Yankees Thoughts: Wonderful Opening Weekend

The Yankees opened the season with a four-game sweep of the Astros in Houston.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. The beginning of the 2024 schedule worried me. Four games in Houston against a team that has been to seven straight ALCS and that has owned the Yankees followed by three games against the defending National League champions in Arizona? I would have gladly signed up for a 4-3 start to the year, and even going 3-4 would have been acceptable. After four games in Houston, the Yankees are 4-0.

2. The odds of the Yankees sweeping the four-game series in Houston were close to zero and in the fifth inning on Opening Day I was already trying to think about how the season-opening road trip could be salvaged and not end in complete disaster. But not only did the Yankees win all four games in Houston, they won all four in memorable fashion. On Opening Day, the Yankees erased a four-run deficit. In the second game, they trailed 1-0 through six before scoring seven runs in the final three innings. In the third game, they used a three-run seventh to overcome a two-run hole and in the series finale, they got to the Astros’ superstar closer — the highest-paid reliever of all time. The Yankees are 4-0 and the Astros are 0-4. That may be my most favorite sentence I have ever written.

3. At some point in the four games, every single position player had a moment. Gleyber Torres had the single that led to his go-ahead run on Sunday. Aaron Judge had the double off Ryan Pressly on Thursday and came around to scored the game-tying run. Anthony Rizzo had four hits, two walks and an extremely important hit by pitch. Giancarlo Stanton hit a home run on Friday and added a big double on Sunday. Alex Verdugo hit the go-ahead sacrifice fly on Thursday. Jose Trevino got the three-run rally started on Opening Day. Austin Wells had a pair of hits and two impressive walks. Anthony Volpe provided tough at-bat after tough at-bat in what has been and a complete turnaround from the hitter he was last year. Jon Berti provided a go-ahead RBI single (and later saved the game with his glove on Sunday) in his first Yankees start. Oswaldo Cabrera had two home runs, seven hits and spent the weekend tying games or giving the Yankees a lead. And then there’s Juan Soto.

4. I could write 10,000 words gushing over Soto’s play every game. Here is some of what I wrote about him after Opening Day:

Soto was the Yankees’ first baserunner of the game, drove in the first run of the game, added a second walk and threw out the would-be game-tying run in the bottom of the ninth. This wasn’t a one-game blip. This is who he is. He’s the best hitter with the base eye in baseball. A 25-year-old superstar. Not a generational superstar, but an all-time superstar, who has achieved more italicized bold on his Baseball Reference page by age 25 than the rest of the roster has combined.

He followed up his Opening Day performance by going 8-for-14 with a double, home run and walk in the next three games. His home run off Bryan Abreu on Saturday gave the Yankees a late lead, and the at-bat he had against Josh Hader on Sunday did the same. Soto may be the only hitter in the world capable of doing what he did against Hader in that spot against those pitches.

5. “Tip your cap,” Hader said. “You can always say you can throw another pitch, but I executed what I wanted to do, and a good hitter is going to do that sometimes.”

Excuse me, Josh. A “good” hitter? How about the “best” hitter? And how does a 15-year, $1.5 billion contract sound? That’s what I would offer the 25-year-old Soto. Not even Aaron Boone allowing Clarke Schmidt to face the top of the Astros’ order a third time could keep the Yankees from winning with Soto. Not even Clay Holmes doing everything he could to blow multiple games this weekend could keep the Yankees from winning with Soto.

6. The Yankees looked like the 2017-2023 Astros and the Astros looked like the 2017-2023 Yankees over the weekend. Would I feel confident with the Yankees playing the Astros in a postseason series? Of course not. But for these last four days, the roles in this one-sided rivalry were finally reversed.

“You don’t really play playoff games in March,” Schmidt said. “But this was a big-time series and a big-time sweep.”

These games did feel like playoff games, or maybe that’s just because I forgot what the playoffs feel like after a postseason-less October last year. Opening Day always feels like a playoff game no matter the opponent, and that was heightened this year because of the opponent. But then Games 2, 3 and 4 also felt like playoff games because of the opponent, which isn’t normally the case.

And this was a “big-time series” and a “big-time sweep.” The four-game sweep clinched the Yankees the season series over the Astros. That could matter. That could be the difference between getting a playoff berth or not. Every game matters, and a game on March 30 matters just as much as a game on September 30. These last four games mattered a lot, and the Yankees won all of them.

7. “It’s eerily similar to how we were in 2022, when we started off good,” Schmidt said. “We just felt like we weren’t going to lose at the end of games.”

I have tried my best to erase the 2022 season from my memory, or at least everything from that season from July 9 on, when the Yankees were 61-23, only to finish 41-46, including the postseason. But I know what Schmidt means. The difference is that first-half Yankees performance was somewhat of a mirage given how bad the team was in 2021 (outside of one 13-game winning streak to save their season) and how miserable they were in 2023 (finishing two games above .500). This version of the Yankees feels different because the roster is a lot different.

8. These Yankees are likable. Not just because they’re winning, but because they have gotten rid of seemingly everyone that was unlikable, mainly Aaron Hicks, Josh Donaldson, Harrison Bader and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. That’s not to say I’m a fan (yet) of Alex Verdugo, but if he keeps playing defense like he did over the weekend, it will be easy to be. It’s fun to root for a team with players that you actually like. It’s fun to root for a team with a lineup that features left-handed batters.

9. The starting pitching was OK overall, and pretty much how I expected it to be. Nestor Cortes was awful through the first inning-plus, but settled in to give five innings after the bullpen was up early. Carlos Rodon limited the damage (one earned run in 4 1/3 innings), but he put eight baserunners on and needed 87 pitches to get 13 outs. Marcus Stroman had the best start of the series (6 IP, 0 ER) and was let down by his defense, giving up three unearned runs. Schmidt would have had a nice line if Boone had pulled him after five, but whenever you can steal outs with Schmidt whose numbers the third time through are as bad as can be against Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, you have to try, right? The starting pitching is certainly not trustworthy, given the recent production and injuries of everyone in the rotation, but it was good enough for four games in Houston, which is something no one expected.

10. Now it’s Luis Gil’s turn, and he will open the series against the Diamondbacks on Monday night. When the Yankees went down 4-0 with no outs in the second inning on Thursday in Houston, it seemed like they were going to need to have a big three days in Arizona to avoid returning home for the first time in 2024 with a dismal record and disappointing start to the season. After their weekend in Houston, they no longer need to have a big series in Arizona, but it certainly won’t hurt if they do.