For the third time in 6 years the New York Yankees and Houston Astros will meet in the ALCS to determine who will advance to the World Series. It would have been unimaginable a few years ago to think that there could be a team that most Yankees fans would loathe as much (or even more) than the Red Sox, but after numerous cheating allegations including banging a garbage can to tip off balls and strikes and wearing a buzzer to tip off pitches, let’s just say the Astros have been a thorn in the Yankees side. Beyond the cheating allegations however, the Astros have been an extremely well run franchise and one could make the argument that the frustration amongst Yankees fans has as much to do with the Astros success on the field as their exploits behind the scenes. Simply put, the Yankees put up a good fight against the Astros in the 2017 and 2019, but it wasn’t enough as they ran up against a better opponent. On paper, the Astros look to be more well rounded than the Yankees going into this matchup as well, but games and series are played on the field and not on paper. Here are a couple of quick things to look for:
The Yankees made some changes to their ALCS roster adding SS Oswald Peraza, SP Frankie Montas and RP Greg Weissert. Left out were utility player Marwin Gonzalez, RP Lucas Luetge, OF Aaron Hicks (injury), IF DJ LeMahieu, and RP Ron Marinaccio. Of all of these the move I’m probably most confused by is leaving out Marinaccio who from all reports sounded like he was healthy and ready to go. Marinaccio carried a 2.05 ERA this season in 40 appearances and would be an upgrade over some of the other arms in the roster. Adding Peraza was a smart move as you’ll probably see Oswaldo Cabrera play more LF this series with Peraza and Isiah Kiner-Falefa getting reps at SS.
The starting pitching for the Yankees does not bode very well in this matchup due to the usage in the ALDS against the Guardians. Game 1 starter will be Jameson Taillon who has pitched twice the entire month of October. They’ll need Taillon to discover his midseason form against Astros ace Justin Verlander. If Taillon gets into trouble look for Aaron Boone to go with Montas to eat some innings up and preserve his bullpen. After Taillon the Yankees will go with Luis Severino in Game 2, Gerrit Cole in Game 3 and Nestor Cortes in Game 4. Ideally they would have preferred to have Cole and Cortes open the series so they’ll have to find ways to grind some wins out in order to be competitive.
The Yankees hit .182 in the ALDS, the lowest batting average EVER for a victorious team in the MLB playoffs. This will have to improve. The Yankees have relied on the long ball to win this season, but many have been of the solo shot variety. The bottom of the order and leadoff hitter Gleyber Torres are going to need to find ways to get on so that Judge, Rizzo and Stanton can maximize their damage in the event of a long ball.
Does Houston have any weak spots? Not many. The Yankees will need a couple things to go in their favor – a bad start by Verlander, a rusty Astros offense who have only played 3 games in 2 weeks, the Yankees offense catching fire, etc. The reason I bring this up is that the Yankees margin of error is going to be as thin as could be this series and they will have to make sure that if an opportunity presents itself, they’re taking advantage. Conversely they’ll have to be almost perfect defensively and on the basepaths. Houston is that kind of team.
Bottom line? Houston is and should be favored heavily in this series. The Yankees have a very tough road ahead of them and Boone will have to manage the series of his life. This team has some fight though and has been through some adversity this year. While I don’t think it’s probable, I’m also not counting them out. Go Yankees!!