Yanks-Astros ALCS rematch 'going to be a blast'

October 11th, 2019

HOUSTON -- Here we go again: The Yankees and Astros open the American League Championship Series at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday at Minute Maid Park. Inevitable, right?

It has felt that way for months, even if the Rays, Athletics, Twins, et al, had other ideas. It also feels right that one of these teams will play in the World Series. The Astros and Yankees are the AL’s marquee teams at the moment. Both ran away with their divisions, both had 100-win seasons, and both expected to be here.

“I feel like it's something that everybody has looked at as possible,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said after his team's 6-1 victory over the Rays in the decisive Game 5 of the AL Division Series on Thursday.

“And certainly we've been the two best teams in the American League. They're really good. And they're playing really well. So we're about to buckle up and get to a seven-game series to see who represents the American League in the World Series. That's a good feeling. It's an even better feeling that it comes to our house and we have home-field [advantage].”

In the last three seasons, Houston has won more games (311) than any other Major League team. New York is the next-winningest AL team, with 294.

The 2017 ALCS between the Astros and Yankees was a mini-classic, with the home team winning every game. Houston returned from Yankee Stadium trailing the series, 3-2, and won a pair of elimination contests thanks to seven shutout innings from Justin Verlander in Game 6 and Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. combining on a three-hit shutout in Game 7.

Now the Astros are attempting to win the World Series for the second time in three seasons. The Yanks have been to the postseason 21 times in 25 years, but they haven’t won a World Series since 2009.

“Yeah, the Yankees, obviously, are a formidable squad,” right-hander Gerrit Cole said. “The AL East, we all know what that division poses with the reigning World [Series] champions, and obviously the Tampa Bay Rays hanging in there.

“They've got a lot of talent, a boatload of talent. It's just kind of how they're always made. They're very stoic. They grind out a lot of at-bats. It's going to be a tough matchup.”

The Yankees led the Majors with 943 runs this season and trailed only the Twins in home runs. The Astros were close behind, scoring just 23 fewer runs and hitting 18 fewer home runs. But Houston is a different kind of offensive team. In a strikeout era, the Astros led MLB in walks and had the fewest strikeouts. Houston pitched better. Its 3.66 ERA was the AL’s second lowest, trailing only Tampa Bay (3.65).

The Yanks' pitching staff is better than it was much of the season. Their No. 1 starter, Luis Severino, is back from the injured list, and left-hander James Paxton was excellent down the stretch.

The Astros are feeling pretty good about themselves as well after winning a Game 5 that began with George Springer and Michael Brantley starting a streak of four straight hits in the top of the first.

Houston had a four-run lead before Cole took the mound for the second inning, and he did most of the rest with a one-run, 10-strikeout, eight-inning gem. He, Verlander and Zack Greinke will start at least six of a potential seven ALCS games.

Stars? Both teams have ‘em, from Verlander, Cole, Springer and Alex Bregman on the Astros to Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Severino and Masahiro Tanaka on the Yankees -- and lots more.

In addition to that, the Yankees and Astros are familiar with each other. This is the second time in three seasons they’ve played in the ALCS. If you include the 2015 AL Wild Card Game, which Houston won, it’s the third time in five seasons their paths have crossed in the postseason.

In those five seasons, including the playoffs, the Astros lead the series, 22-20. In the last three regular seasons, Houston has beaten New York 11 times and lost 10 times. Run differential? Couldn’t be closer: Yanks 105, Astros 102.

The Astros won the 2019 season series, 4-3. They swept a three-game series at Minute Maid Park in April, when the Yankees had 11 players on the IL. The Yanks won three of four at Yankee Stadium in June, with 13 players on the shelf.

The Yankees are stronger now, with Judge, Stanton, Severino, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius all healthy. In sweeping the other ALDS from the Twins, the Yanks looked like a team with no weakness.

The Astros don’t have many, either. Verlander and Cole are baseball’s two most dominant starting pitchers, and Houston finally got the top of its order -- Brantley and Springer -- going in Game 5.

But the Astros have worries about the back of their bullpen, and the likely Game 1 starter, Greinke, allowed six runs in 3 2/3 innings of ALDS Game 3 on Monday.

The bottom line, though, is what a lot of fans expected it to be: Yankees vs. Astros. Again.

“They've got a really good team. So do we,” Bregman said. “It's going to be a battle. They hit the ball out of the ballpark. They've got good pitching. It's very similar to our team. Both teams were a little banged up during the year and persevered until we got to the ALCS, and we get to match up with them again. It was an unbelievable series we had with them during the regular season. It's going to be fun, man. It's going to be a blast.”