ALCS Preview: Yankees VS. Astros

We have seen this playoff matchup before, as the Yankees and Astros once again meet in the ALCS for a chance to advance to the World Series.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JULY 21: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees hits a three-run home run in the ninth inning against the Houston Astros during game two of a doubleheader at Minute Maid Park on July 21, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Here it is. The long-awaited chapter three of this Yankees Astros saga is finally happening in the 2022 ALCS. These are two teams that have become bitter rivals over the past few seasons, and this is the third time in the last six years that we will witness these two baseball giants duke it out.

These two teams finished as the two top dogs in the American League this season. It’s fitting that they’ve made it this far. Houston finished as the top seed, winning the AL West with a staggering 106 wins, good for the second-most in baseball. The Yankees seemed to be on that same pace in the first half, but only finished with 99 wins, claiming the AL East title.

Both teams were able to rest during the Wild Card round with the newly implemented playoff system where the top seeds receive first round byes. Houston was able to fend off the young Mariners with due diligence, while the Guardians pushed New York to a five-game-set that just concluded yesterday.

The Astros went down early in Game 1 against the Mariners, striking in the late innings, and a Yordan Alvarez home run sent the Mariners packing in the ninth inning. Alvarez was the hero yet again in Game 2, launching yet another home run off Mariners ace Luis Castillo in the seventh inning to give them the lead.

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Seattle didn’t post anything after that, with Houston securing Game 2 on their way to Seattle.

Game 3 in Seattle was probably the longest postseason game that any of us have seen. The game included 18 hits… over 18 innings. Houston won 1-0 off a Jeremy Pena homer in the 18th inning to send them to the championship round.

The Yankees endured an incredibly tough series against a scrappy Guardians team. Gerrit Cole had two incredible outings that launched the Yankees into a lead after Game 1 and to tie the series even in Game 4. Game 2 at Yankee Stadium saw a battle of the bullpens, with Jameson Taillon coming short in the 10th inning with Jose Ramirez and Oscar Gonzalez providing the spark for the Guardians late.

Game 3 in Cleveland was dominated by the Yankees with home runs from Aaron Judge, Harrison Bader and Oswaldo Cabrera. They experienced a full-blown bullpen collapse, allowing the Guardians to score four runs in the bottom of the ninth to take over the series, before Cole would even it up again in Game 4.

Nestor Cortes and Aaron Civale toed the slab for their respective clubs in Game 5, and it was never close. The Cleveland starter allowed a three-run homer to Giancarlo Stanton in the first inning, which allowed the Yankees to hold the lead, and they never lost it. Cortes threw five innings of one-run ball, and the Yankees advanced to the ALCS.

Season Series: Astros win, 5-2

The two teams met twice earlier this season, splitting a four-game set followed by an Astros sweep just a few weeks later. The downturn of the 2022 regular season for the Yankees could be accredited to this matchup in late July. Houston dominated New York during the regular season.

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The first set of games might’ve been the most thrilling of any series the entire year. Game 1 on June 23rd saw the Astros go ahead early, but a ninth inning home run from Aaron Hicks and a walk-off from Aaron Judge saw the Yankees salvage away the victory. Game 2 was a completely different story, with Justin Verlander tossing seven innings of one-run ball, and a Kyle Tucker home run being the difference-maker.

The third game of the series was sickening for Yankees fans. The Astros threw a combined no-hitter against the potent Yankees offense, led by a Jose Altuve solo shot in the eighth inning. The following day brought similar results, with the Yankees being no-hit again through the first six innings. Stanton, LeMahieu and another Judge walk-off helped lead the Yankees to a win to be able to split the series.

The second meeting between the two teams was much different. Houston demolished a banged-up Yankees team. Luis Severino, Domingo German and Jordan Montgomery threw for the Yankees. Houston took Game 1 courtesy of a Kyle Tucker double which scored two after an Anthony Rizzo solo home run. The next day, a double-header was taken by Houston. Christian Javier threw a gem in the first, and a Chas McCormick home run was the difference maker in Game 2. Season series advantage goes to Houston.

Game 1: Jameson Taillon VS. Justin Verlander

Taillon is the confirmed starter for Game 1 after recent outings from the Yankees top three starters. Justin Verlander will take the bump for the Astros, their top starter. Both have had very different experiences this postseason.

