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Clayton Kershaw provides a blueprint for the Yankees to beat the Astros

Kershaw was at the top of his game on Sunday night, but the Yankees got to him with the long ball. That’s how they can beat the Astros.

New York Yankees v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Clayton Kershaw‘s utter dominance got lost in the shuffle of the Yankees’ statement win against the Dodgers on Sunday night. The future Hall of Famer had his way with the Yankees’ lineup, striking out 12 in 7 innings of work, walking none, and giving up only four hits. For much of the night, Kershaw was unhittable.

Of course, nobody remembers any of this. Three of those four hits went for solo home runs and Kershaw was out-pitched by Domingo German and the Yankees’ Big Four relievers. Despite a top-notch performance, the Yankees managed to score runs off of Kershaw, and in the process, beat one of the best pitchers in our generation.

And in the process, Yankees fans were handed the formula needed to beat the Houston Astros.

Ever since the Astros stunned the league and landed Zack Greinke as the proverbial trade deadline bell tolled, countless articles appeared proclaiming the already-tough Astros now unstoppable. The team had two veritable aces in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole; with the addition of Greinke, they would now have three pitchers who were among the league leaders in a wide range of stats, including WHIP, Adjusted ERA+, and xwOBA. These three starters essentially stand between other American League teams and World Series.

The Yankees do not play the Astros the rest of the way, so it will be impossible to get a fresh opportunity to see how the Yankees match up against their foes. The game against Kershaw, however, serves as a good proxy for potential matchups against the Astros’ three aces.

Kershaw vs. Verlander, Cole, and Greinke

Pitcher ERA EV Launch Angle K% BA K%/BB% Barrel % GB/FB HR Allowed HR/FB
Pitcher ERA EV Launch Angle K% BA K%/BB% Barrel % GB/FB HR Allowed HR/FB
Kershaw 2.76 87.5 11.8 27.5 0.21 21.8 6.6 1.46 20 16.4
Verlander 2.77 87.7 19 34.5 0.173 30 8.4 0.72 30 17.3
Cole 2.75 87.5 14 37.2 0.196 31 6.4 1.01 24 17.3
Greinke 2.83 86.7 10.3 22.5 0.229 18.2 6.2 1.28 17 10.3
League AVG 4.53 87.5 11.1 22.7 0.253 14.3 6.3 1.2 - 15.3

While there are distinct differences, all four pitchers are remarkably similar: their ERAs and average exit velocities are virtually identical. Most of their other stats are similar enough, too, enough that they’re pretty much interchangeable. For this reason, the approach the Yankees took against Kershaw gives us a pretty good idea on how they can get to Verlander, Cole, and Greinke. And it just happens to be the thing the Yankees are among the league’s best at, the home run.

Again, the Yankees scored three runs on only four hits off of Kershaw because three of those four hits went for home runs. Contrary to conventional wisdom, which states that the way to score runs off elite pitchers is by playing small ball, the home run is actually the most efficient method. Kershaw, for example, has given up 31 runs on the long ball this year—and only 46 overall! A full 67% of Kershaw’s runs come off of the home run.

This bodes well for the Yankees against the Astros. For starters, the Yankees’ lineup is filled with mashers, with seven hitters having at least 15 homers; only the historically-powerful Minnesota Twins have been better home-run hitters than Yankees this season.

Just as important, however, is the fact that the long ball is the Achilles’ heel of the Astros’ aces. Justin Verlander has been elite despite the fact that he spent much of the season leading the league in home runs allowed; 72% of his total runs given up have been via the long ball. While not as drastic, a little more than half of Gerrit Cole’s and Zack Greinke’s runs have been the result of home runs.

These pitchers do not give up home runs only on days where they were “off”. For the most part, Kershaw shut down the Yankees’ offense, with the exception of these few home runs. Rather, the way to get to an elite pitcher when they are “on” is to capitalize on the few mistakes they do make, and send those mistakes into the seats. In that way, the Yankees can power their way past the Astros’s three-headed monster.