In a Clash of Two Goliaths, The Yankees and Astros to Meet in the ALCS

“Bird into center, Springer says he’s got it. The Astros win the Pennant!”- Joe Buck’s call of the final out of Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS.

A lot has change since then. The Astros won a World Series, and proved to be a consistent powerhouse in the American League by making three consecutive ALCS, while the baby Bronx Bombers of 2017 have seemingly grown into a powerhouse of their own, adding insane talent and depth along the way.

Since early in the year, it appeared quite obvious the representative of the American League in the World Series had to go through either New York or Houston. With the MLB postseason being a crapshoot most years, even the most obvious collision courses often never occur, but thankfully for baseball fans, we get to see the MLB’s very best battle it out in what should be nothing short of a classic ALCS.

Will the Extended Rest Help or Hurt New York?

Yankees celebrating their sweep of the Twins in the ALDS

The Yankees are facing a battle that has gone the test of time without being answered. Is rest beneficial or harmful when it comes to the Postseason? For the Yankees we will soon get that answer as they will have just played 3 games in the last 11 days because of their sweep of the Twins in the ALDS combined with the Astros going the full 5 games to knock off the Tampa Rays. I often believe in rest equates to rust. I generally prefer the team that goes into the next series with the shorter amount of time off because it simulates what baseball is for 6months in the regular season. Playing just 3 games in 11 days is unheard of and un-baseball-like. However in the specific case of the 2019 Yankees, with the way they rely heavily on the 5 arms out of the bullpen, I think the rest helps the Yankees. It is no secret that the Yankees starting pitching is the weak group of the team, but the extra rest should help them as well, in particular Masahiro Tanaka the Game 1 starter. Having Tanaka on extra rest (6 days rest) should bold well for them considering he has always performed good on extended rest after the years of being used to going once every seven days when he played in Japan.

The Yankees bullpen should be thrilled. The extended time off allows them to rest and be at full strength to endure what will be a long, high leverage series where they will be asked to be extended more than ever. Throw in Zack Britton’s discomfort and Aroldis Chapman getting hit with a champagne bottle during the ALDS celebration, the rest should do the Yankees pen wonders.

Beyond an on point Verlander and Cole with their nasty wipe out breaking balls down and away, I don’t see much stopping this 2019 Yankees lineup, that is 9 deep, including the extended rest.

Effect of Houston Going 5 Games with Tampa

Astros celebrating Game 5 win over Tampa to advance to the ALCS.

When the Astros went to Tampa up 2-0 with Zack Grienke on the bump, they had to be thinking sweep so they could line up their rotation with Verlander-Cole-Grienke for the Yankees in the ALCS. Things didn’t go as planned as the Rays jumped all over Grienke and the bullpen, scoring 10. No worries for the Astros right? They had Verlander on the bump which has been as close to a guaranteed win in the postseason over the past 3 years. Well the Rays threw a wrench into that, scoring 3 runs off Verlander in the first inning. The Trop crowd went nuts and took over the game, silencing the Astros in yet another upset. That Game 4 loss was crucial for a number of reasons.

  1. Extended the series to the full 5 games
  2. Forces Gerrit Cole to pitch, pushing him back to Game 3 of the ALCS which will be on the road
  3. Grienke has to face the Yankees at least 2x in the series, something they wanted to avoid if possible

The Rays really did their AL East rival Yankees massive favors by being pesky and pushing the Astros to the limit. The importance of having Cole have to start Game 3 at Yankees Stadium as opposed to facing him Game 1 at Minute Maid Park in Houston can’t be understated. For one, Cole has literally been unbeatable since June and his performances at home have been historic. The Yankees getting a chance at him in the concrete jungle, 50,000 Yankees fans suffocating him, where the Yankees have been unbeatable, is arguably series changing. It gives the Yankees a legit chance of taking down the best pitcher in the game today, something that would have been unlikely if they had to face Cole in Houston.

Also it puts pressure on Grienke to perform against the Yankees, something he has struggled with throughout his career. The Yankees get two chances at him (once in the Bronx), something they will definitely need to take advantage of if they want to win the series.

Offense: Who has the Edge?


