The Houston Astros are once again two wins away from making it to the World Series. If they accomplish that feat, it would be their fourth World Series berth in the last seven seasons, giving them more appearances than any other team during that span.
At a time where we should be focused on the dominance of the Astros, who won 106 games in the regular season and are undefeated in these playoffs, a ring of doubt has once again surfaced based on their unique history with the New York Yankees that dates back to 2017.
The 2017 season is infamous at this point, as the Astros won the World Series but with an asterisk of a cheating scandal. In their path to winning that championship, Houston squared off against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
The Astros won a hard-fought series against New York, where homefield advantage made all the difference as neither team took a road game in the seven-game series. Houston beat the Yankees again in 2019, playing in their second ALCS matchup.
Here we are now three years later and we are watching part three of this saga between the best two teams from the American League over the past seven seasons.
Last night, we watched a pitcher’s duel between Framber Valdez and Luis Severino that really came down to a single mistake. Severino gave Alex Bregman a pitch he could handle on the inner-half and he put it into the seats for a three-run homer.
That home run proved to be the difference in the 3-2 game, with the Astros taking a commanding lead in the series by sweeping the first two games at home.
After the game though, things began to get interesting, as Severino did not mince words when speaking to reporters about Bregman’s homer. Severino cast doubt over the “luck” of the homer, openly wondering how Bregman’s homer went out when Judge hit a fly ball in the eighth inning at 106 mph that found a glove instead.
Severino calling Bregman’s home run “lucky” comes off poorly as he is obviously making an excuse for why his team ultimately lost the game. Still, it isn’t hard to understand why Severino would feel a bit “unlucky” based on the batted ball data on the two fly balls in question.
Bregman’s home run came in the fifth inning, when he took a 97.4 mph fastball up-and-in and pulled it down the left field line. As Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka said after the game, Bregman ‘didn’t really hit the ball well off the bat’, as the homer only had an exit velocity of 91.8 mph.
While he didn’t hit it hard, Bregman did hit it in the right place, skying the pitch with a launch angle of 36 degrees to the shortest part of the ballpark down the line in left field, where it is only 315 feet to the fence. Because of the placement of the ball, Bregman’s 360-foot homer cleared the wall by a wide margin and put the Astros in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the game.
Still, it is worth noting that Bregman’s home run was lucky in the sense that it only had an expected batting average of .040. That is just about 870 points lower than the expected batting average of Aaron Judge’s flyout in the eighth inning, which Severino is referring to, that had an exit velo of over 106 mph.
Despite being hit with an exit velocity that was roughly 15 mph harder, with a solid launch angle of 28 degrees, Judge’s flyout in the eighth inning traveled 15 feet less than Bregman’s at 345 feet. Judge also hit it towards a deeper part of the ballpark in right field, where Kyle Tucker was able to make a nice play on the ball to keep it in the yard.
With an expected batting average of .910, we watched one of the very few instances where Judge’s hard-hit ball didn’t result in a hit. This was really the story of the night for Judge, who also had a 111.7 mph line drive in the second inning that had an expected batting average of .810, yet was hit right at the Astros center fielder Chas McCormick.
In four at-bats, Judge hit the ball over 100 mph each time, with his “softest” hit ball falling for his only hit, a 101.4 mph single. There is a reason why it is called “expected” batting average, as there is no exact science to baseball. Judge’s single had an expected batting average of .250 but fell for a hit.
While the batted ball data could certainly paint a dubious picture, it is unfair to Bregman and the Astros to suggest any foul play was involved in what was unquestionably bad luck for the Yankees. Baseball is a game full of bad breaks, and the Yankees just happen to be getting the short end of the stick in this series so far.
What this does show however, is that the wounds from the 2017 season are still raw for the Yankees six years later and this current Astros core will never fully be trusted in baseball circles again.
No matter how good they are or how close their home-road splits get, the Astros will always have that slight ring of doubt that follows them wherever they go. That ring of doubt is larger to some of us than others, but it exists all the same.
At the end of the day, all we can rely on is the facts and in this instance, the fact is that the Astros are two wins away from making it back to the World Series. The next three games will be played at Yankee stadium, where New York can take care of business and put themselves right back in the driver’s seat by winning each game.
We will see how this series ultimately unfolds, but the rivalry that exists between these two franchises isn’t going away any time soon.