The Houston Astros and New York Yankees seemed destined to meet in the ALCS this season and here we are after the Bronx Bombers swept the Minnesota Twins and the Astros got past the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Houston Astros and New York Yankees seemed destined to meet in the ALCS this season and here we are after the Bronx Bombers swept the Minnesota Twins and the Astros got past the Tampa Bay Rays. Now we get an epic rematch of the 2017 ALCS showdown that saw the Astros advance on their way to their first ever World Series title.
Now, two years later, these teams are back in the same position only now, the Astros are the super team and the Yankees the underdog, trying to get back to the Fall Classic for the first time in a decade.
Houston has the stacked starting rotation to get past New York, but the Yankee bullpen may be deeper and the offenses for both teams can mash. This should be a fun series to watch between two juggernaut teams, each just four wins away from the American League pennant and a trip to the World Series.
Back in 2017 when these two teams met in the ALCS it went seven games. It could again with these two teams so evenly matched. It’s truly a battle of super teams.
These are the two best offenses in baseball, and both have a strong pitching staff though one is more centered on the bullpen while the other is built around a star-studded starting rotation.
This is, arguably, the Yankees’ best team in a decade as they look to snap a 10-year championship draught. The Bronx Bombers were tested as much as any team this season with a plethora of injuries. Despite that, the Yankees always had someone to plug in and provide nearly identical production as guys like GioUrshela, Mike Tauchman, and even Cameron Maybin seemed to come out of nowhere to have a big impact.
The Yankees closed the season with a .704 home winning percentage but will have to play four of the seven games of this series on the road. The Astros swept the Yankees in a three-game series in Houston earlier this season.
Head-to-head, the Astros come into this series with an edge in the season series, wining four of their seven meetings, but home field played a huge impact with the Astros winning one game on the road in the season series, but the other six contexts going to the home team.
As for the path to get to this series, the Yankees swept the Twins while Houston went five-games against the Rays. New York should be better rested and can set their rotation as they wish though that extra time off doesn’t always have a positive effect in a sport where players are used to playing every day.
The Astros went with Justin Verlander on short rest against the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS and then gave the ball to Gerrit Cole in Game 5. As a result, neither will be ready to start Game 1 against the Yankees with the ball going to Zack Greinke to open the series. Verlander and Cole figure to be in line to start Game 2 and Game 3, respectively.
Houston only used the three starters in the ALDS but will need a fourth in this series as they can’t ask their big horses to consistently go on short rest, particularly since they’ll need four more wins even if they do win this series. Jose Urquidy seems likely to start Game 4.
The young right-hander made quite an impression in his limited time in the Major Leagues this year. He made just seven starts and nine appearances, throwing 41 innings, but posted a 3.95 ERA, 3.68 FIP and 1.098 WHIP. He showed excellent command, walking just seven batters while striking out 40.
Urquidy got into one game of the ALDS, throwing 1.2 innings in relief. He allowed three hits and a walk in the effort, but also struck out three while not allowing a run.
Having not thrown much in game action since the end of the regular season, Urquidy may be a bit rusty which could come into play. He’ll likely have a short leash in his start with guys like Wade Miley possibilities after him.
Urquidy is the weak point in an otherwise dominant Houston rotation. Greinke struggled in his ALDS start against the Rays allowing six runs in 3.2 innings on the way to a loss. His postseason performances have been a bit inconsistent over the years, but the veteran right-hander pitched well against the Yankees earlier this season in his last start for the Diamondbacks. Then, after joining the Astros, he made 10 starts, going 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA and 1.069 WHIP in the regular season. He concluded the year with a cumulative 2.93 ERA and 18 victories.
Greinke is the No.3 starter in the Houston rotation, but he was an All-Star this season and a quality veteran arm. That said, New York has done well against him in his career as he has a 5.05 ERA against the Bronx Bombers in 15 games pitched.
After Greinke, the Astros have—potentially—the two top candidates for the AL Cy Young Award lined up for the next two games.
Verlander posted a 7.8 WAR season in his age 36 campaign, going 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA and 0.803 WHIP in 223 innings. He struck out 300 batters on the season and posted a league best 7.14 K:BB ratio.
