The New York Yankees shocked the world in the American League Division Series, coming back to win three straight games to knock out the AL favorite Cleveland Indians. Yet, can they continue their magic?
New York cannot afford to fall into a similar deficit in the AL Championship Series, as the Houston Astros are playing World Series-caliber baseball at the moment, particularly on offense.
One league MVP candidate is doing his best to secure a pennant for the Astros, while the Yankees' leading slugger is hoping to end his free fall in the ALCS.
How can you catch all of this exciting action? Tune in starting Friday to see if the Yankees can win another series as an underdog while Houston tries to keep on rolling, with the current World Series odds coming via OddsShark.com.
ALCS 2017 Viewing Schedule, Dates
Game 1: Friday, Oct. 13 on FS1
Game 2: Saturday, Oct. 14 on Fox
Game 3: Monday, Oct. 16 on FS1
Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 17 on Fox/FS1
Game 5*: Wednesday, Oct. 18 on Fox/FS1
Game 6*: Friday, Oct. 20 on Fox/FS1
Game 7*: Saturday, Oct. 21 on Fox/FS1
Updated World Series Odds
Houston Astros: 9-4
New York Yankees: 15-4
Pitching was the name of the game for the Yankees in the ALDS, as CC Sabathia, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka combined for three excellent starts to propel New York to come back from the two-game deficit.
It also helps that the team possesses a lights-out bullpen that capped off the three wins, per SI.com's Joe Sheehan:
Joe Sheehan @joe_sheehan
The #Yankees bullpen during the comeback: 8 2/3 shutout IP, seven baserunners, 15 strikeouts.2017-10-12 03:51:54
Relief pitching is an area the Yankees excelled in this season, as they finished third in the league with a bullpen ERA of 3.34. That has carried over into the postseason as a whole.
Aroldis Chapman has thrown 6.2 scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts, Tommy Kahnle has not allowed a hit in five innings and David Robertson has conceded just four hits and one run in eight frames of work.
When the Yankees receive a solid start, they are pretty tough to beat. This bullpen gives them a distinct advantage late in the game, as the Astros' mediocre relief pitching put them 17th in MLB with a 4.17 ERA, and they followed that up with 10 runs allowed over 16.1 innings in their ALDS matchup with the Boston Red Sox.
Luckily for Houston, it has an offense explosive enough to spot its bullpen with plenty of runs.
The Astros led the league in scoring this season, easily topping the second-ranked Yankees with 896 runs while also leading MLB with a .282 average. In fact, Houston boasted one of the best attacks in baseball history, per MLB.com's Mike Petriello:
Mike Petriello @mike_petriello
Astros had a historically good offense this year. So far in OCT, they're having a historic postseason, too. MORE: https://t.co/hRRi6xmd7o https://t.co/5ptyUcD71e2017-10-11 19:26:34
Jose Altuve has led the way this postseason, going 8-for-15 in the ALDS with three homers, four RBI and four walks.
Meanwhile, his main competition for AL MVP could not be struggling more. Aaron Judge had one hit, a huge two-run double in Game 4, in the ALDS and set a record for most strikeouts in a postseason series with 16.
ESPN's Buster Olney put the slump into a different perspective during Game 5:
Buster Olney @Buster_ESPN
Aaron Judge has 15 strikeouts in this series. Tony Gwynn had 15 strikeouts in 535 at-bats during the 1995 season.2017-10-12 02:23:14
Judge did not receive the quality of help around him like Yulieski Gurriel and George Springer, who each hit over .400, while Carlos Correa is still arguably the best shortstop despite not having his best series. Yet, the Yankees cannot feel as great about their chances if Judge replicates this clunker of a series.
Starting pitching is an area of strength for Houston, though, carrying two aces in Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander along with strong secondary options such as Lance McCullers Jr. and Brad Peacock.
Keuchel, who will start Game 1, iced the Yankees in his lone start against them in the regular season, going six innings with five hits and earned runs.
Still, the Yankees can counter. Starting pitchers have not been announced, but it is safe to assume two of Sonny Gray, Severino and Tanaka will start in Games 1 and 2.
Gray was shaky with his 3.1 innings of work in the ALDS, but he is still a quality arm and his 3.45 career ERA make him one of the best pitchers in this series.
Throw in Severino and Tanaka, both of whom are coming off of at least seven innings of masterful pitching in their last outings, and New York is sitting pretty with Sabathia available to throw big innings later in the series.
With all of these factors in mind, the Yankees feel like the favorite here.
They are much better equipped than Boston to handle Houston with their pitching, and they have been scraping together an average of just under five runs a game, which is more than enough in the playoffs.
The bullpen will be key, as New York's stronger ability to hold leads or cease the Astros' offense late in games can allow the Yankees to capitalize on a shaky Houston relief group.
This series looks destined to go at least six games, but look for the Yankees to pull another upset and move on to the World Series.
Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.