New York Yankees Sweep Houston Astros 4-0 in Opening Series
HOUSTON, TEXAS - MARCH 30: Juan Soto #22 of the New York Yankees jogs to the dugout before the game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on March 30, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

The Major League Baseball season is now underway, and the New York Yankees have come out hot as they swept the Houston Astros 4-0 in the season opening series. It was a fun and entertaining series throughout all four games, but it was the Yankees who prevailed to condemn their rivals to a winless start to the campaign.

Series Summary

It was a series of comebacks as the Yankees recovered from early deficits to win the first three games. The final game of the four saw them score first for the first time this season, but the Astros could not do the same and turn it around.

Framber Valdez and Nestor Cortes took the mound in game one, and the latter got off to a shaky start filling in for the injured Gerrit Cole.  However, it was all about Juan Soto as he finally made his official debut. He only had one hit, but drew two walks and provided a game-saving assist.

The Astros had taken a 3-0 lead in the first, before extending that to four as Jake Meyers homered for their first of the year. The visitors looked like they were in for a frustrating evening as they grounded into a double play on three occasions to strand seven men on base. It fell apart for the hosts at the top of the fifth as the Yankees scored three runs to pull them within one as Valdez walked two and hit Anthony Rizzo with a pitch. 

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Oswaldo Cabrera tied it with a home run of his own before a sac-fly from Alex Verdugo gave his side a first lead. With Houston threatening a rally in the ninth, Soto showed off his arm strength to find catcher Jose Trevino who tagged Mauricio Dubon out at home plate. Clay Holmes managed to record the save and secure a 5-4 win.

Game two was the Cabrera show as he went 4-5 with three RBIs.  Carlos Rodon was the starting pitcher, facing Cristian Javier. Javier produced a strong outing, allowing just four hits and striking out six in 6.0 innings pitched. However, it was the bullpen which collapsed to allow the Yankees to cruise to a 7-1 victory. Once again, the Astros went ahead early, but that was the last of their offensive production as they went scoreless in the following eight innings. It remained 1-0 until the seventh, but Cabrera picked up his first RBI before reliever Rafael Montero walked in a run. New York tacked on four more runs in the eighth after a slew of defensive errors in the infield. Giancarlo Stanton added a home run late for good measure.

Marcus Stroman made his Yankees debut in the third game, coming up against Hunter Brown. Both pitchers had great success, with zero earned runs between the pair and a combined nine strikeouts.  For the third time, the Astros took the lead, going up 2-0. The visitors responded thanks to an error by first baseman Jose Abreu. Cabrera hit his second homer of the series, which was a two-run blast to tie the game.  Soto then recorded his first home run in pinstripes to put them ahead 4-3. It was a triple-homer night as Anthony Volpe added another to give them a 5-3 win.

The sweep was completed on Sunday afternoon in another close game.  Clarke Schmidt and JP France got the starts, as they allowed a combined 13 hits and threw five strikeouts apiece. The Astros hoped that they could also pull off a come from behind win after they went behind in the second as Trevino drove in Stanton following his leadoff double. Jose Altuve finally made some noise as he homered to left to level the score. 

Jon Berti, making his debut filling in for Volpe, singled to score Rizzo.  The score was tied once more in the sixth at 3-3 and it stayed this way until the final inning. Against star closer Josh Hader, Gleyber Torres recorded a successful steal of second base to get a runner in scoring position for Soto. It proved crucial as he produced yet another hit which scored the second baseman to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish. 

Holmes found himself in a bit of bother at the bottom of the inning, allowing the first two men to reach, but an excellent defensive play by Berti at third base saved a potential game winning hit. Verdugo then produced his own defensive highlight, making a sliding catch to secure the third out and a 4-3 victory.

Unlikely Yankees Duo

Once the Soto trade was finalised, many were excited of the prospect of seeing him and Aaron Judge hit back-to-back in the lineup. However, in this series it was not Judge who had a major impact alongside the newest Yankees star. 

Across the series, Soto went 9-for-17 (.529), recording one home run and four RBIs as well as drawing four walks. His plate appearances led to an incredible .600 OBP and 1.365 OPS. In addition to his offensive quality, he also showed his defensive prowess, providing the game-saving assist in game one, and moving excellently in right field. His energy amongst his teammates and how he carries himself exemplifies the current mood in the clubhouse and his presence has clearly given everyone a huge lift.

Alongside Soto, it was infielder Cabrera who arguably stole the show over the weekend. Cabrera was not even supposed to start, he was filling in for the injured DJ LeMahieu, who will be out for some time with a foot injury. Manager Aaron Boone also wanted to give the newly acquired Berti a start at some point, but Cabrera was playing so well it was impossible to leave him out.  

Whilst Cabrera went hitless in the final game, he hit two home runs and recorded six RBIs overall. It is a vast improvement on last year, in which he didn’t hit his second homer until May. In 2023 he had a batting average of just .211, and though it is an extremely small sample size, through four games he is hitting .538, including a four hit day in game two. 

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The approach at the plate from not only him but by Volpe as well has been refreshing to see, especially due to how much they struggled last season. Volpe enjoyed great success, achieving four hits in three games as well as one home run. Although Cabrera’s current statistics are unsustainable, it is the production from the lower half of the order which could prove the biggest difference for the Yankees, especially in games where the likes of Judge, Stanton and Torres are non-factors. In the previous campaign, any games in which Judge was not a major factor almost always ended in a Yankees defeat. It is a welcome sign that the line-up is not as reliant on the former MVP.

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Astros’ Weakness is Yankees’ Strength

Despite a year of struggles in 2023, the one area in which the Yankees excelled was their bullpen. They have continued this into the current season, with the relief pitching a huge factor in their sweep. 

The same cannot be said of their opponents, who will rue the displays of their bullpen, which allowed the Yankees to lead. Hader, Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly pitched a combined 7.1 innings and within those allowed nine hits, four walks and six earned runs. Overall, their bullpen has an ERA of 6.89, a huge jump from their starting ERA of 2.66.

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In contrast, the Yankees have a starting pitching ERA of 3.48, and a bullpen ERA of 0.00, as they did not allow a single run. The Astros scored just two runs past the fifth inning, both earned by Clarke Schmidt. Holmes, New York’s closer, appeared in three of the four games, and recorded a save in each one. Their bullpen pitched 15.1 scoreless innings, and are the only team to do so in the entire league.

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What’s Next?

The Yankees now travel to face the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-game series, whilst the Astros host another AL East side in the Toronto Blue Jays.