Astros Lineup                                    Yankees Lineup

  1. George Springer (R) RF         1. DJ LeMahieu (R) 1B
  2. Michael Brantley (L) LF         2. Aaron Judge (R) RF
  3. Jose Altuve (R) 2B                 3. Brett Gardner (L) CF
  4. Alex Bregman (R) 3B             4. Edwin Encarnacion (R) DH
  5. Yordan Alvarez (L) DH           5. Giancarlo Stanton (R) LF
  6. Yuli Gurriel (R) 1B.                  6. Gleyber Torress (R) 2B
  7. Carlos Correa (R) SS.             7. Gary Sanchez (R) C
  8. Josh Reddick (L) LF               8. Didi Gregorius (L) SS
  9. Martin Maldonado (R) C.       9. Gio Urshela (R) 3B
You don’t win 100+ games without a great offense, something both of these teams have. But I do believe one team has an edge. When you look at the Astros lineup, your eyes gravitate to the heart of the lineup. 1-5 the Astros probably have the best offense in baseball with massive power and contact. Former MVP Jose Altuve batting third followed by MVP candidate Alex Bregman, who is then followed by the probable Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez. Navigating those three will be tough for whoever the Yankees give the ball to. But there is a weakness in the Astros offense, and it is the bottom third. Carlos Correa is not the same all star level player he has been in the past as he has struggled to get back to full strength due to his injury earlier in the year. In the 8 and 9 spot are Josh Reddick and catcher Martin Maldonado, two weakest hitters in either lineup. The bottom third is a spot in the lineup that allows Yankees pitchers to take a breath an attack.
When you look at the Yankees lineup, there is no breathing room 1-9. Everyone in the Yankees lineup works the count, and is a threat to take your best pitcher deep.  DJ Lemahieu, who will garner MVP votes this year, leads off and often gets on base. He is followed up by Aaron Judge who is a known power threat but will also take his walks. Brett Gardner who used to be a breather at bat has become a power hitter himself and has shown up this postseason thus far. The 4 and 5 spots filled by veteran sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Giancarlo Stanton who will run into a few in a seven game series. Arguably the best player on the Yankees, Gleyber Torres hits 6th and has been a clutch performer all season long.
The real difference that separates the two offenses is the Yankees bottom 3rd. Gary Sanchez who can be any teams clean up hitter, bats 7th. Didi Gregorius, the man who batted 3rd the last time these teams met in the ALCS, hits 8th. And in the nine hole is Gio Urshela, a man who hit .314 this season. Even with the filthy stuff the Astros rotation can throw at you, the Yankees lineup is lethal. Verlander, Cole and Grienke have the ability to be dominant on any given night but the Yankees relentless lineup will make it difficult on them.

Starting Pitching: Advantage Astros

On paper the biggest disparity in talent is in the starting rotation. The Astros know they are getting 6+ innings of dominance from Cole and Verlander. Cole is on an all-time stretch of dominance that has carried into the postseason where he obliterated the Rays offense. Cole going in Game 3 and then set up for a potential decisive Game 7 at home are going to be tough games for the Yankees offense. Verlander has been a thorn in the side of the Yankees offense for years now. Back in the 2017 ALCS, Verlander shut down the Yankees offense twice. Despite Grienke’s shortcomings under the bright lights and against the Yankees, he is still among the top arms in baseball. At any giving moment he can click and also take over a game.

For the Yankees, the talent is there but the confidence in it wavers. Playoff Tanaka is a real thing, just look at his playoff stats. He has slowly built a legacy as a big time pitcher. But Paxton just lost his playoff virginity against the Twins, he was good enough but there is no track record of getting it done in the postseason. And with Severino he has had his struggles in past postseasons, and is only 3 games into his 2019 season. He worked into and out of trouble in Game 3 vs the Twins but that won’t work against the relentless Astros lineup who has the battle scars of postseason at bats under pressure.

Bullpen: Advantage Yankees

For the disparity in starting pitching, the Yankees make up for it with the elite arms in their bullpen. Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton, and Aroldis Chapman will all be used in high leverage situations frequently. The trust Aaron Boone has in his relievers was showcased in the ALDS when he went to them early and often, never allowing his starters to face the opposing offense for a 3rd time through. There is a chance the Yankees even have a true bullpen game later in this series. That is the type of ability this Yankees pen has.

Now compare that to the usage and faith in the Astros bullpen. Astors Manager A.J. Hinch grinds every last out possible from his starters to avoid his shaky bullpen. Closer Roberto Osuna struggled in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Rays, nearly spoiling Cole’s dominate 15K start. If Astros starters falter, I have very little faith in the bullpen being able to contain the Yankees powerhouse offense.

Prediction: Yankees Win in a Competitive Series

If there is one thing I am sure of, it’s that this series will be wild entertaining, intense, adding up to what should be another classic series between these two teams. Vegas has the Astros as the favorite to win the series which is very possible. But I’m leaning towards the Yankees advancing.

All year long the Yankees have overcome injury after injury, challenge after challenge and continued down a path of wreckage. Now that they are at near full strength, I see no holes in the offense, a deep bench to support a shutdown bullpen and an acceptable starting rotation.

Weighing out the pros and cons, the Yankees have the advantage in two out of the three facets of the game (offense and bullpen). The Yankees will shorten the game with their bullpen depth, and work counts to get the dominant arms of Verlander and Cole out by the 7th so they can thrive on the unreliable Astros bullpen.

The blueprint for the Yankees winning the series is simple take Game 1 on the road against Grienke, then defend their home turf in the Bronx like they did in the 2017 ALCS and all year long. Easier said than done and things rarely ever go to plan, but that is the best route to a series win for New York. You have to steal a game on the road to advance so what better opportunity than to steal game 1 against the weakest link of the Astros big three? If the series does go back to Houston for a games 6 and 7, the Yankees will have their work cut out for them considering Verlander and Cole are scheduled to get the ball. To avoid having to face those pressure on the road against the very best the Astros have to offer, the best case scenario for the Yankees is if they close it out in the Bronx in 5 games.


Leave a Reply