Alex Kielar | October 12th, 2019
Well here we are, we made it to the Championship Series. On the American League side, we get probably the most anticipated matchup to this point in the Yankees and Astros. All season long, they were on a crash course that led to meeting in the ALCS with a trip to the World Series on the line. Both have their strengths and their weaknesses and have gone on different paths this season while having obstacles along the way.
The Astros won the season series 4-3 but did get swept at Yankee Stadium. This will be a rematch of the 2017 ALCS, in which the Astros took down a surprising Yankees team in seven games. The Yankees won all three games at Yankee Stadium then as well, so the home field should play a pretty big factor in this series. Now let’s get into the keys, matchups and what to watch for.
* If Necessary
- Game 1: Tonight 10/12, 8:08 P.M.
- Game 2: Tomorrow 10/13, 8:08 P.M.
- Game 3: Tuesday 10/15, 4:08 P.M.
- Game 4: Wednesday 10/16, 8:08 P.M.
- Game 5: Thursday 10/17, 8:08 P.M. *
- Game 6: Saturday 10/19, 4:08 or 8:08 P.M. *
- Game 7: Sunday 10/20, 7:38 P.M. *
We have all seen how next-level the Astros rotation has been all season, which got that much better when they added Zack Greinke at the trade deadline. But the Yankees has been sneaky good down the stretch after staying pat at the deadline. Here are the projected matchups for the series, through the first three games.
Game 1: Zack Greinke vs. Masahiro Tanaka
The Rays forcing five games was huge for the Yankees, as the Astros were forced to used Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole for their second starts of the series. Not that Greinke isn’t good, he just isn’t at the Cy Young level his teammates are at. This will definitely be the Yankees’ best chance to steal a game on the road and get off to a 1-0 series lead. In Greinke’s game three start in Tampa Bay in what was a must-win game for the Rays, he got knocked around for six runs, including three home runs over just 3.2 innings. The Yankees will look to do more of the same in game one to bounce Greinke out early. Since Greinke joined the Houston rotation, he went 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA, 3.28 FIP, and 1.069 WHIP over 62.2 innings in ten starts in the regular season.
Tanaka will get the ball in game one tonight for the Yankees, coming off five effective one-run innings in game two of the ALDS, while striking out seven and walking just one. Tanaka has been a great postseason pitcher the four years he has been in it, as he now holds a 4-2 record, 1.54 ERA, with 32 strikeouts and just eight walks over 35 innings in six starts. Back in the 2017 ALCS against the Astros, Tanaka started two games and went 1-1 while giving up just two runs, seven hits, and two walks, while striking out 11. Tanaka’s nastiest pitch is his splitter which generates a lot of ground balls on balls in play. He will look to keep the dangerous Astros lineup in the ballpark and will probably rely heavily on this pitch to do so.
I expect game one tonight to be somewhat higher scoring than the rest of the series, somewhere along the lines of a 7-5 score. I don’t expect either starter to go very long, which helps the Yankees more than it helps the Astros.
Game 2: Justin Verlander vs. James Paxton
Justin Verlander always seems to have the Yankees number and back in 2017, he completely shut them down in the two games he started. In those two games, he went nine and seven innings, respectively, while he only allowed one run, ten hits, and two walks, while striking out 21. He was named the MVP of the series. This season, Verlander started game one and game four of the ALDS against the Rays, and he shut them down in game one. He went seven shutout innings while only allowing one hit, three walks, and striking out eight. But in game four in Tampa Bay, he only lasted 3.2 innings, surrendering four runs (two home runs), seven hits, and three walks as the Rays were able to force game five. The one thing going for the Yankees is that Verlander’s home rate was fairly high at 1.5 HR/9, and the Yankees hit 307 long balls this season. The Yankees best bet is getting to him early and not letting him get more confident as he gets deeper into the game.
James Paxton was the Yankees best pitcher down the stretch, winning ten starts in a row to end the regular season before only going one inning in his very last start. He was the exact pitcher the Yankees had hoped to get when they traded for him in the offseason and turned into an ace. In his first postseason start, in game one of the ALDS, he wasn’t involved in the decision as he went 4.2 innings while surrendering three runs, five hits, and one walk while striking out eight. The Yankees, of course, went on to win the game and sweep the series. The Yankees would love to see Paxton go five innings and then hand it off to their very good bullpen. He has a very tough task in facing off against Verlander and will need to limit the damage to a little to none for the Yankees to have a chance.
Game 3: Luis Severino vs. Gerrit Cole
This may well end up being the marquee pitching matchup of the series, the first game in the Bronx. Both starters are coming off very good ALDS series, with Severino starting one game and Cole two games.
Severino started game three in the ALDS as well, going four innings while allowing no runs, four hits, and two walks while striking out four, handing it off to the bullpen to close out the sweep. After being out for most of the season, Severino has looked very solid since returning in September, as he has only given up two runs in 16 innings while striking out 21. The Yankees will look for more of the same from Severino is this game, and he will probably go four or five innings.
