It took a little bit longer than most expected, but the New York Yankees and Houston Astros- the two best teams in the American League and perhaps the two best in all of Major League Baseball this year- are finally set to face off over the next two weeks with a World Series berth on the line.
These clubs took diametrically opposed paths on their way to the ALCS. The Yankees efficiently swept the Minnesota Twins, outscoring them 23-7 and generally looking like the dominant team many envisioned at the start of the season. The Astros were very close to matching New York in this respect, taking a 2-0 series lead over the Tampa Bay Rays before losing Games Three and Four on the road.
However, back at Minute Maid Park for the decisive Game 5, Houston comfortably rode the arm of Cy Young favorite Gerrit Cole to a 6-1 series-clinching victory, setting up a date with the Evil Empire.
These two teams have recent postseason history. Just two years ago, Houston beat New York in an epic seven-game ALCS on their way to winning the first World Series in franchise history.
And while franchise history doesn’t always mean much, it will here. Many of the major players from that series still play for their respective teams- Judge, Altuve, Severino, Verlander, etc.- so there is defined institutional memory on each side.
As for this year’s season series, Houston defeated New York four games to three, outscoring them 39 to 37 over matchups in April and June. Clearly, these teams are as evenly matched as it gets, and the players in the series know it.
“I think throughout the year both of us thought we’d have to play each other in the postseason,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said after Game 5, per the New York Times. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Game 1: Saturday, October 12 at Houston (8:08 p.m., FOX)
Game 2: Sunday, October 13 at Houston (8:08 p.m., FS1)
Game 3: Tuesday, October 15 at New York (TBD, FOX/FS1)
Game 4: Wednesday, October 16 at New York (TBD, FOX/FS1)
Game 5: Thursday, October 17 at New York (TBD, FOX/FS1)*
Game 6: Saturday, October 19 at Houston (TBD, FOX/FS1)*
Game 7: Sunday, October 20 at Houston (TBD, FOX/FS1)*
The Astros are widely expected to begin the series with Zack Greinke. Acquired from Arizona at the trade deadline, Greinke was excellent in ten starts with Houston, posting an 8-1 record with 52 strikeouts and a 3.02 ERA.
However, he was battered severely in his one ALDS start, giving up three home runs and six earned runs in just three and two-thirds innings pitched in a 10-3 loss.
The Yankees will counter Greinke with Masahiro Tanaka. The Japanese hurler was effective in his ALDS start, giving up just one earned run over five innings in an 8-2 victory.
The Astros are likely a more complete team with fewer defined weaknesses than New York, but they are behind the eight ball right now.
Not only is Houston starting this series just two days after a surprisingly grueling ALDS, but they will be starting Greinke, who was hit hard by a Tampa Bay lineup that lacks any household names. The Yankees will be even less forgiving at the plate than their AL East rivals, and have only recently returned to full health.
The converse matchup is more interesting, but still favors New York in Game 1. All season long, the Yankees’ rotation has been the weakest link. Tanaka is a prime example of this. On his best days, he is a legit ace, but his past few years have been characterized by bouts of inconsistency. However, this could be irrelevant in Game 1.
Even if Tanaka is knocked out of the game early, he can be replaced by a reliever from the league’s best bullpen. Zack Britton, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, and Aroldis Chapman are all extremely dependable late-inning arms, (the quintet allowed a combined one run over ten and one-thirds innings in the ALDS), and they’re all well-rested by now.
Houston might have the overall edge in this series, but their truncated schedule this week puts them at a slight disadvantage.
The Yankees win on the road and regain home field advantage.