The Cleveland Indians were a formidable opponent. The defending American League champions got off to a slower than expected start to their title defense, battling neck-and-neck with the Minnesota Twins into August for the Central Division crown. But then the Indians ended that race emphatically and clinched the top seed in the junior circuit's postseason tourney by reeling off a record-setting 22 straight wins.
Despite winning 11 more games than the Yankees, the Tribe scored 40 fewer runs (858 to 818) and were out-homered 241 to 212. Still, their OPS was a tick higher (.788 to .785) and they were the only team in the majors with a higher run differential (+254 to +198). Cleveland's pitching staff had the best ERA in baseball (3.30), which was nearly a half-run per game better than the Yankees (3.72). The Indians' WHIP was a bit better (1.16 to 1.21) as was their OPS against (.673 to .680).
Even though the Yankees had to dig themselves out from an 0-2 hole versus the Tribe in the ALCS, the Bronx Bombers were never overmatched. New York outplayed Cleveland and really should have won four of the five games. Sure, the comeback was dramatic and historic. But the Yankees were the better team, and they proved it.
The Houston Astros are also a tough foe. They took first place in the AL West for good way back on April 14th, and had a double-digit lead in the division race by the end of May. They ended up winning by 21 games, and were barely edged out for the league's top playoff seed by the Indians (102 wins to 101).
Houston is the only team in baseball that scored more runs than the Yankees this year (896 to 858) while hitting only three fewer home runs (241 to 238). The Astros also led the majors with an .823 OPS. Their pitching rate stats weren't as impressive: 4.12 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and .720 OPS against.
Dallas Keuchel pitched well in Game One, but he was not dominant. The Yankees drove up his pitch count while missing out on every scoring opportunity. In a close game like that, any one of those situations could have changed the outcome of the game.
Greg Bird's baserunning fail in the fifth inning really stands out. Running on contact with two outs and a 3-2 count, anyone should have scored easily from second on a hit to the outfield. Yet Bird somehow didn't. It's totally unfair to pin the loss on the young first baseman, but every mistake is magnified in a pitching duel. There's a big difference between a 2-1 score with the tying run on second, versus coming up empty. If it weren't for his gaffe on the basepaths, Bird's ninth-inning home run might have been the game-winner for the Yankees.
Masahiro Tanaka was impressive, not just last night, but in both of his postseason starts. In 13 innings he has limited two powerful offenses to just two soft runs. It's ironic that the only run support Tanaka has received thus far is a pair of Greg Bird solo home runs. But the way he has pitched, Tanaka may not need much more than that in his Game Five start at Yankee Stadium. At home is where he has performed best this season: 3.22 ERA and 1.01 WHIP versus 6.48 ERA and 1.50 WHIP on the road.
Like Keuchel, Justin Verlander is a tough starter. But there is a sharp drop-off after that among Houston's starting pitching options. The same can be said about their bullpen after Giles. He threw 37 pitches last night, likely limiting his availability or effectiveness for Game Two. If the Yankees take Verlander deep into counts like they did with Keuchel, they could get into the Astros' soft middle relief early today and do some damage.
Thanks to Tanaka and Chad Green, the Yankees bullpen is rested and ready to back up Luis Severino as early as necessary. Kahnle, Warren, Betances, Robertson, and Chapman will all likely be available for multiple innings today, if needed.
New York has out-homered (11) and out-scored (30) every team in the postseason so far. The pitching staff's 3.09 ERA and .571 OPS against in the playoffs are the lowest among the four remaining teams, while their WHIP (1.03) is second behind the Dodgers (0.93).
The Yankees are not overmatched against any opponent, and they should not be underestimated.
|NEW YORK YANKEES||HOUSTON ASTROS|
|Brett Gardner - LF||George Springer - CF|
|Aaron Judge - RF||Josh Reddick - RF|
|Didi Gregorius - SS||Jose Altuve - 2B|
|Gary Sanchez - C||Carlos Correa - SS|
|Greg Bird - 1B||Marwin Gonzalez - LF|
|Starlin Castro - 2B||Yulieski Gurriel - 1B|
|Aaron Hicks - CF||Carlos Beltran - DH|
|Todd Frazier - 3B||Alex Bregman - 3B|
|Chase Headley - DH||Brian McCann - C|
|Luis Severino - RHP||Justin Verlander - RHP|