The entire MLB season has been leading to this moment – the clash of the American League titans with a pennant up for grabs. The two best teams in the AL, the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, are set for an epic showdown in the ALCS, with the winner advancing to the World Series. Yankees fans don’t need to be reminded of the postseason history between these two teams, which has featured two matchups over the past four seasons, and two losses.
The National League looks beatable in a potential World Series now that the teams with the two best records in the senior circuit, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, have shockingly been eliminated. It’s not a stretch to say that the winner of the ALCS will become heavy World Series favorites.
The games begin Saturday night in Houston on FOX, but before we get started, let’s look at how the series could shake out.
Games 1-2: Oct. 12-13 at Minute Maid Park
The Yankees haven’t played particularly well at Minute Maid Park in their recent history, including the 2017 playoffs, where they lost all four games they played in Houston. Still, the Yankees have a chance to exit with a split if things break right.
First, the Yankees have the benefit of coming into this series well-rested. They may also have two new toys on the bench, in Aaron Hicks and CC Sabathia, who finally seem healthy. Houston, meanwhile, has played two games since the Yankees clinched the ALDS, which also threw off their postseason rotation.
The Yankees will face Zack Greinke in Game One, which is the most attractive matchup of the Astros’ big three starters. Greinke hasn’t played well in the postseason (career 3-5 record and 4.58 ERA in 12 playoff starts), and his ALDS outing against Tampa Bay was a disaster (3.2 innings, three homers, six earned runs). Greinke is prone to giving up home runs, and while it’s not an easy matchup, it’s the best way the Yankees could possibly start off two games in Houston.
Things get tougher in Game Two, when Justin Verlander is expected to pitch. We all know what Verlander is at this point – he’s almost impossible to beat anywhere, and even more so at home. That said, the Rays did get to him during his short-rest ALDS start, so there’s a glimmer of hope for the Yankees.
The Yankees announced that they’d flip James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka in the rotation for this series, with Tanaka getting the ball tonight for Game One. If both can go deep into the game and keep the Astros somewhat at bay, the Yankees will have a chance. Going 2-0 when starting a playoff series on the road is almost never possible, but earning a split heading home would be a solid spot to be in.
Games 3-5: Oct. 15-Oct. 17 at Yankee Stadium
This will be the Yankees’ best chance to take the series. As bad as the Yankees have been at Minute Maid Park lately, the Astros have been just as bad at Yankee Stadium, including in the 2017 ALCS, when they lost all three games at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees will likely see Gerrit Cole in Game Three, across from Luis Severino, which is an enticing matchup of righty flamethrowers. Game Four is where things get interesting for both teams. Depending on how much the Astros trust Greinke, they could either go with him on three days’ rest, or be forced to start rookie Jose Urquidy in a bullpen game.
The Yankees are in a similar predicament, as they’ll probably use a combination of Chad Green, J.A. Happ and maybe CC Sabathia. Game Four could be an offensive shootout, which means bullpen depth is crucial. The Yankees have more of it than the Astros, so they could sneak out with an exciting win.
Game Five will probably be between the Game One starters again (or Verlander on short rest), and this is where the Yankees’ depth can start to pull away. A.J. Hinch is in a tough spot, having just played a five-game series and then potentially having to run his pitchers into the ground to beat the Yankees. If the Yankees’ bullpen is at full strength and Yankee Stadium is rocking, it might be the key to beating the Astros.
Games 6-7: Oct. 19-Oct. 20 at Minute Maid Park
Let’s be honest – we don’t want to see this series shift back to Houston for a potential Game Six or Seven. It will bring up bad memories from 2017, and it would mean the Astros have at least two wins. Furthermore, Verlander and Cole would be lined up to get the ball in these games, which is far from ideal.
The Yankees’ best blueprint to winning the ALCS involves stealing one of the first two games in Houston and then sweeping their home games. It’s an incredibly tall order, but having to play a Game Six and Seven in Houston is a scary proposition. If the Yankees are going to win this series and advance to their 41st World Series, they’ll need to strike early in the series.