After going down two games to none to start their ALDS journey, the New York Yankees pulled off a remarkable three-game about-face against a Cleveland team afflicted by melted-down pitching. As a reward, New York now gets to face one of the best teams in baseball during the regular season, a team it only won two games of seven games against: The Houston Astros.
In facing the Yankees, the Astros will be almost be facing themselves. Both teams have young, exciting, powerful talent; solid starting pitching; and good bullpens — as close to the “full package” as a team can get. This makes this series interesting, potentially more interesting than a series against Cleveland.
All things being even, the Astros probably have the better top-half starting rotation for this seven-game series. When starting, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander have been more than adequate at suppressing big innings, and while throwing Brad Peacock third and Charlie Morton fourth, as they did against Boston, is a concern, there’s the possibility that they could pull one of their younger pitchers out of the bullpen — or, to use an inaccurate term that’s nevertheless gained steam this postseason — they could “bullpen” it.
None of New York’s starters are quite at a Keuchel/Verlander level, but Luis Severino and Sonny Gray are capable of putting together ace-like starts, and the resurgent performances of C.C. Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka give the Yankees the back-end rotational advantage.
If series are won with pitching, total, the Yankees have a huge advantage in their bullpen. Being able to use David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Aroldis Chapman across multiple innings kept the Yankees in their ALDS matchup. While the Astros do have some decent arms, they haven’t had nearly the reliability of the Yankees’ pen. Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson are good pitchers, as are Joe Musgrove and Lance McCullers, Jr., but they’re not quite up to the level of performance that New York can expect every night.
Most importantly, this matchup gives us another chance to see Aaron Judge (6-7, 52 regular season home runs) against Jose Altuve (5-5, though listed 5-6, 24 regular season home runs, .346 batting average). Judge and Altuve are two of the best offensive talents in the game of baseball, but the way they go about their craft is so different, and both players are a lesson in why it’s impossible to evaluate in absolutely set ways.
As far as this series goes, Altuve has the edge. His pure batting ability is less dependent on being “hot” than Judge’s power, and while Judge can change a game with one swing, we saw Altuve do just that in Houston’s first game against the Red Sox. Altuve may not be able to replicate his over-.500 performance against the kind of pitching the Yankees bring to the series, but he’s an incredibly dangerous, patient hitter. Judge is coming into this series cold, with only one hit across 20 at-bats against Cleveland.
This brings us neatly to something worth considering. The Yankees, in having to go to five games, will now be rolling into the ALCS with little time off. While Aroldis Chapman had to throw more innings than they’d like, they’re also not in a position like Cleveland would have been, with a depleted and tired bullpen right off the bat.
The Astros, by virtue of winning their ALDS in four, will have been off for three days before they face New York, giving their bullpen (which certainly wasn’t overtaxed) time to regroup. They can re-set their rotation without throwing either Keuchel or Verlander on short rest. Of course, by having that extra time off, there’s the always present (but of debatable veracity) concern that Houston will come into this series “cold,” while the Yankees will just be playing another important game.