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New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros: Series Preview

The Yankees and Astros face off at Minute Maid Park for the first time in 2019.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Houston Astros Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

When the Yankees and the Astros faced off in the 2017 American League Championship Series, it established the two teams as legitimate rivals. They hopped on a collision course for years of potential playoff showdowns. But first, regular season games must be played. Two of the favorites in the American League will get their first look at each other on Monday in Houston. Neither team came out of the gates the way they’d hoped in 2019, but they’re looking to get things going in a high profile series.

Game One: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Justin Verlander

The series begins with a matchup between both team’s Opening Day starters, and the batter-versus-pitcher history clearly favors Houston. The ten Astros that have faced Tanaka in their careers combine for a line of .349/.400/.723 in 91 plate appearances. Nobody on the Yankees has had much success against Verlander in the past — who really has? — but the Astros ace is looking to bounce back from a rough start last week. He surrendered four runs in four innings on his way to a loss against the Rangers. It will be Verlander’s first home start of the season at Minute Maid Park, where he holds a career 2.83 ERA. The Yankees have their work cut out for them.

Game Two: Jonathan Loaisiga vs. Gerrit Cole

There’s no rest for the Yankees after they face Verlander on Monday night. Cole will be searching for his first win of the season and some run support from his offense. Cole has a 3.00 ERA and 19 strikeouts across 12.0 innings to start the season. He has nothing to show for it, though.

The Yankees will likely give Jonathan Loaisiga the spot start in between Tanaka and James Paxton. The Nicaraguan right-hander went four innings in his first start of the season on April 3rd at Yankee Stadium and could have a relatively short leash again in Houston. The Yankees will be thrilled if he can replicate his one-hit performance against the Tigers and give them four strong innings in his first effort against the Astros.

Game Three: James Paxton vs. Colin McHugh

McHugh pitched the entirety of the 2018 season out of the bullpen, but was moved back into the Houston rotation with the departures of Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel. He’s posted two quality starts to open the season and will look to keep things rolling on Wednesday. Paxton will take the hill for the Yankees, making his third start with his new team.

The Astros are very familiar with Paxton, who dominated them all last season. Paxton was 4-0 in four starts against Houston in 2019 with a 2.05 ERA. In fact, Houston was the only team Paxton posted more than one win against last season, so he won’t be afraid of one of baseball’s most potent offenses. Paxton will be cautious with Carlos Correa, who’s 8-for-21 in his career against him. It’s also worth noting that George Springer has taken Paxton deep three times in 33 plate appearances against the left-hander.

Both Monday and Tuesday night’s games will be featured on ESPN.