clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A Feast of O’s: The Yankees Are Fueling Their Success by Eviscerating the Orioles

The injured Bronx Bombers are making a mockery of the Birds this season. And it may be the difference in the AL East come September.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

When the Baltimore Orioles took two of three games against the Yankees in the opening series of the MLB season in late March, it was akin to David beating Goliath. Since that series, the Yankees have been mightily hobbled, but it hasn’t stopped them from crushing David’s skull in the rematches.

Since Baltimore won that series in March, the Yankees and Orioles have played nine games, and the Yankees have won them all—they’re 10-2 against Baltimore after finishing a four-game sweep on Thursday. But the Yankees haven’t just beaten the Orioles—they’ve eviscerated them. The combined score of those 12 games was 86-50. The Yankees have more home runs against Baltimore this season (36) than the Marlins have home runs this season (32). New York has the fifth-most home runs in the league, but take away those 36 against Baltimore and they’d have the third-fewest. Their home run rate against the Orioles projected across a 162-game season would give them a casual 486 home runs, or 219 more than the 267 dingers they hit in 2018, which was the most home runs in a single season for any team in MLB history.

The Yankees came into Camden Yards like a wrecking ball. Entering Wednesday, they had 20 home runs in their last five games in Baltimore, the best mark in a five-game stretch for any team in any road park ever.

That streak of three-plus home runs snapped Thursday, when the Yankees hit merely two in their 6-5 win. The game brought the Yankees’ slugging percentage in Camden Yards down to .682 this season, a shade below Babe Ruth’s career (and all-time high) mark of .690. In other words, the Yankees playing in gray in Baltimore have basically been playing with nine Babe Ruths.

The only person that isn’t true of is 22-year-old second-year shortstop Gleyber Torres, who has been far better than Ruth could have dreamed. Torres’s splits against Baltimore vs. every other opponent this year is staggering. His destruction of Baltimore is best highlighted by his home run totals: 10 against the Orioles and two against the rest of the league.

Gleyber Torres Against Baltimore

Gleyber Torres 2019 vs. Baltimore vs. Everyone Else
Gleyber Torres 2019 vs. Baltimore vs. Everyone Else
G 12 35
AB 43 145
HR 10 2
RBI 13 13
R 16 12
H 20 34
BB 7 4
BA 0.465 0.250
OBP 0.54 0.273
SLG 1.233 0.353

(Outfielder Clint Frazier also has two career multi-homer games, both against Baltimore this year.)

Torres’s numbers are so silly that they invoke the names of past Yankees greats. As Benjamin Hoffman of The New York Times noted, no player has dominated another team so thoroughly since Joe DiMaggio against the St. Louis Browns, who would eventually become the Orioles, in 1936. Torres has been on such a torrid pace that he has an outside shot to break the record for home runs against a team in a single season (14), set by Lou Gehrig, also in 1936. And Torres and Gary Sánchez have already slotted in as the only two players all time with more than eight home runs against an opponent before June.

The Baltimore Orioles, who went 47-115 last year, are nobody’s idea of a contender (and some would say an MLB team). With owner Peter Angelos transitioning power of the team due to his declining health, the Orioles commenced a firesale last season and got rid of so many players—Manny Machado, Zack Britton, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, and others—that catcher Caleb Joseph’s son had nobody to play with at the team’s day care. First baseman Chris Davis, who picked up where he left off last year and started the season with the longest hitless streak in MLB history, has an outside chance to be the Orioles’ All-Star selection due to the rule that mandates every team send at least one player to the game. It’s unlikely Baltimore can send anyone from its pitching staff, which became the fastest to give up 100 home runs in a season in MLB history.

The Yankees’ domination over Baltimore isn’t just a bunch of small-sample-size fun facts—it’s sustained them for the first two months of the season. Whether you count by quantity, quality, or cash, the Yankees have been among the most injured baseball teams of the 21st century. The team currently has 13 players on the injured list (!), by far the most in MLB, and that list includes Aaron Judge and the mighty Giancarlo Stanton—the last two players to hit 50 home runs in a season—and four of their top five starting pitchers in Luis Severino, James Paxton, CC Sabathia, and Jordan Montgomery. While Sánchez and Masahiro Tanaka, who was the starting pitcher on Thursday, have mercifully returned from injury recently, more players have either come back to the field only to get rehurt (Miguel Andújar, who was shut down for the year last week) or stayed beyond the initial timeline (Stanton, Dellin Betances, and Jacoby Ellsbury, who hasn’t played since 2017 and is so far from a return that his locker has been given away).

The Yankees injuries aren’t just big names—they’re producers. Since 2002, only one other team had ever had their injured list worth 20 wins of combined WAR from the previous season (in case you’re wondering, it was the 2017 Nationals, who maxed out with 21.1 WAR worth of players on their IL). By mid-April, the Yankees shattered that figure with their injured list adding up to a combined 32.8 wins the previous season (!), by far the highest ever recorded, according to research by The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh. In 2018, 32.8 wins was close to the difference between the team with the best record, the Red Sox (108 wins), and the team with the 20th-best record, the New York Mets (77 wins).

If WAR doesn’t paint the picture, perhaps money will. Of New York’s $210.5 million payroll, $91.9 million of it is allotted to players currently on the injured list—more than the Orioles spent on their entire team. The “R” in WAR stands for “replacement” player, and rarely has a team truly tested the concept quite like the Yankees, who have relied on Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, Tyler Wade, Mike Ford, and Thairo Estrada. Every Yankees fan will admit they had to Google at least one of those guys to confirm they were real and not CGI’d onto their TVs.

It would be understandable if the Yankees were floundering. Instead, they’re flourishing. The Bronx Bombers are in first place in the AL East and fourth in the league in run differential. They can thank the Orioles for helping them get through this stretch. A front-loaded schedule against Baltimore’s pitching staff, which has the worst ERA in baseball, could not have come at a better time.

As Chris Mascaro pointed out on Twitter, the Yankees were a combined 18-4 against last-place teams (the Orioles, Mariners, Royals, and Giants) before Thursday’s win against Baltimore, but 13-13 against the rest of the league. Pinstriped great whites feasting on minnows seems like business as usual, but the extent to which the strong dominate the weak can often be the difference at the top. In 2018, the Yankees went 23-14 against last-place teams, while Boston went 31-5. That’s a difference of 8.5 games, and Boston won the division by eight. Goliath beating up on David can make all the difference.