The veteran righty has made 27 postseason appearances, including 26 starts, and is 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA and 1.043 WHIP in his 163-postseason innings. Those are some strong numbers though his championship series numbers are even better with a sub-3 ERA.
In his first ALDS start this year, Verlander completely shut down the Rays, allowing one hit and three walks in seven shutout innings. On short rest in Game 4, he wasn’t as good, allowing four runs in 3.2 innings of work. He’ll be pitching on regular rest in Game 2.
As for Cole, he struck out the second most batters by a single pitcher in a postseason series in baseball history when he sat down 25 Tampa Bay hitters in his two ALDS starts. He threw 15.2 innings in the ALDS and went 2-0 with one run, six hits and three walks allowed. The only run scored on a solo home run.
In the regular season, Cole was nearly as dominant with a 20-5 record, 2.50 ERA and 0.895 WHIP. He led the league in FIP and strikeouts with a 2.64 FIP and 326 Ks. He allowed three runs in seven innings in his only start against the Yankees this year.
Houston certainly has a dominant top-three in their rotation that provide series matchup issues for the Yankees whose starting staff is a lot less established.
New York is keeping their rotation order close to the chest. They went with James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and Luis Severino in the ALDS. All three figure to start in the ALCS as well with
Paxton pitched Game 1 of the ALDS and struck out eight batters though he lasted just 4.2 innings in the start, his first in the postseason in his career.
Paxton made a pair of starts against Houston this year, going 1-1 with a 6.00 ERA. Overall, the southpaw had a solid first season in New York, going 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA and 3.86 FIP. He’s got the ability to get key strikeouts when he needs them. He had 186 in 150.2 innings. He doesn’t have the dominant numbers of Houston’s big three, but he put up a solidly above-average season in a hitter friendly ballpark and very tough market.
Tanaka, meanwhile, posted a 100 ERA+ in his 182 regular season innings. After an All-Star first half, he stumbled down the stretch, finishing with a 4.45 ERA and 1.242 WHIP. He was 6-4 with a 5.26 ERA after the break.
New York may be best served to hold him for Game 3 as Tanaka has strong home/road splits, posting a 3.86 ERA at home to a 5.26 mark on the road. His ALDS start came at home where he held the Twins to a single run and three hits in five innings.
While the regular season numbers leave plenty to be desired for Tanaka, his postseason resume is impressive. He’s a big game pitcher to be sure. In six postseason starts, Tanaka is 4-2 with a 1.54 ERA. Even with those numbers, however, he is averaging fewer than six innings a start in the postseason. Neither Tanaka nor Paxton are likely to go more than six and could see a quick hook just two times through the order given the strong New York bullpen.
Both Tanaka and Paxton, however, should go deeper in the game than Severino. The right-hander was the ace of the Yankees in 2018, but pitched just 12 innings in the regular season, spread over three starts as he came back from injury.
The 25-year old’s postseason history is a bit unstable, too. He blew up in the AL Wild Card game in 2017 and the 2018 ALDS, but his other appearances were rather strong, including a four-inning start against the Twins in this year’s ALDS where he allowed four hits and a pair of walks, but held a powerful Twins’ offense scoreless.
New York’s top three starters have some positives, particularly in October baseball, but none of them are likely to go deep in the game. The Game 4 starter won’t eat a ton of innings either.
The most likely scenarios for Game 4 for New York are either: using J.A. Happ or going with Chad Green as an opener.
Green has pitched well as an opener this year, but that would likely need Happ or C.C. Sabathia to come in to eat some innings after him. Happ had a scoreless inning in relief in the ALDS but had a 4.91 regular season ERA and 5.22 FIP though he was 12-8 overall. As for the aging Sabathia, he ended the year in a bad way with a 4.95 ERA and 5.66 FIP.
The Yankees cannot compete with the Astros in the starting rotation. They have some good arms, but they’re not exactly Verlander and Cole. Instead, they’ll need their bullpen to do a bit more of the heavy lifting and they certainly have the arms for that.
Aroldis Chapman hurt himself in the ALDS celebration but should be good to go for the ALCS. Zack Britton should also be good to go after an ankle injury.
Chapman, Britton and Ottavino form—perhaps—the best trio in the back of any bullpen. Chapman and Ottavino are both fierce strikeout pitchers while Britton’s sinker causes the opponent to pound the ball into the ground for easy outs.
