New York Yankees' Didi Gregorius dumps water on Gleyber Torres (25) after Torres hit a game winning RBI single during the tenth inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros Tuesday, May 29, 2018, in New York. The Yankees won 6-5. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

AL powerhouses Yankees, Astros get a feel for one another

In a series featuring two perennial world series contenders in the American League, the New York Yankees grabbed two of three from the Houston Astros. This series was a measuring stick to see not only how good the Yankees are this season but, also where they need to get to in order to reach the pinnacle of baseball.

New York Yankees – 35-17 2nd in the AL East

Houston Astros – 35-22 1st in the AL West

Key Takeaways

The Return of Bird

First baseman Greg Bird returned from ankle surgery on May 26th and will not have any limitations with playing time moving forward. Entering this series, he was 1-7 with an RBI and 2 punch outs. Bird looks to be every bit of the hitter witnessed 2 years ago, but it is important to keep expectations at a realistic level. He will need time to become acclimated to big league pitching again. As time goes on, we will see an advanced hitter with the ability to work the zone and get good pitches to hit on a daily basis. When he is on his game, he is as dangerous as anyone in this lineup. A 2-3-4 batting order featuring Stanton / Bird / Judge will improve on an already potent offense. Undoubtedly, the team will rely on this offense in the coming weeks, as the bottom of the pitching rotation continues to struggle. In the first game of the series, the Yanks offense looked flat against a dominant Justin Verlander. But, Greg Bird went 2-4 with a solo homerun and is slowly rounding into form for the Yankees. The following game, Bird went 1-5 out of the 3-hole for the Bronx Bombers. New York Manager Aaron Boone’s lineup construction with the addition of the powerful 1B, will be something to monitor going forward.

Young Guns Growing Up

The second game of this set was an absolute thriller. Fans have to be ecstatic in seeing the two young guns in the lineup (3B Miguel Andujar & SS Gleyber Torres) perform at a high level in big-time moments. With the game tied at 5 after a Brett Gardner 2-run shot in the 9th, the bottom of the 10th was an inning to remember for Andujar and Torres. The two pups would string together a double by Andujar followed by a single from the reigning AL Player of the Week. The team would walk off with a much-needed win and experience.

Extraordinary Performances

Justin Verlander

The veteran ace dominated the Yankees in game one of this series. His pitching style in this one was centered around inducing weak contact against a talented lineup rather than trying to miss bat after bat. He was masterful with his location, and pitch selection, as the Yanks were off-balance all afternoon. His Fastball touched 97-98 mph all while he mixed in a devastating changeup that is 15 mph slower than his electric fastball. He finished the night with 6 and two-thirds inning pitched with one earned run and five strikeouts. He pitched around a Greg Bird homerun and two walks. The right-hander now owns a tiny 1.11 ERA for the year.

Do the Yankees have someone on their staff that is comparable to Verlander and can match him inning for inning in an elimination-type game? The obvious answer here is Luis Severino, who was also flat-out dominant in this series. Let’s not forget, that as great as the young ace is, he is still inexperienced. Would the Yankees be fully comfortable with this matchup in a playoff game? The organization would prefer a veteran presence as an option for the matchup. The performance in game one by Verlander perfectly exemplifies what the Yankees need to go after in acquiring a starting pitcher at the trade deadline. Some names to keep in mind are the Ranger’s Cole Hamels, Giant’s Madison Bumgarner, or even the Tiger’s Michael Fulmer.

State of the Yanks

The Yankees have to feel good about taking two of three from the defending champions. The Astros are one of the most complete teams a team will face when grinding through a 162-game schedule. The team looked very sharp and mentally sound in this series and the defense has improved drastically as a result. Team defense has been gradually improving these last two weeks after a bundle of subpar performances. After losing the first game of the series, the Yankees showed that they have a short memory in winning the next two games, one being in dramatic comeback fashion. Their resilient attitude continues to be a trait for the never die Yankees. A special season is brewing.