Takeaways From Yankees Opening Weekend Sweep of Astros

Takeaways From Yankees Opening Weekend Sweep of Astros

After four straight wins in Houston, the New York Yankees are off to their best start in 21 years. That 2003 team finished first in the AL East, sporting a 101-61 record, and included future Hall of Fame inductees Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Mike Mussina. That Yankees team would eventually compete in the World Series and was bested in six games by the Florida Marlins, led by Ivan Rodriguez.

The 2024 Yankees roster is led by Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, and Gerrit Cole (who is currently on the 60-day IL); but so far, the Yankees have seen a lot of production from players that you may not expect.

Oswaldo Cabrera: Next Man Up

Known primarily as a highly versatile super-utility bench piece, Oswaldo Cabrera hasn’t seen much major league success until now. Before entering the 2024 season, Cabrera had only batted .223 over two seasons while being bounced back and forth from the minors. He has always shown the willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team win games and has played in both the infield and outfield to fill gaps in the lineup created by injuries. It looked like that would be his role this season too, as DJ LeMahieu began the season on the IL due to a fracture in his foot; but Cabrera has made the most of his opportunity so far. Cabrera has gone 7-16 at the plate with two timely home runs, six RBI, and has a 1.346 OPS heading into the next series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Cabrera is bound to cool off a bit as the season progresses, but his recent success at the plate should not be overlooked. It will be interesting to see if this will in fact be Cabrera’s breakout season in the majors. Will he finally cement his place on the major league roster? Only time will tell. The ride has been a fun one regardless.

Juan Soto: Performing as Advertised

The Yankees made a blockbuster trade during the off-season to acquire Juan Soto from the San Diego Padres before beginning his last season before hitting free agency, and he continues to be one of the top two or three hitters in baseball. Soto will carry a 1.365 OPS heading into the next series after batting 9-17 with one eventual game-winning homerun and four RBI. Soto’s defensive abilities have been called into question over the years, but he has made some key plays already this season. On Opening Day, the right fielder saved the game with his arm, gunning down the Astros’ Mauricio Dubón at home plate in the ninth inning of a 5-4 win.

Soto brings more star power to a team already led by 2022 AL MVP Aaron Judge and 2023 Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole. While these three players will likely navigate the success of the team later in the season, the performances of other key pieces will likely determine if the Yankees finally make it over the hump for the first time since 2009.

Anthony Volpe: A New Philosophy

Anthony Volpe‘s first full season in the majors was highlighted by stellar defensive play, which resulted in the rookie shortstop winning a Gold Glove, and lowlighted with his struggles to get on base. Volpe finished the 2023 season batting just over the Mendoza line at .209, with a .283 OBP, while swatting 21 home runs with 24 stolen bases. If the first series against the Astros is an indicator, then it seems that the script has been flipped as Volpe embraces his new approach at the plate.

Volpe played in three of four games, missing the most recent one due to a stomach illness, and has made the most of his opportunities at the plate. Regularly working at-bats to full counts, Volpe has reached first base on 8-14 of his plate appearances. He has also taken advantage of RISP with two RBI (one of those coming off of a walk) and enters the game later tonight sporting a 1.371 OPS.

Starting Rotation: Keeping the Team in the Game

The Yankees’ starting rotation has been solid. There hasn’t been a dominating performance as of yet unless you want to count newcomer Marcus Stroman‘s six-inning and four-strikeout effort where he allowed zero earned runs. Nestor Cortes struggled during the first inning of Opening Day, allowing the Astros to jump ahead to a three-run lead, but quickly settled down and never let the game get too far out of hand. Carlos Rodón had a quick outing where fans saw him give up five hits and the Astros only ran over 4.1 innings. Clarke Schmidt allowed seven hits and three runs while striking out five batters, initially looking excellent before breaking down a bit during the third time through the order.

While none of these pitching performances were “exceptional”, they have been “good enough”; especially with a high-powered bullpen to pick up the slack.

Bullpen: A Hidden Strength

While the bullpen doesn’t traditionally get much ink, it can often make or break a team. The Yankees finished the 2023 season with the lowest bullpen ERA in the majors, partially due to the success of anchors like Michael King, Wandy Peralta, and Clay Holmes. Although King and Peralta now play in San Diego as a result of the Juan Soto trade, the bullpen hasn’t skipped a beat.

In four games so far this season, the Yankees bullpen hasn’t allowed a run and is driven by Ian Hamilton, Caleb Ferguson, Johnathan Loaisiga, and Clay Holmes who has secured three saves in four games. Clayton Beeter, Luke Weaver, Victor Gonzalez, and Nick Burdi have also made meaningful appearances. If the Yankees hope to go far into October, then they will lean on the strength of their bullpen which is led by renowned pitching coach, Matt Blake.

Looking Ahead

The Yankees will face the 2023 NL Champion Diamondbacks who have three wins after facing off against the Rockies in a series of four over the weekend. This will be an excellent opportunity to see how the new-look Yankees matchup against a young and scrappy team led by its emerging star, Corbin Carroll. The first game of the series will begin at 9:40 PM EST at Chase Field and will be televised via MLB Extra Innings and YES Network.

Jacob P.M.

Covering the New York Yankees - Find me on X/Twitter: @JacobBSpeaks

One thought on “Takeaways From Yankees Opening Weekend Sweep of Astros”

  1. Excellent points. You hit on the 5 keys to Yankees success so far in 2024. Soto, Cabrera, Volpe, Starters, Bullpen.

    Verdugo has also been a welcome addition and the return to health of Judge and Rizzo will be huge factors going forward. And Gleyber is off to a slow start but will be a key factor.

    The return of King Cole and the exciting debut of Jasson Dominguez plus additional key bullpen players coming to health, and a promising stable of top young pitching prospects make this team formidable.

    Exciting.

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