A cheating scandal and two strong ALCS series later, the two can arguably be placed up there with Ali-Frazier. Celtics-Lakers. In a shocking twist, the rivalry between the Yankees and Astros has been more interesting as of late than the lauded Yankees-Red Sox feud.
And both times, Houston sent New York home early. It’s certainly looking likely again this season too. The ALCS starts barely 24 hours after the Yankees clinched the ALDS over the Cleveland Guardians. On top of that, the Bronx Bombers just played four games in five days in two cities.
But the Astros aren’t quite the same team this year and just had their hands full in a three-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners. 106 regular season wins clearly aren’t bullet proof. If the Yankees strategize accordingly, they could make the series interesting.
Let’s take a closer look.
The Astros beat the Yankees in the season series 5-2, but don’t let the margin fool you. Every game, independent of result, was close. Each team’s strengths and flaws were on full display.
They split four games in the Bronx, with the Yankees winning two on walk-off hits by Aaron Judge. Houston, on the other hand, won what were basically two pitchers’ duels, including a no-hitter by Cristian Javier and the bullpen on June 25.
The Astros then dominated in Houston, winning two close games and taking advantage of a rusty Domingo German in the third. The Yankees’ bats just went cold and reverted to old habits, trying to beat Houston with one swing instead of being aggressive and stringing hits together. With the World Series on the line, one has to hope Aaron Boone’s gameplan features more urgency this time.
Probable pitching matchups
- GAME 1: Jameson Taillon (0-1, infinity) vs. Justin Verlander (0-0, 13.50 ERA)
- GAME 2: TBD vs. TBD
- GAME 3: TBD vs. TBD
- GAME 4: TBD vs. TBD
- GAME 5 (if necessary) TBD vs. TBD
- GAME 6 (if necessary) TBD vs. TBD
- GAME 7 (if necessary) TBD vs. TBD
Without Harrison Bader, the Yankees wouldn’t have advanced to the ALCS. Forget that he hit .267 with a .389 OBP and three home runs in the ALDS. Bader’s intensity and embrace of playing in New York has energized the dugout to the point where he flipped his bat after drawing a walk.
For Houston, it’s all about Yordan Alvarez. He was batting .500 in the ALDS before going 0 for 7 in Houston’s marathon 18-inning Game 3 win. Yet, he’s hit .310 with seven home runs against the Yankees in his young career. Having a plan to get him out is essential to not just winning the series, but staying competitive in games.
Aaron Judge finally got his bat going with two home runs and three RBI in Games 4 and 5 of the ALDS. Unfortunately for the MVP candidate, he’s batting just .200 for the postseason. Giancarlo Stanton’s two home runs against the Guardians were his only base hits of the series. However, that’s not the most shocking slump of October.
No, that honor belongs to none other than Jose Altuve. Yankees fans still have collective PTSD from his series-clinching home run in the 2019 ALCS, and he’s a .275 career playoff hitter. Yet, Altuve has yet to record a single hit this postseason and was 0 for 8 in Game 3 against Seattle. The Astros would love for him to get hot and make this a quick series.
Notes from the dugout
• Aaron Hicks is out for the playoffs after injuring his knee in an outfield collision in Tuesday’s Game 5. Meanwhile, DJ LeMahieu hopes he can be on the ALCS roster after missing the ALDS with a toe injury. Andrew Benintendi is still recovering from a broken hand and not expected back, meaning Oswaldo Cabrera is likely back in left field.
• The Yankees bullpen is understandably tired, but help could be on the way. Ron Marinaccio seems recovered from a stress reaction in his shin and said he’ll “be good to go” if he’s needed against Houston. Frankie Montas is also on the way back from his shoulder strain and could be another relief option.
• Considering they swept Seattle on Oct. 15, it’s shocking the Astros have not set a rotation beyond Justin Verlander in Game 1. One has to figure Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, and Lance McCullers Jr. will take their turns at some point. McCullers in particular has pitched well against the Yankees, posting a 2.97 ERA in five regular season starts.
Odds of advancing to the World Series
Baseball-Reference: Astros 43%, Yankees 27.5%
FanGraphs: Astros 55.9%, Yankees 31.1%
I’ve discussed at length how these Houston Astros aren’t the big and scary monster that tormented the Yankees in two separate ALCS’s. We also have to assume New York will show more urgency against their bitter rivals. The bad news for the Yankees is that the schedule works against them in the worst way. They’ll steal a game, maybe two, but managing the pitching staff will prove too difficult. A rested Houston will (sadly) roll to the World Series again. Astros in five.
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