For Taillon, he only had one appearance this postseason. He came in as a reliever in Game 2 of the ALDS, credited with the loss after allowing two runs to the Guardians in the tenth inning. To his credit, he pitched well. Both hits he allowed were off super soft contact that landed in ideal spots for Cleveland. Nonetheless, he took the loss.

Jameson Taillon has experienced an up-and-down 2022. He was one of the hottest pitchers on the planet through the first two months, then completely fell off a cliff midseason. The starter finished the season with a 3.91 ERA, striking out 20% of hitters. Jameson became the Yankees fourth starter once Luis Severino returned.

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Taillon faced the Astros once this year. And like many other starters, he had no success. Taillon allowed six runs over five, with two home runs sprinkled in. It’s safe to say that this isn’t a favorable matchup for the 30-year-old.

For Justin Verlander, this is a dream scenario. The veteran is on his way to yet another Cy Young award-winning season, finishing with the league’s lowest ERA at 1.75. Despite this, he had a rough first go in the ALDS against Seattle. He allowed six runs over ten hits in just four innings in Game 1, a blip in a rather flawless season. The Astros were still able to win, but it was concerning for the 39-year-old. Good news for him is, he dominated the Yankees this year. In his one start against New York, he shoved for seven innings, allowing just four hits and striking out three.

Verlander has been the most dominant pitcher over the last decade and has continued to impress even into his old age. With his experience and a drained Yankees team, he has the upper hand in the first matchup.

Game 2: Luis Severino VS. Framber Valdez

A seemingly more even pitching matchup, Yankees third starter Luis Severino will face off against Framber Valdez in Game 2. Both starters had great showings in the ALDS and will hope that their success can continue into this round.

Luis Severino pitched in the Yankees Game 3 loss in Cleveland, but it was never his fault. Sevy threw 5.2 innings of three-run ball and came out as the Yankees had a 5-3 lead. He was in position for the win but didn’t receive the honors due to the full-on bullpen implosion later that night. The Yankees No. 3 starter should be in a solid spot to put in a good outing against Houston.

Severino had a decent bounce-back 2022. The injury-riddled star pitched to the tune of a 3.18 ERA this season, striking out 9.8 hitters per nine innings with his high velocity fastball. The starter has had success against the Astros this season, throwing 12 innings and only allowing five runs while only seeing eight hits against him. The is the perfect position for Severino.

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Framber Valdez is no pushover however, as he’s been one of the best pitchers in the American League this season. Starting 31 games over 200 innings, he accumulated a 2.82 ERA in 2022. The starter set a record for most quality starts in a row this season, having 25-straight outings of excellence. He threw during Game 2 of the division series, allowing two runs over five innings against Seattle.

Framber threw during the first series against the Yankees back in July. He received a no decision after allowing three runs over six innings to the Bronx Bombers. His level of consistency and nasty stuff are a perfect recipe for another Astros win and will give Severino a tough game during the second matchup.

Game 3: Gerrit Cole VS. Lance McCullers Jr.

Game 3 sees the matchup head out east, as the Yankees will host the next three. The ultimate hero of the Yankees, Gerrit Cole, will be on the bump to face his former team. Lance McCullers Jr., who’s been incredible since coming back from injury, will throw for Houston.

Coming into this postseason, Cole had the most pressure on him of any player in the entire sport. Following the blow up in the Wild Card game last season, many questions have been asked. And thankfully for Yankees fans, he’s come through.

Cole played a pivotal part in the Yankees divisional round, shoving in both game’s one and four. He even made himself available for Game 5 after throwing 110 pitches just the day before, insane.

Cole shoved in his lone start against Houston this season, going seven innings and only allowing four hits. It was a similar story in 2021, as the starter threw a complete game shutout against his former team in the middle of the summer. This is his staff, and his postseason. If the Yankees want to have any chance of making it all the way, this man has to play a huge part.

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Lance McCullers Jr. won’t make it easy for the Yankees offense however. McCullers experienced a forearm injury back in January which saw him miss a boatload of time, but it’s been well worth the wait. The longtime Astros No. 2 shoved in his eight starts, recording a 2.28 ERA with an elite 50% ground ball rate. He’s been a top pitcher in the American League for some time now.

