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Yankees 2019 potential playoff opponent: Houston Astros

For the Yankees to reach their ultimate goal, they’ll probably have to knock off the Astros.

American League Championship Series Game Seven: New York Yankees v. Houston Astros

The last few days at Pinstripe Alley, we’ve looked at possible playoff opponents, from the A’s to the Rays to the Indians to the Twins. Today, though, is the big one. Let’s be honest – if the Yankees are going to win the World Series, they’re probably going to have to beat the Houston Astros along the way.

Forget anyone in the National League in a potential World Series, the Astros are the toughest test the Yankees would have to face all playoffs. There’s nothing they can’t do –they have one of the league’s most dynamic offenses, a stellar rotation and a top-five bullpen. To top it off, they’ve been here before – they won the World Series in 2017 and made it to the ALCS in 2018 with largely the same core.

Oh, and I don’t have to remind you that the Astros have eliminated the Yankees twice in the postseason in the last four years.

The Astros are a formidable challenge, but it’s definitely better that the Yankees would be facing them in a seven-game ALCS rather than a five-game ALDS. In a five-game ALDS, the Astros could just churn out their stellar rotation (Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Wade Miley) and eat up the Yankees’ bats. Over a seven-game series, the Yankees can deeper dig into the Houston bullpen and look for matchups to exploit. The Yankees will also get to play one more home game in a seven-game series, which is huge between these two teams (in the 2017 ALCS, both teams won all their home games).

The Astros’ lineup may be even stronger than the Yankees’ – there are no weak spots. Houston isn’t even that dinged up with injuries, which bodes very well for playoff success. Presumptive AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez has added even more power to the lineup, which already boasted George Springer, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and Jose Altuve. It’s a tough ask for any pitching staff to navigate this lineup, so look for Aaron Boone to use his bullpen early and often in games against the Astros, removing pitchers at the first sign of trouble.

The Yankees are just as talented on paper as the Astros, but their biggest key to beating Houston is their depth. The Yankees have embraced the “next man up” ethos, and their deep bullpen and clutch offense with runners in scoring position will have to be the separation against the Astros. Both of these teams can slug. For the Yankees to take this series, they’ll have to outlast Houston, take some shots to the chin and bounce back with a counterpunch.

Houston’s not unbeatable, though. The 2017 Indians looked unstoppable, but the upstart Yankees pulled off a reverse sweep after falling behind 0-2 in the ALDS. Last year, the Astros went down easy to the Red Sox. The Yankees are just 3-4 vs. the Astros this season, but none of the games were played after June. Many things have changed for these two teams since then, and the Yankees have regained key pieces like Luis Severino and Giancarlo Stanton.

Facing the Astros will be the Yankees’ toughest test this season. Such a series likely won’t be any less than six games, and could very easily reach seven. The entire American League baseball season has been leading up to this potential clash. It’s almost time for the long-awaited Yankees-Astros showdown.