Ottavino and Britton both walked a few more batters than they’d have liked in the regular season, but generally worked around it with a 1.90 and 1.91 ERA, respectively. The extra base runners, however, could come into play against Houston.
Beyond the Yankees’ big three, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Luis Cessa and so many others offer different looks and quality stuff for Houston to contend.
In their 13.1 innings in the ALDS against Minnesota, the Yankees’ bullpen allowed three runs with a .200 batting average against. The unit did walk seven, but also struck out 16.
New York will go with a bullpen heavy approach much like the Rays did against Houston in the ALDS and Tampa Bay was able to push Houston to five games in that series.
Speaking of Houston, their pen is pretty good in its own right. They did allow a few more runs in their 13 ALDS innings but walked two fewer batters and did have 13 strikeouts.
With Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, Hector Rondon, Will Harris, Joe Smith, Josh James and others, this is a much better—and deeper—bullpen than the one the Astros used to top the Yankees in the 2017 ALCS.
Pressly and Wade Miley struggled out of the pen in a couple ALDS appearances, but the rest of the pen pitched well.
The Yankees played just three games this postseason to Houston’s five, but New York has already plated 23 October runs. Houston scored 19 against the Rays.
The New York bats were on full display in their short ALDS series, hitting five home runs and putting up a combined .929 OPS.
Looking at a larger sample size, New York outscored Houston by a little in the regular season, but the Astros had the better OPS, .848 to .829. Houston also outscored the Yankees in the second half of the year with 22 more runs in two fewer games while posting a .887 OPS to the Yankees’ .858.
Basically, when comparing these two offenses, any advantage you find either way is nitpicking. These are the best two hitting teams in the sport. Both lineups are incredibly dangerous.
For the Yankees, it starts with D.J. LeMahieu atop the order, the team’s versatile leadoff man who provides average, power and stability. Beyond him, Aaron Judge, Edwin Encarnacion, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleybar Torres, and Gary Sanchez form a who’s who of elite hitters.
This lineup is so strong it features GioUrshela at the bottom even after he put up a .314 average and 21 homers in the regular season.
Brett Gardner and Didi Gregorius also figure to be in the starting lineup and are two very good players that are just guys in this order.
Beyond the starters, the Yankees have a strong bench as the team used plenty of players to overcome injuries. They had 13 hitters with a 100 OPS+ or better and at least 160 plate appearances in the regular season. That doesn’t even include Stanton who played in just 18 games and didn’t get enough at bats to qualify.
The Astros’ lineup is nearly as deep. Houston has seven players with at least 300 plate appearances and an OPS+ north of 125.
Alex Bregman is the leader of this offense and an MVP candidate after putting up a .296/.423/.592 slash line with 41 home runs and 112 RBI. Those are great numbers, but he’s surrounded by amazing hitters.
George Springer was second on the team in homers with 39 and hit those in just 122 games. He ended with a .974 OPS and 96 RBI. That’s quite a way to start a lineup. He provides an immediate threat to score atop the order. Then, the Astros have Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley as great hitters with some power of their own leading up to Bregman in the clean up spot.
After Bregman, this lineup doesn’t get any easier with Yordan Alvarez and his 1.067 OPS and 27 homers he collected in just 87 games. After that YuliGurriel is the team’s fourth 30 homer bat and a healthy Carlos Correa just makes the order embarrassingly deep.
Yankees vs. Astros Picks
Both of these teams can mash and both have some quality arms both in the bullpen and in the rotation.
Ultimately, the difference in this series comes down to the rotation. Houston has three elite starting pitchers who can give both quality and quantity while New York will be far more dependent on the bullpen.
Look for this series to go the distance with a lot of back-and-forth games, but the Yankees are going to go to the pen early and often, eventually they’re going to hit a pitcher or two not on their game which will give the deep Houston offense a chance to break a game open.
Houston’s bullpen is good enough to hold leads and the Astros’ rotation being stronger, Houston should capture enough early leads to win this series.
Look for some fireworks in this series, but ultimately take the superior rotation over the superior bullpen to pull this series out and advance to the Fall Classic.
Yankees vs. Astros Pick: Look for the Astros to win this series on the strength of their starting pitching