WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 23: Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the New York Yankees celebrates with Aaron Judge #99 after hitting a two run home run to center field against Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals during the first inning in the game at Nationals Park on July 23, 2020 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Sluggish bats aside, the New York Yankees have a lot to be excited about following a successful Opening Weekend.

Josh Benjamin

The New York Yankees have to be feeling pretty good right now.

It wasn’t stellar, but the Bronx Bombers kicked off the abbreviated 2020 season well. The team won two of three games against the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals.

All in all, the Yankees performed as expected. The lineup put together productive at-bats and the pitching staff prevailed despite some early signs of adversity. Next, they will take on former manager Joe Girardi and his Philadelphia Phillies.

They aren’t in full Bronx Bombers form yet, but just watch. This is a Yankees team capable of some special things. Let’s take a look back at Opening Weekend and see just what can be learned from the first three games.

The Gerrit Cole hype is real

General manager Brian Cashman can breathe a sigh of relief. One start in, his $324 million investment in right-handed ace Gerrit Cole is paying off on the mound. In the season’s rain-shortened opener, Cole notched five strikeouts in a five-inning, complete-game one-hitter in a 4-1 victory.

And Cole wasn’t particularly sharp with his location. He hit and walked one batter each and only threw 46 of his 75 pitches for strikes. Even so, Washington hitters made weak contact and New York built a lead early.

Granted, this is only one start, but Cole still did exactly what the Yankees signed him for, and that’s keep runs off the board and opposing hitters at bay.

The Savages remain…

Another MLB season, another year in which the Yankees are expected to score a significant number of runs. Based on early returns, the lineup can once again expect to be, as manager Aaron Boone put it last year, “savages in the box.”

This was evident from Opening Day on Thursday. Washington sent three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to the mound, a man who’s led the National League or MLB in K/BB ratio four of the last five years. Though the man they call “Mad Max” struck out 11 Yankee hitters, he also issued four walks and allowed four runs on six hits.

Leading the way in all of this was Giancarlo Stanton, back and in great shape after a lost and injury-riddled 2019. He hit two home runs this weekend, one of which traveled an estimated 483 feet. Needless to say, if Stanton and Aaron Judge are in top form, the Yankees are going to do a lot of damage at the plate.

…but give the bats time

And even though Stanton is hitting balls capable of denting the TARDIS while it’s parked on Mars, the rest of the New York lineup is still settling in right now. The Yankees are only hitting .200 as a team through three games. This can be attributed to a subpar showing in Saturday’s 9-2 loss and not being able to solve Nationals lefty Patrick Corbin for most of Sunday.

More striking is the Yankees’ collective OBP of .272. For a team taking two out of three games from the defending champs to start the season, good at-bats were hard to come by for the most part. For context, Corbin and Saturday replacement starter Erick Fedde did a great job inducing soft contact. Corbin himself had a nearly 2:1 strike-to-ball ratio Sunday and averaged less than 13 pitches per inning over 6.1 frames.

Considering the Yankees ranked fourth in OBP last year, the slow showing this weekend is indeed daunting.

Take a deep breath, New York fans. Everything’s going to be fine. Judge’s .167 batting average may seem scary, but he only recently started swinging a bat again. The whole team also spent nearly three months in limbo waiting for baseball to start up again. There’s going to be a greater rust factor than what we’re used to seeing.

When the lineup is performing at its best, it will be all the more satisfying to see.

The bullpen still has it

Over two games where the bats looked sluggish, the Yankees can take solace in one thing: the infamous New York bullpen still has it. The relief corps’ ERA is a bit high at 4.84, but put it in context. Mike King entered during the second inning after James Paxton didn’t have it Saturday, and he allowed four earned runs in three innings. Ben Heller and Luis Avilán also allowed home runs in garbage time.

Sunday, however, told a different story. After Jonathan Loaisiga allowed a single run in three innings as an opener, a combination of five arms kept Washington at bay. Tommy Kahnle got three big strikeouts to hold the Yankees’ lead in the eighth inning, including one with the bases loaded. Zack Britton, serving as closer while Aroldis Chapman recovers from COVID-19, also worked out of trouble thanks to some heads-up fielding.

Look at it this way. Even with a 4.84 unit ERA, the bullpen still put up a mark of 1.50 on Sunday. More importantly, ESPN’s Marly Rivera reported Saturday that Chapman has finally tested negative for COVID-19 after first testing positive July 11. One more negative test means he can return to the team.

Just imagine. A fully healthy Yankees lineup with Judge, Stanton, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez, everyone fully locked in day-in and day-out. Once plenty of runs are on the board and the starting pitcher has done his part, the equally dangerous bullpen takes over.

That’s a recipe for a championship, especially in an abbreviated 60-game season, so don’t let the sluggish start fool you. The Yankees’ season-opening series leaves plenty to be excited about.

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