Cole is coming off an ALDS clinching game in game five where he completely shut down the Rays bats, giving up one run, two hits, and two walks with ten strikeouts over eight dominant innings. In his other start in game two, Cole went 7.2 innings while striking out 15 and allowing no runs, four hits, and one walk. The Yankees will probably have a pretty tough time against Cole, but if anyone can do something against him, it’s them. Cole has won 21 of his 29 starts going back to the end of May this season and struck out 326 batters in the regular season.
Who’s to Follow
Following the first three games, the other potential matchups are not yet known. Neither team has a high-end starting option after their top three starters and very well may go with a bullpen game in game four. For the Yankees, they may go with an opener in Chad Green, as they also added CC Sabathia onto the roster who can give them innings out of the bullpen. They also have J.A. Happ, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Luis Cessa who can give then multiple innings in the bullpen. As far as the Astros are concerned, they might go with Jose Urquidy on a short leash and then roll with their bullpen.
The Yankees have a very powerful lineup and in their ALDS sweep of the Twins, they put up 23 runs. While this was against a Minnesota Twins pitching staff that is nowhere near the Astros (*Trigger warning: I mean they faced an Uuuubbber driver in game two), the Yankees still have a lineup that can strike at any time against anybody. They were second this season to the Twins in home runs with 306 of them and scored an average of 5.82 runs per game. Gleyber Torres and Didi Gregorius were the stars of the Yankees lineup in the ALDS, and if they handed out an MVP award for that series I’m sure one of them would have gotten it. Torres had a big go-ahead RBI double in game one and smashed his first postseason home run in the clinching game three. Gregorius hit the Yankees’ 12th grand slam in postseason history in game two, which nearly caused Yankee Stadium to fall over. DJ LeMahieu homered in game one as he drove in four runs, while Brett Gardner and Cameron Maybin also hit home runs in the series. Aaron Judge is always a big bat in the Yankees lineup and he had three hits in the series. Giancarlo Stanton wasn’t yet able to get going, but I am calling it now that he breaks out against the Astros. Stanton did walk four times against the Twins and should get some better pitches to hit this series. Edwin Encarnacion drove in two runs in the series after a regular season in which he hit 34 home runs. Gary Sanchez struggled but did hit 34 home runs during the season. Don’t forget what Sanchez did back in 2017 that erupted Yankee Stadium as he cleared the bases with a double. Gio Urshela is another bat in the lineup who broke out this year, batting .314 with 21 homers, 74 RBI and a .889 OPS.
MVP candidate Alex Bregman leads the dangerous Astros lineup and he went 6-for-17 with a home run and three RBI in the ALDS. The Astros scored 19 runs over the five games and were shut down by the Rays plethora of bullpen arms in game four as they only scored one run. Jose Altuve hit three home runs (one in game five) against the Rays after hitting 31 in the regular season. The pesky Altuve is always a tough out for any pitcher, and once he has the wheels to make things happen on the basepaths. The likely rookie of the year winner Yordan Alvarez is always tough as he hit for a 1.067 OPS with 27 homers and 78 RBI during the season. Carlos Correa (.926 OPS, 21 HR in reg. season), Yuli Gurriel (6-for-19 in ALDS, 4 RBI), Michael Brantley (home run in game five), and George Springer (.974 OPS, 39 HR, 96 RBI in reg. season) are other bats to watch for in the Astros lineup. The Astros scored 5.68 runs per game in the regular season and hit 288 home runs.
I am going to make this part short and sweet and just get to the point. The Yankees have had one of the best bullpens in the league all season and have one of the best, if not the best closer in the game in Aroldis Chapman (2.21 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 85 SO, 37-42 saves). As I mentioned earlier, they also have several long-man options in the bullpen such as Sabathia, Happ, and Loaisiga to go to for a few innings. The Yankees bullpen had a 4.15 xFIP which was good for fourth-best in the league and struck out 10.16 batters per nine, third in the league. Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green, and Adam Ottavino are also big arms in the Yankee bullpen. If you were to say the Astros had any weak-link, it would be their bullpen. That bullpen gave up 13 runs in the ALDS and go from an aggressive Rays lineup to a patient and “Savage” Yankees lineup that sees pitches very well. The Yankees were second in average pitches seen per plate appearance with 4.06 and can definitely rattle the Astros pitchers. The key for the Yankees in this series will be actually getting to the bullpen. If the series ends up turning into a battle of the pens, the Yankees will have the upper hand.
Verdict: Yankees in 6
This series will be the series it is getting hyped up to be, a battle of Goliath vs. Goliath, juggernaut vs. juggernaut. Back in 2017, the Yankees lost the first two games on the road, won all three games in the Bronx, but then lost the last two in Houston. That shows you how important Home Field Advantage is. The Yankees will obviously have to win on the road at least once to win the series, and I think their best shot at that is tonight. If they can get off to a quick 1-0 series lead against Greinke, they will be confident to at least go home with the series tied 1-1. The Yankees will win one on the road in the first two games, and then the Astros take one in the Bronx, but the Yankees will ride their offense and their very strong bullpen to take this series in six. I know everyone probably expects this series to go seven, but I see the Yankees being able to get it done in six. Oh, and as you see below, I think Giancarlo Stanton will break out and that will have a huge impact.
MVP: Giancarlo Stanton
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images