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Field Level Media - Professional sports content solutions | FLM

Mar 26, 2024 9:41 pm

Added star power evident as Yankees start off with Astros

Juan Soto

The addition of Juan Soto to a lineup already featuring the most prolific slugger in the game was the type of bold gambit the New York Yankees have executed throughout their storied history.

Soto, a three-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger and one-time batting champion, brings to the Bronx an established pedigree of greatness. His joining Aaron Judge — a five-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger and 2022 American League MVP — in pinstripes gives the Yankees a legitimate claim as the best team in the AL East, a desired designation after the club missed the postseason for the first time in seven seasons.

But with the Yankees’ season opener on Thursday against the host Houston Astros comes the acknowledgment that everything isn’t ideal.

They will start with two key cogs — ace right-hander Gerrit Cole (elbow) and infielder DJ LeMahieu (right foot) — on the injured list. And while Soto comes with ballyhoo, his arrival offers no additional guarantees.

Soto was part of a star-studded yet unproductive lineup with the San Diego Padres. That he was available via trade confirms the reality that a winning club requires more than an accumulation of talent.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to put egos away and play as a team,” Soto said. “We have to do the little things when it matters. That’s what it takes to get to the next level. The homers, the doubles, the big hits, they’re going to come. But you’ve got to do the little things first to get to that spot.”

Left-hander Nestor Cortes (5-2, 4.97 ERA in 2023) has the starting assignment for the Yankees, the first of his career on Opening Day, in place of Cole.

Cortes made his final start of last season against the Astros, allowing one run on one hit and one walk with eight strikeouts over four innings on Aug. 5. Cortes did not factor into the decision of the Yankees’ 3-1 victory and missed the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.

Left-hander Framber Valdez (12-11, 3.45) is the scheduled starter for the Astros, his third consecutive Opening Day start.

He last faced the Yankees on June 23, 2022, allowing three runs on two hits and three walks with seven strikeouts over six innings in the Astros’ 7-6 loss. Valdez labored during the second half of last season, going 5-5 with a 4.66 ERA over 14 starts. Valdez finished 0-3 during three postseason starts, posting a 9.00 ERA and 1.037 OPS.

Valdez provides stability for a rotation whose depth is being severely tested. Right-handers Justin Verlander (shoulder) and Jose Urquidy (forearm) will open the season on the IL, as will right-handers Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia Jr., both of whom are recovering from major elbow surgery and won’t be available until the second half of the season at the earliest.

First-year manager Joe Espada is responsible for ensuring the Astros thrive despite their attrition. His ambition to establish his managerial style was met with open arms during spring training.

“We got some feedback from the players, the coaches, from a lot of people,” Espada said. “I think we’re in a really good spot. I think I did some things early that set the tone for how I wanted things to go (with) some relationships with the players and some things that I want to make sure we get clear, things that I wanted as a manager. I think it was a good spring.”

–Field Level Media

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