The Toronto Blue Jays open the 2018 season Thursday afternoon against the AL East-favoured New York Yankees and their new murderers’ row of Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez.
For a while there, the New York Yankees weren’t actually acting like the “Evil Empire” as called by then-Boston Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino infamously in 2002. By that, Lucchino meant that the Yankees were not only great but had all the money in the world to buy any player they wanted.
From 2013-16, though, the Yankees never won more than 87 games and made the playoffs just once, losing in the 2015 wild-card game. Is the “Evil Empire” dead? Uh, no. This franchise is back among the elite in baseball as evidenced last season’s trip to the ALCS (losing in seven games to Houston) and then the huge trade this offseason in landing Miami Marlins slugger and reigning MLB home-run king Giancarlo Stanton for really not much other than eating most of the money left on his $325 million (U.S.) contract. Not to mention, New York has one of the best farm systems in the majors. It will be a goliath again for years.
Yankees vs. Blue Jays Player Props
Stanton hit a career-high 59 homers last year on the way to NL MVP honors while playing half his games in pitcher-friendly park in Miami. Now he and reigning AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, who led the AL with an MLB rookie-record 52 bombs, form the scariest 1-2 power punch in MLB. On Sports Interaction’s season props, Stanton is the +300 favourite to lead the majors in homers again and Judge is No. 2 at +500. Stanton is given a total of 45.5 (under a slight favourite) and Judge 38.5 (over a -130 favourite). They are also among AL MVP leaders.
Let’s not forget catcher/DH Gary Sanchez, who has hit 53 home runs in 177 career big-league games, the fourth most ever by any player through that many games. New York is -146 to win the AL East and second on the pennant odds at +298 behind Houston.
Yankees vs. Blue Jays Probable Pitchers
Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ, who is up for free agency this offseason and could be a trade candidate should Toronto struggle into the summer, gets the honor of facing the power-laden Yankees lineup first. Happ was a Cy Young candidate in 2016 and not quite as strong last year but still a very solid 10-11 with a 3.53 ERA. He was 4-7 with a 3.36 ERA in 13 home starts. Happ was 2-0 against the Yankees with a 1.54 ERA and just eight hits allowed with 11 strikeouts in 11.2 innings. This will be the first Opening Day start of Happ’s career.
Stanton is 2-for-9 career off Happ with a homer and two strikeouts. Judge is 2-for-7 with a solo homer and five Ks. Sanchez is 2-for-9 with a round-tripper. New York already has been hit by the injury bug with starting first baseman Greg Bird out 6-8 weeks due to right ankle surgery. Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury also starts the season on the DL.
It’s 2017 All-Star right-hander Luis Severino for the Yankees. The 24-year-old was 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA that was third in the American League. His 230 strikeouts were fourth and he finished third in the Cy Young voting. Severino led all MLB starters in average fastball velocity (97.5 mph). He has a 3.60 ERA in 20 career innings at the Rogers Centre. Overall, he was 0-1 with a 4.97 ERA in two starts vs. Toronto in 2017.
Jays All-Star first baseman Justin Smoak hammers Severino in his career, going 5-for-12 with a homer and five knocked in. Josh Donaldson, starting perhaps his last season in a Blue Jays uniform, is 2-for-10 with a homer off Severino. Devon Travis is 3-for-7 with a double.
Yankees at Blue Jays Prediction
New York 5, Toronto 3