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Reflecting on a May series between the Padres and Yankees in 2019

The Yankees and Padres played under very different circumstances for San Diego, four years ago.

MLB: San Diego Padres at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

A lot can change across a four-year period in Major League Baseball. Contending rosters can quickly spiral and crumble, while rebuilding teams find their next wave of talent. Windows open and close, and dynasties rise and fall.

With the San Diego Padres in town for a three-game set, we have a tangible example with a comparison right there to be made, as exactly four years ago, the Yankees and Padres also met for a three-game series at Yankee Stadium. At the time, the Padres were in the middle of a complete teardown, en route to a 70-win season in 2019. The only remaining player from the lineup that faced the Yankees on May 29th, 2019 in a 7-0 win for the Yanks was the star third-baseman, Manny Machado.

Most teams will usually wait until their core is ready to compete before splurging big on the free agency market. The Padres chose a different route, as they brought Manny Machado aboard to lead a rebuilding team out of the grinding years.

On the Yankees side of things, both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were out hurt, and so the only two hitters from that day who are still around with the ball club are DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres, who at the time made up the Yankees’ double-play combo, with DJ at second, and Gleyber at short. Four years later, Gleyber has shifted into a primary second-baseman, with DJ LeMahieu continuing in his versatile infield role.

Interestingly enough, the Yankee offense remains similar in structure, with Anthony Rizzo filling in the role that Luke Voit once did of power-hitting first baseman, and otherwise a lack of depth around the likes of Torres, Judge, and Stanton. On this day, the Yankees trotted out an outfield of Clint Frazier, Cameron Maybin, and Brett Gardner.

These days, the frustration may be even worse, with the likes of Willie Calhoun, Jake Bauers, and Franchy Cordero, at one point or another, all finding a way to get regular at-bats. It’s too far to say that the constant weak points at the bottom of the lineup are an indictment on the team and its front office; injuries happen to every team, and no team has the luxury of trotting out stars in their seven-thru-nine slots. Still, it’s jarring to see that shaky backups have been taking up huge chunks of at-bats in the Yankee lineup for so long now.

On the pitching side of things, James Paxton was a member of that rotation, starting on May 29th, in what would end up being his last full season in the big leagues to this day, as the southpaw has struggled with injuries ever since (he’s flashed a bit as he attempts a comeback campaign with the Red Sox this year).

The world may spin a thousand times, and you end up right back where you started. It was the low man on the totem pole who closed out a 7-0 win for the Yankees back in 2019, and after a few seasons moving around in the big leagues, that man is now a staple of this Yankees’ rotation, in Nestor Cortes.

The southpaw appeared in a little over 30 games for the Yankees that season, most often doing multi-inning work in low-leverage spots, and it wouldn’t be for another couple of seasons before he would find himself as a big-time pitcher in the majors. Indeed Cortes, could manage just a 79 ERA+ for the Yankees in 2019.

The Yankees weren’t the only team with hidden gems who would later flourish; stashed in the Padres' bullpen for the 2019 season were the likes of Andrés Muñoz and David Bednar, two of the more elite relievers in the sport these days.

Looking back on the game, it’s easy to note how much can change, and how much can stay the same. The rebuilding Padres moved into contention mode the next season, and though they’ve struggled in 2023, posess a roster loaded with stars. The Yankees, on the other hand, remain in the midst of a window that’s been open for seven seasons now, still pushing, thus far in vain, for championship number 28.