Opposite dugout: With high expectations, Yankees stars off to sluggish start

yankees-logo.jpgManager: Aaron Boone (1st season)

Record: 4-2

Last 10 games: 4-2

Who to watch (2017 stats): OF/DH Giancarlo Stanton (59 HR, 132 RBIs with 1.007 OPS), RF Aaron Judge (52 HR, 114 RBIs with 1.049 OPS), C Gary Sánchez (33 HR, 90 RBIs), LHP CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA), LHP Aroldis Chapman (3.22 ERA, 22 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (12-7 in 2017)

Pitching probables:

April 5: RHP Andrew Cashner vs. RHP Masahiro Tanaka, 6:35 p.m., MASN
April 6: RHP Kevin Gausman vs. LHP CC Sabathia, 7:05 p.m., MASN
April 7: RHP Chris Tillman vs. RHP Sonny Gray, 1:05 p.m., MASN
April 8: RHP Mike Wright Jr. vs. LHP Jordan Montgomery, 1:05 p.m., MASN

Inside the Yankees:

Do you hear that? That is the sound of a thousand terrible things coming from the Bronx. Or perhaps it's "The Imperial March" echoing throughout the American League East. Take your pick from my "Star Wars" references, but the point is the Evil Empire is back as a formidable foe.

The Yankees were supposed to be in rebuild mode after missing the playoffs in 2016 and finishing fourth in the division. But they may have arrived a year early when they came within a game of reaching the World Series last season, thanks to Aaron Judge's breakout performance en route to being unanimously voted as the AL Rookie of the Year and finishing second in MVP voting. So what did the Yankees do over the offseason to improve their already impressive roster?

First of all, they did not retain skipper Joe Girardi after 10 seasons with six playoff appearances, three division titles and a World Series championship. They of course then added the National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton (and his massive contract). Stanton and the Yankees stole the show at December's Winter Meetings when Yankee great-turned-Marlins CEO and partial owner Derek Jeter traded the All-Star outfielder to his former club. Stanton is coming off a season in which he led the majors with 59 home runs and 132 RBIs. He hit two home runs with four RBIs in his Yankees debut on opening day in Toronto. But he's 2-for-18 in his five games since, including a five-strikeout performance in his first game at Yankee Stadium that drew loud boos from the home crowd. To which he then responded with a monster two-run shot in his first at-bat Wednesday ... and then three more strikeouts.

As for Judge, he finally went deep for the first time on Wednesday after his 52-homer, 114-RBI season last year. He is just 6-for-21 with just two extra-base hits in the first six games, but let's see how he settles in to his home ballpark, where he hit 33 home runs in 2017. Catcher Gary Sánchez and new second baseman Neil Walker are also off to slow starts. After knocking 33 home runs and 90 RBIs last season, Sánchez is just 2-for-23 this year. Walker is 4-for-17. But shortstop Didi Gregorius is off to a good start, especially after his 4-for-4 day on Tuesday with two homers, a double, three runs scored and eight RBIs, which are the most in a single game by a shortstop in franchise history (insert your Jeter jokes here).

First-time manager and Yankees legend Aaron Boone will be alternating righties and lefties during this four-game series in New York. Masahiro Tanaka takes the ball for tonight's 6:35 p.m. start. After finishing 13-12 with a 4.74 ERA in 2017, the right-hander enjoyed a nice season debut against the Blue Jays, striking out eight over six innings of one-run ball. In eight career starts against the Orioles, Tanaka is 2-2 with a 3.58 ERA. Now in his 18th season, CC Sabathia will make his 42nd start against the Orioles when he takes the mound Friday night. He is 19-10 with a 3.65 ERA in his career against the Birds. The southpaw gave up just two runs (one earned) over five innings in his season debut. Sonny Gray starts Saturday's afternoon game for the second start of his first full season with the Yankees. Acquired from the A's at last year's trade deadline, Gray went 4-7 with a 3.72 ERA in 11 starts with the Yankees in 2017. In six career starts against the Orioles, he is 2-4 with a 5.28 ERA. Left-hander Jordan Montgomery starts the series finale and is coming off an impressive rookie campaign, where he finished 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA in 29 starts. He made five starts against the Orioles last year, going 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA.

After being traded twice in seven months back in 2015-16, closer Aroldis Chapman is back for his second full season in the Bronx. He has made three appearances so far this year, giving up just one run but recording the save in his second outing against the Blue Jays. In 8 2/3 innings over nine appearances against the Orioles, Chapman has only allowed five hits and two runs (one earned). The one earned run? A Luke Scott home run back in 2011.

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