Tonight the Yanks and Astros pick up where they left off as seventh game ALCS starter Charlie Morton takes the mound against the red-hot Yankees. This time Morton is not backed by Lance McCullers Jr., who will not enter the game (we assume) and throw 200 curve balls in a row.
But let’s get to the meat here… Ten quick thoughts about this series.
- How Much Does It Matter. All baseball eyes will be on these two teams that were expected to duke it out for AL superiority this season (along with the Red Sox and Indians). So far they both trail the high-flying Red Sox (20-7) but that gap has been closing and both teams come in 2 GB of the Sox. In the long view these 4 games may not mean that much, but with some of the off-season gabbing about which is the team to beat, bragging rights will probably feel good if one team dominates the other.
- What about that Yankees offense vs. the Astros offense. The Yanks’ offense is where the Astros ended up last season. They are 1st in runs/game (6.04), HR (41), BB (123), OBP (.346) and OPS (.811) in the AL. They have the players with the 1st (Didi Gregorious – 30) and fifth (Gary Sanchez – 24) most RBIs in the AL and the scary thing is neither of them is named Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton. Slowing them down is a key. The Astros’ offense has been a bit inconsistent and has a few more holes to date than last season. George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa lead the offense along with the two-headed catching giant of Brian McCann and Max Stassi. Marwin Gonzalez and Alex Bregman are beginning to warm up, while Yuli Gurriel is playing like someone who got a late start to the season.
- How about the Astros pitching vs. the Yanks’ pitching. In a strength on strength battle vs. the Yanks’ offense, the Astros have had superb starting pitching and despite the fans’ misgivings, one of the better bullpens in the league. The Astros have the 2nd best bullpen ERA in the AL at 2.80 and have only allowed 2 of 19 inherited runners to score – best % in the AL. The Astros’ starters lead the AL in ERA (2.50), WHIP (1.01), Ks (216) and IP (180.1). The Yanks have been good this season, not in the Astros stratosphere, but solid and have been especially strong during this 9 game winning streak, only allowing 2 runs per game.
- What about momentum. The Yanks are the hottest team in the majors right now, riding a 9 game winning streak, including a 4 game sweep of the Twins at home, and a three-game sweep of the Angels in Anaheim. The Astros have won 9 of their last 12, but did lose two to those same Angels last week. But everyone knows momentum sometimes can disappear in a day.
- Can the Astros control Didi. In the seven-game ALCS, Gregrious had a very quiet no HR and one RBI. Coming into this series, he has 4 HR and 10 RBIs in his last 7 games and is tied for the MLB lead in HRs (10) and is all by himself in RBIs (30) on the season.
- Pitching Matchups
- Sonny Gray 1-1, 7.71 ERA vs. Charlie Morton 3-0, 1.86 ERA – Advantage Astros
- Jordan Montgomery 2-0, 3.76 ERA vs. Justin Verlander 4-0, 1.36 ERA – Advantage Astros
- Luis Severino 4-1, 2.61 ERA vs. Dallas Keuchel 1-4, 4.00 ERA – Advantage Yanks
- Masahiro Tanaka 4-2, 4.37 ERA vs. Lance McCullers 4-1, 3.71 ERA – Advantage Astros
- Home field. In the playoffs, the home team won every time.
- Wins and runs. The Astros are scoring 2.6 runs per game in their 10 losses. They are scoring 6.36 in their 19 wins. The Yanks are scoring 3.22 runs in their losses and 7.44 runs per game in their 18 wins.
- A little freaky. The Astros record is 19-10 and the Yanks are 18-9 headed into this series. Last year the Astros were 19-10 after 29 games and the Yanks were 18-9 after 27 games.
- What about those bullpens. The Yanks are missing the injured Tommy Kahnle, and are relying the most on Aroldis Chapman (1.50 ERA), David Robertson (3.14 ERA), Chad Green (2.08 ERA) and Chasen Shreve (0.79 ERA), while trying to straighten out Dellin Betances (5.40 ERA). The Astros are riding Chris Devenski (0.75 ERA), Will Harris (1.69 ERA), Ken Giles (2.00 ERA), Hector Rondon (1.74), Brad Peacock (2.84 ERA) and Collin McHugh (0.84 ERA) while trying to straighten out Joe Smith (9.64 ERA).
Bottom line. This should be a great four-game series. While a 2-2 split feels right, it says here the Astros will take 3 of 4 and slow down the Yankee express.