Yankees: Good and bad news following 3-1 win over Astros

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees
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The Yankees are showing some signs of life in this series, getting a gritty win over the Houston Astros and spoiling Justin Verlander’s return to the organization. While the future Hall of Famer held it down against the Yankee offense, some big hits and great pitching carried the Yankees to a huge win that guarantees that the Astros can’t win this four-game set. Nestor Cortes rejoined the Yankees after being activated off the IL, and he showed everyone who forgot that he’s still that guy

With a strong performance by Nestor Cortes followed up by near-perfect outings from the Yankee bullpen, they were able to completely stifle a Houston offense that scored seven runs in last night’s loss. Their MLB-best 3.07 bullpen ERA got lower, as the Yankee relievers tossed five innings of scoreless baseball, and overall helped the Yankees collect what is a massive win for their chances to get into October.

Pitching Steps Up, Yankees Get Huge Insurance HRs

nestor cortes, yankees
Oct 14, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes (65) reacts after throwing out Cleveland Guardians center fielder Myles Straw (not pictured) during the fourth inning in game two of the ALDS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees really missed Nestor Cortes, who gave the Yankees 4 innings of one-run baseball, with his only hit allowed coming off the bat of Jose Altuve for a solo HR. Cortes would strike out eight batters and allowed just one walk, and he looked the Cortes we saw all of last season when he led the rotation in ERA and made his very-first All-Star team. Cortes relied on his four-seamer, cutter, and sweeper, mixing in a few changeups and sinkers to throw batters off.

He was extremely impressive with his four-seamer in particular, generating eight whiffs on 15 swings and having five more called strikes as well. The Houston offense mustered just one ball in play on it, which was a weak 58.5 MPH groundout from Jeremy Pena. The cutter issues still persisted with the HR from Jose Altuve, but outside of that it did a great job of generating soft contact, and he’s still searching for that particular pitch.

Cortes flashed his sweeper more in this start than usual, and hitters were not able to generate a ball in play on eight swings, fouling off two and whiffing at the other six. Cortes kept this in-zone 43% of the time, which was just enough to get batters to read the sweeper and chase it at a 38% clip, and batters tend to barrel up sweepers less often as a whole, even with the league catching onto the trend.

yankees, ian hamilton
Apr 29, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Ian Hamilton (71) throws against the Texas Rangers during the seventh inning at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Nasty Nestor was picked up by Ian Hamilton who was the winning pitcher in this game and gave the Yankees two scoreless frames, not allowing a hit while striking out four batters. His ERA lowered on the season to 1.67, and he set the tone for the following three relievers. Tommy Kahnle walked a batter in his scoreless inning but still faced the minimum due to a huge double play ball against Yordan Alvarez.

Michael King worked around a soft-struck single into right field and struck out Martin Maldonado and Jose Altuve back-to-back to preserve the Yankees’ then 2-1 lead. Clay Holmes shut the door, striking out a batter and pounding the sinker against the Houston lineup in his perfect frame, but how did the Yankees get those three runs across?

They put Justin Verlander on the ropes with two walks in the first, which set the tone for the second inning with a single and double in the first two batters, with IKF being driven in by Anthon y Volpe on a sac fly. Ben Rortvedt would fail to put a ball in play with a runner on third, and Jake Bauers crushed a ball 107.8 MPH at a .650 xBA to end the inning, and with a double by Giancarlo Stanton, a single from LeMahieu wasn’t hit far enough for the lumbering slugger to score.

Verlander was left off the hook until Jake Bauers, who was seemingly sour about his previous misfortunes, deposited a baseball 410 feet into right field, a ball that would have been gone in all 30 ballparks. Verlander was tagged for seven hits and two walks across seven innings, but the Yankees let him settle back in and only allow two runs.

Gleyber Torres would step up in the eight facing Kendall Graveman and join the HR part with a blast of his own, his 17th on the season which raised his wRC+ to 112 and gave him a tie with Marcus Semien for the most by a second baseman in the AL. Torres is one of the best hitters at his position, and with +1 DRS and 0 OAA at 2B on the season, he’s a slightly better-than-average defender at his position as well.

Just 26 years old, the Yankees have been swarmed with rumors about trading him, but they might end up keeping him. His bat has been one of the few bright spots in their lineup, and as they look to improve their offense going forward, Torres feels like a piece of their new-look offense, not a player you subtract from the equation.

The Yankees improve to 58-53 on the season, and they’ll hope for a Toronto loss as they look to climb ever closer to a Wild Card spot. Even a Toronto win isn’t detrimental, as it technically pulls the Yankees out of last place in the AL East, so they’ll still “move up” on the Wild Card board regardless of tonight’s outcome. They’ll go for a huge series win with Carlos Rodón who looks to finally turn his series around and put together a statement outing for the Bronx faithful on Amazon Prime at 1:35 EST.