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2019 ALCS Preview: How the Yankees Can Finally Take Down the Astros

How can the New York Yankees finally slay the dragon and take down the Houston Astros in the ALCS? Let’s dive in and find out.

It’s rematch time. The 2019 American League Championship Series will pit the two seed AL East Champion New York Yankees against the one seed AL West Champion Houston Astros. The Yankees are coming off a three game sweep over the Minnesota Twins in their ALDS matchup. Meanwhile, the Astros won a hard fought series over the Tampa Bay Rays in five games in their ALDS matchup. New York finished the regular season with the third best record in baseball at 103-59. Meanwhile, Houston finished with the best record in baseball at 107-55.

It would be an injustice to not mention the recent history between these two teams. Obviously, the 2019 ALCS will also be a rematch from two years ago, as both New York and Houston faced off. In what was a very entertaining series, the Astros managed to take down the Yankees in seven games. Furthermore, back in 2015, both teams played each other in the AL Wild Card Game. In that game, the Astros won 3-0 to eliminate the Yankees from the playoffs.

While the Yankees have made the playoffs in four of the last five years, the Houston Astros have always been the one dragon they’ve simply been unable to slay. The Astros have been considered heavy favorites to win the World Series ever since they acquired Zack Grenkie at this year’s trade deadline, adding him to a rotation featuring Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole to complete a three headed monster.

So it’s time to ask the million dollar question. How can the New York Yankees finally slay the dragon and take down the Houston Astros? It’s time to dive in as see what the secret sauce that Aaron Boone and company are cooking up could be.

Regular Season Series & Statistics

Let’s start off with looking at how both teams did in the regular season, both in general and against each other. When comparing offenses, it’s pick your poison if you’re the opposing pitching staff. The Astros rank first in the league in batting average (.274), on-base percentage (.352), slugging percentage (.495), and OPS (.848). Meanwhile the Yankees rank fourth in batting average (.267), fourth in on-base percentage (.339), third in slugging percentage (.490), and third in OPS (.829). However, the Yankees finished first in baseball in total runs scored with 943 while the Astros finished third in 920, so the averages don’t tell the whole story.

The pitching is where things appear to be one-sided. Houston finished third in all of baseball with a team ERA of 3.66. Meanwhile New York finished 14th with a team ERA of 4.31. The Astros allowed just 640 runs, the second fewest in baseball. Meanwhile the Yankees allowed 739, nearly 100 totals more, and the 11th fewest in baseball.

However, the Yankees numbers are just a bit misleading when you consider the following; Luis Severino missed most of the regular season due to injury, but returned mid-September and has looked like his old ace self since. Furthermore, while both Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton struggled at times in the regular season, the former has proven to been the Yankees postseason ace while the latter was the Yankees best pitcher in general during the final two months of the season. So the gap between the Yankees pitching as the Astros pitching isn’t as big as many think, though Houston still has the clear advantage.

Last but not least, let’s take a quick look at the seven games both teams played against each other in the regular season. The Astros won four games of those seven in the regular season, sweeping the Yankees at their home field, Minute Maid Park, in three games from April 8-10. However, the Yankees won three of the four games at their home field, Yankee Stadium, from June 20-23. In those four games, Houston outscored New York 39-37, by just two runs. Last but not least, all the games the two teams played against each other were in the first half of the season, when the Yankees were in the middle of having the majority of their players go down with injury. In a nutshell, while the Astros do have the advantage on paper, there are holes in the statistics that the Yankees can end up exploiting.

Outlasting Houston’s Starters

If the Yankees are going to beat the Astros, it’ll be by outlasting Houston’s starting pitching. It’s no secret that the Astros have one of, if not the best starting rotations in baseball. Led by future first-ballot Hall of Famer and arguably the best pitcher of our generation, Justin Verlander, plus one of the best pitcher of the last two seasons in Gerrit Cole, the Astros have the two favorites for the 2019 AL Cy Young Award at the top of their rotation. Scoring runs against them will be a tough task indeed, even for the savages in the box.

So how do the Yankees beat up on the Astros aces? It’s quite simple. By outlasting them. As great as the Astros starting rotation is, their bullpen is suspect. For a perfect example, you need not look further than Game 2 of the ALDS. In that game, Cole pitched one of the greatest postseason games in recent memory, going 7 2/3 shutout innings and striking out 15. However, in the top of the ninth, Houston’s bullpen allowed the bases loaded and a run to score, nearly blowing the game. Despite this, the Astros went on to win the game 3-1.

