On paper, the Yankees versus the Indians was an epic matchup. In practice, it was just that. The ALDS ending up being a magnificent series, a dramatic, controversial, down-to-the-wire affair reminiscent of Octobers past. Whether by guile, luck, skill, or just the fact that Corey Kluber gave up two home runs to Didi Gregorius, the Yankees survived to fight another day.
More than just being a tremendous series, the ALDS represented everything we've come to know about baseball in 2017. It was riveting, it was overly long, and it was packed with power, both pitching and hitting. The ALDS was modern baseball at its core, and with a matchup with the imposing Astros looming, we should expect the same from the ALCS.
Baseball has always been a game of cycles and trends, and the patterns have never been more evident and well-known. It's common knowledge that the game is awash in strikeouts and home runs, in increased velocities and optimized swing paths. More and more pitchers are being incentivized and encouraged to throw as hard as they can, and hitters are being pushed to swing for the fences (at a juiced ball). The result is Aaron Judge hitting 50 home runs, and Gregorius hitting 25.
Over the course of five scintillating games, New York and Cleveland exemplified all of baseball’s current trends. For one, it took ages. The average game ran three hours and 51 minutes, meaning the series stretched out over nearly 1200 minutes worth of baseball.
Home runs weren't quite at their peak, as a ball flew over the wall once every 28 at-bats, just off the record-setting pace of the regular season of once every 27 at-bats. Yet the dingers flew ever so slightly less than usual because of the incredible amount of power on the other side of the ball. The series with Cleveland may be defined by the hard-throwers on both rosters. On Wednesday night, Kluber opened the game firing 95 mph fastballs. Andrew Miller relieved him and touched 97 mph. Bryan Shaw hit 98, too.
CC Sabathia started Game Five for New York, and he obviously no longer throws gas. That said, the Yankees ended the game on Aroldis Chapman's 32nd pitch of the night, which flew 101 mph. In Game Four, much was made of how the Yankees didn't throw a fastball below 96 mph. Their average pitch traveled at 93 mph. Not average fastball, average pitch, including all the changeups and sliders and curveballs!
Neither team went with a full-on bullpen game, the other hot topic of the moment, but both managers furthered the game's acceptance of pulling starters early instead of letting them work through trouble. Joe Girardi and Terry Francona regularly called on top relievers in the fifth, fourth, and even third innings, as the orthodoxy that starters have to carry their team deep into games continued to fade.
The Yankees and Indians played a series that was quintessentially 2017, and the result was an unforgettable. The ALCS looks to be no different. The Astros are built to hit for power, to throw with power, and to deploy aggressive bullpen strategies to their heart’s content.
The Yankees led the majors with 241 homers in the regular season, but the Astros were right behind at 238. Houston led the league in slugging percentage (.478), isolated slugging (.196), and wRC+ (121). They mash, hitting for power unlike any team in the league.
The Astros, not coincidentally, also bring heat. Per Baseball Savant, here's the max fastball velocity from the ALDS of the Astros' hardest throwers:
|Ken Giles||100 mph|
|Justin Verlander||98 mph|
|Charlie Morton||97 mph|
|Joe Musgrove||97 mph|
|Lance McCullers||97 mph|
|Chris Devenski||96 mph|
|Francisco Liriano||96 mph|
Houston runs just as deep as the Yankees do with electric arms. Both teams are equipped to hit with power and to pitch with power to an extent that we've never truly seen before.
The games these two teams play will also likely be just as slow-paced as the ALDS. The average game between the Astros and Red Sox averaged about three hours and 40 minutes. Houston, with their plethora of bullpen arms, will have no problem slowing the game down with pitching changes to bring in another flamethrower when the need arises.
The Astros also will have as little problem yanking starters early when necessary and deploying unorthodox bullpen tactics. Manager AJ Hinch decided to go for the jugular in Game Four in Boston, bringing in ace Justin Verlander in relief rather than save him for a potential Game Five. That particular gambit worked, and Hinch will have every chance to get creative again in the ALCS, with a number of his relievers capable of handling multiple innings at time.
After surviving a tense and power-filled series with the Cleveland, the Yankees are set for a similar series in the ALCS. The Astros might be every bit as good as Cleveland was, and they form another hard-hitting and hard-throwing matchup with the Yankees. If the ALCS follows the script of the ALDS, we should be in for another week of long, thrilling, power-packed games, hopefully with another winning result.