Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The state of the Yankees is such that even a four-game split with the reigning world champion Astros almost feels like a sweep.

This is because winning or losing, New York’s lineup is slowly becoming more competitive. The at-bats are better. Being down in a game doesn’t automatically mean the Yankees are out and destined for defeat.

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Unfortunately for the Yankees, the standings are not as kind. They’re still 4.5 games out of the final Wild Card spot and Aaron Judge is batting just .185 since returning from the injured list. The White Sox and Marlins mean a fairly soft week and barring a big run, the Yankees’ future continues to look cloudy.

Some takeaways:

Gleyber Torres, extension candidate? Back in May, we wrote how Torres’ streaky hitting and mental mistakes in the field were enough that the Yankees should seek a trade and move on.

Nearly three months later, and we might have been wrong. Torres has easily been New York’s most reliable hitter since Judge’s injury and is batting a respectable .270 this year. He has 18 home runs and is batting .545 in August, and has hit .322 since July 1. The contact-hitting potential, courtesy of new hitting coach Sean Casey, is shining through as Torres is also not a majority-pull hitter for the first time in his career.

Torres’ glove has been aggressively average this season, and the Yankees don’t seem overly enamored with Oswald Peraza anymore. Instead of trying to trade Torres this offseason, perhaps general manager Brian Cashman should try and pay him.

Carlos Pavano Burnett Rodon. At six years, $162 million, Carlos Rodon was supposed to be a second ace behind Gerrit Cole. Instead, the big lefty’s first year in the Bronx has been a nightmare. Rodon is 1-4 with a 7.33 ERA in six starts after forearm and back injuries delayed his season debut until July. Even worse, he left Sunday’s start with a hamstring injury.

What’s worse is Rodon’s struggles can be traced entirely to predictability, though decreased strikeouts and nearly six walks per nine innings (BB/9) don’t help either. He throws his fastball nearly two-thirds of the time. His slider usage isn’t far behind at 29.3%. Rodon will need to feature his curveball and changeup more if he wants to succeed in the AL East.

Injury prone like Carl Pavano. Wild like AJ Burnett. Regardless of how the Yankees finish 2023, Rodon has struggled himself into a corner. He really has no choice but to come back strong and in ace form in 2024.

The mortal Astros. All last year, I noted how despite the Astros’ still beating the Yankees, they were a different team. In fact, perhaps at their weakest since their dynastic run began in 2017. A three true outcomes-heavy lineup boosted by an elite pitching staff.

Sure enough, some cracks in the foundation came to light this season, and the defending champs sit second in the AL West, 2.5 games behind the Rangers. Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez not only missed time with injury, but next season is Altuve’s walk year. Aging former MVP Jose Abreu got a three-year deal at nearly $20 million a year, and only has a .641 OPS.

The pitching staff is in such a state behind ace Framber Valdez that Houston just re-acquired Justin Verlander from the Mets. Mere months after letting him walk in free agency.

All this to say, it’s not at all a surprise the Yankees split four games with Houston. The bats capitalized off of Cristian Javier’s struggles and executed some timely home runs. They took advantage of Verlander’s aging and hit him hard to beat him early. Best of all, the at-bats stayed competitive despite stinkers from Luis Severino, Rodon, and Wandy Peralta’s meltdown Sunday.

Casey’s work as hitting coach has done more than get better at-bats out of the Yankees. This past weekend, it proved the mighty Astros are indeed human.

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Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.