McCullers continued this success in the ALDS, throwing six scoreless innings against Seattle in the 18-inning win for the Astros. Cole is tough, but Lance won’t back down to the challenge in Yankee Stadium.

Game 4: Nestor Cortes Jr. VS. Cristian Javier

Nestor Cortes Jr. and Cristian Javier have been incredible for their respective teams in 2022. Cortes was the team’s ERA leader, and Javier accomplished an incredible feat (more on this later). As a Game 4 matchup, this one is super enticing.

Cortes has continued to be steady in the postseason for New York. A decent outing in Game 3 against Cleveland was followed by a masterful performance in the fifth game of the series. Nestor tossed five innings of one-run ball and picked up the win in the series decider. The starter has had an incredible breakout campaign and it’s translated into the fall.

Nestor was originally supposed to be this team’s fifth starter, but he’s transformed into a second ace next to Gerrit Cole. His 2.44 ERA and 3.13 FIP were the lowest of all Yankees starters, posting an fWAR of 3.6 on the season. Cortes was okay in his one outing against Houston this year, going five innings and allowing three runs. For Yankees fans, hopefully that leg kick magic continues.

Christian Javier brings back bad memories for Yankees fans. Javier started the combined no-hitter that occurred in the third game of the season for this matchup. He was dominant, as he’s been all season. Striking out hitters at a 33% clip while having a 2.54 ERA as the fourth starter is incredibly impressive.

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As I previously mentioned, Javier’s first outing against the Yankees was nuts. He struck out 13 hitters over a full seven innings and didn’t allow a hit. His second outing was similar, allowing just two hits over five with a single earned run. It’s safe to say that Javier has dominated the Yankees in 2022 and will be a huge test yet again for this Yankees lineup.

Who Has the Better Lineup?

Positionally, both teams stack up evenly with the bats. The Yankees are of course led by the best hitter in baseball, Aaron Judge. Houston on the other hand, is spearheaded by maybe the second-best hitter in baseball with Yordan Alvarez.

The Yankees hit a measly .182 during the divisional round against Cleveland, but it was the home runs that won them the series. Harrison Bader was the big slugger for New York, with three bombs during the series. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge both chipped in with two, and the rookie Oswaldo Cabrera sent a missile to the seats in Cleveland.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo has been the big contributor to this Yankees offense, adding a homer to that total and getting on base at a .429 clip. Despite his batting average of .158 for the series, Gleyber Torres had some huge hits in key spots for the team.

Bader was by far the team’s most impactful bat with a 1.256 OPS against the Guardians. Not to mention guys like Matt Carpenter, Judge, Stanton, and Josh Donaldson, have truly yet to get going with the bats. This is still a very dangerous lineup.

Houston is no slouch either. Yordan Alvarez led the way with his two home runs and seven runs batted in, completely locked in during the division series. First baseman Yuli Gurriel has experienced a full-blown revival. After hitting just .244 in the regular season, his postseason average is up to .400 after six hits in fifteen plate appearances.

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Third baseman Alex Bregman knocked in three runs while hitting .333 for the series. Rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena hit the huge go-ahead home run in the third game of the ALDS. Kye Tucker smashed a solo shot to go along with his seven total bases for the series.

And all of this offensive production has been met without a single contribution from Jose Altuve, the team’s main man. If ‘Tuve gets going, this offense is explosive.

Who’s Winning This Series?

During the massive rivalry between these two teams, the Astros have consistently dominated. Houston has an electric starting rotation met with one of the best bullpens in the league. And this offense, my word is it something else. On paper, the Astros have the severe advantage against their rival in this meeting.

The Yankees have tasted blood. After numerous years of continuous success, it seems this team might be due. The doubts of their pitching staff and bullpen have been erased after a stellar divisional series, and it seems like these bats will get going against Houston. With Aaron Judge’s massive payday on the horizon, it seems like these boys want to go out with a bang.

The two teams left standing in the American League might be the two best teams remaining in the playoffs. High-powered offenses paired with incredible pitching staffs, this one will be a blast. This series will go deep and will extend over the next week and a half. But who’s taking it all.

My pick? Yankees in 7. There’s no way this doesn’t go to seven games. With the Yankees fresh off an incredible ALDS victory, I feel confident that this team can finally slay the dragon with the Houston Astros. Third times the charm, right?

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