With all due respect to the Tampa Bay Rays, their lineup does not feature the same talent that the Yankees lineup does. Aaron Boone named them the savages in the box for a reason. With contact hitters like DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela, power hitters in Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, and Edwin Encarnacion, as well as excellent all-around hitters in Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres, the Yankees have a perfectly balanced lineup with elite contact and power. They’ll exploit any and all types of weakness that a pitcher shows. In other words, if the Yankees can get to the Astros bullpen with the score close, they’ll have a major advantage, as the Yankees bullpen is historically deep.

Matchups

A huge part of any playoff series is matchups, both pitcher vs. pitcher and batter vs. pitcher. So let’s take a look to see what matchups favor the Yankees and what matchups favor the Astros. Both teams have announced their starters for the first three games. Masahiro Tanaka will face Zack Grenkie in game 1, James Paxton will go up against Justin Verlander in game 2, and Luis Severino will duel with Gerrit Cole in game 3.

Looking at the pitching matchups, one favors the Yankees, another favors the Astros, and the other is a toss up. When you consider how great Tanaka’s been in the postseason and Grenkie’s struggles in game 3 of the ALDS and down the stretch of the season in general, you have to like the Yankees chances in Game 1. Game 2 clearly favors Houston, as Verlander will be on four days rest and ready to go. Plus as great as Paxton pitched down the stretch, he struggled a bit in Game 1 of the ALDS.

Game 3 is a toss up as while Gerrit Cole has been lights out in the postseason, Luis Severino was very impressive as well. The grit that Sevy showed in game 4 of the ALDS in terms of getting out of tough jams is the hallmark of a true ace pitcher, which most of us can agree is Severino’s ceiling. While Cole is the better pitcher, Severino is more than capable of going toe to toe with him and when you consider the strength of the Yankees bullpen versus the Astros bullpen, the Yankees could easily take this one. However, Cole’s dominance in the playoffs alone makes this one a toss up.

Meanwhile, looking at the batter vs. pitcher matchups, look for DJ LeMahieu to have a big series for the Yankees. LeMahieu is 5-for-15 with a home run against Verlander and 17-for-58 with a home run against Grenkie. Furthermore, Didi Gregorius is 5-for-15 with a home run against Verlander as well. Last but not least, Giancarlo Stanton has hit Cole well, as he’s 3-for-10 with a home run.

Looking at Houston’s lineup, the hitter the Yankees will have to watch out the most for is Jose Altuve. Altuve hits all three of the Yankees starting pitchers well. He’s 6-for-20 with two doubles and two home runs against Tanaka, 10-for-30 with two home runs against Paxton, and 4-for-13 against Severino. Furthermore, Altuve currently leads all postseason hitters with home runs with three. The Yankees will have to be extra careful pitching to the 2017 AL MVP.

Key to the Series

Last but not least, it’s time to wrap up our series preview how we always wrap up series previews; Determining what could prove key to the outcome of the series. A big factor will be setting the tone early on, especially Game 1. In fact, the winner of Game 1 could be heavy favorites to take the series. If Houston takes Game 1, they’ll have Verlander and Cole lined up for the next two games with a legitimate chance to go up 3-0 in the series. If the Yankees win Game 1, they’ll have at least a game in hand going back to Yankee Stadium and will be playing with house money against Verlander and Cole.

One more key to the series that could play a factor is in fact the aftermath of the ALDS for both teams; The Yankees cruised past the Twins, giving Aaron Boone the luxury of being able to set up his rotation in any order he wants with all his pitchers on extra rest. Meanwhile, the Astros had to fight tooth and nail to close out the series against the Twins. Manager A.J. Hinch was all but forced into setting up his rotation into what it is now. And with the Astros starters not being as well rested as the Yankees, the gap between the two clubs becomes that much closer.

The 2019 American League Championship Series is set up to be by far the most entertaining one of the entire 2019 MLB postseason. You have two of the best teams in baseball going against each other in a rematch of a series that went seven games just two years ago. Furthermore, both teams are much improved since that time. And with how perfectly the ALDS went for the Yankees, this could easily be their best chance to finally slay the dragon that is the Houston Astros.

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New York & New Jersey Sports Staff Writer, New Jersey Jackals Beat Writer
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