 runs per game in amassing a 16-3 record against Baltimore in 2018. The Yanks went a very good 12-7 against those Orioles. But this was partially how the Red Sox created a gap to win the AL East despite the Yankees’ 100-victory season.
But for the Yankees, the reason to feel good about their offense is not tied up in bludgeoning one of the worst pitching staffs in history. It’s that this lineup has produced even after subtracting the Orioles.
The Yankees are averaging an MLB-best 5.96 runs per game. Remove Baltimore and the Yankees are at 5.61, which would still be third in the majors (thanks to Lee Sinins of MLB Network research).
The Yankees were averaging an outrageous 3.47 homers per game against the Orioles. It was 1.53 vs. all others, not far off the 1.65 last year when they set the major league homer record.
The latest report card for this batting order follows the Orioles, when the Yankees take a U-turn away from Fantasy Island. The next three series — 10 games — are against the Indians, A’s and Dodgers. Los Angeles led the majors in ERA by better than two-tenths of a run, the Indians were third and the A’s sixth. The Dodgers ranked second in surrendering the fewest homers per nine innings, the A’s were third and the Indians sixth.
The Indians, who are in the Bronx for four games over the weekend, had the best second-half ERA (2.89) in the majors. The Yanks’ nine-game West Coast trip has three at Dodger Stadium in the middle, where L.A. starters’ ERA was 2.54 — eight-tenths of a run better than any other rotation.
This will offer the Yankees a touch of October in August, another chance to gauge if their offense will handle a playoff season that distinctly will not include the Orioles. So far the Yankees lineup has handled all comers well. They had a streak of not being shut out of 202 games that stretches back to last season.
But for the Yankees, their distribution has been better this year than it was last season. Remember that if you score two runs and 10 runs, the average is six runs, but you are probably a .500 team because you lose most times you score two. In 2018, even while racking up those 100 wins, the Yanks were held to three runs or fewer 28.4 percent of the time. It was 23.3 percent this year.
Part of that reflects that run scoring is up this year overall. But the Yankees have just made themselves a tougher offense to hold down inning after inning for two reasons: 1) there are just no soft spots and 2) they have added batting average while not losing power.
The Yankees had 14 players with more than 160 plate appearances (no one else had more than 79). Of those 14, a dozen had an OPS-plus of 103 or better. Remarkably none were Miguel Andujar or Giancarlo Stanton, who tied for second in Yankee OPS-plus last year at 131 (minimum 160 plate appearances).
Among players with 325 plate appearances, two new Yankee additions, DJ LeMahieu (.338) and Gio Urshela (.332), ranked 1-2 in the AL in average (Urshela was 21 plate appearances shy of qualifying). The Yankee collective average was .271 this year compared to .249 in 2018 (.266 this year vs. the non-Orioles). The additional batting average has provided different ways to score without homers and to get on base in front of the homers.
Essentially the Yankees have had a long lineup with a greater variety of ways to generate runs. That has enabled them to live well on Fantasy Island. But the Orioles disappear from the 2019 schedule for good after Wednesday. And we will see if this offense can maintain the fantasy.
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