While the National League has subverted expectations with the top two seeds knocked out in dramatic fashion, the American League Championship Series sees the top two seeds Houston Astros and the New York Yankees face off. The last time the two sides met in the postseason was the 2017 American League Championship Game, which saw the Astros edge New York in seven games en route to their first World Series championship, as reported by Sporting News.
While 2017 marked an emotional release for the Astros after Houston was devastated by Hurricane Harvey, they were the clear favorites against a young Yankees team that found success a bit ahead of schedule. That isn’t the case in 2019, as both teams have clearly been among the best in the league, boasting well-rounded squads that on paper are more talented than the National League Championship counterparts. The evenness of this matchup is made clear by the teams’ regular-season records against each other. While Houston edged the Yankees 4-3, the Yankees have won three of the last four.
Offensively, both the Astros and the Yankees lack any weaknesses in their batting lineup, with both teams flaunting a diverse skillset of hitters. In terms of making contact early in the lineup, Houston’s Michael Brantley and New York’s DJ LeMahieu are among the best in the league, while in terms of power Houston’s George Springer, José Altuve, and Alex Bregman and New York’s Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, and Giancarlo Stanton are the envy of any other team. If there are any weaknesses, it could be a lack of speed possessed by the starting lineups by both teams, but both teams’ benches boast speed for the right situation.
While the Yankees boast a strong pitching rotation anchored by Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and Luis Severino, it’s not at the Cy Young standard that the Astros boast. In their three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins, both Paxton and Severino had to get beyond some early inning troubles before settling in and putting in impressive performances.
Houston, on the other hand, was stretched to five games by the Tampa Bay Rays, but still boast three of the game’s best pitchers in Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke. Despite such talent in the rotation, Cole was the clear ace in the divisional round, setting an ALDS record with 25 strikeouts over two games. Verlander has a long-deserved reputation as one of the best postseason pitchers, and while he put up a poor performance in Game 4, he blanked the Rays with eight strikeouts over seven innings in Game 1. While Greinke’s playoff reputation pales in comparison to his teammates, he is still an undeniable talent.
It’s the bullpen where the Yankees are ahead of the Astros with a depth unmatched by almost any other team. The Astros have leaned heavily on their starters so far this postseason, as they have already combined to pitch 30 innings, even including short outings by Greinke and Verlander. This matchup could be determined by who wins the matchup between the Astros’ top-heavy rotation and the Yankees’ depth.
While it can’t be said with any confidence who will emerge from this series, the Yankees’ primary aim will be getting off to fast starts and trying to break into the Astros’ bullpen as quickly as possible. If the Astros’ pitchers live up to their standard, it’s hard to see them not breaking through. All will be known when the first pitch is thrown on Saturday.