Buckle up, Yankees fans: It’s New York vs Houston in the ALCS, for the third time in barely half a decade. The winner goes to the World Series with home-field advantage. To riff off (steal from) Jim Nantz: “It’s a tradition unlike any other.”
The last two times that the Yankees weighed themselves against the Astros in a postseason series, they were found wanting. They fell in seven games in 2017 and six contests in 2019. Tonight, they kick off the third attempt at knocking off Houston for the AL pennant.
With Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, and Luis Severino all unavailable, the Yankees turn to Jameson Taillon tonight. This will be the fourth time he has faced off with Houston, throwing 19.2 innings in his three previous starts. Small sample size warning, but the long ball has thus far been his nemesis, as Jamo has surrendered five of them to Astros hitters in that limited span. It seems like keeping the Astros in the yard would be a good stepping-off point for Taillon tonight. With the rainout on Monday giving everyone a day off, it’s safe to assume that Aaron Boone has the full complement of Yankee relievers at his disposal tonight. (Check out his updated roster here; there is unfortunately no Ron Marinaccio, who is still injured. Lucas Luetge is also out in favor of Frankie Montas and Greg Weissert.)
For the Astros, presumptive AL Cy Young frontrunner, and Yankee bête noire, Justin Verlander gets the ball. My paltry ability with words cannot describe how sick I am of Verlander. Tonight marks his ninth playoff start against the Yankees, and in the previous eight, he has come out victorious more often than not. This is of course highlighted, and I use that term loosely, by his two starts in the 2017 ALCS, when he pitched to a 0.56 ERA across 16 innings, winning MVP honors as Houston dispatched New York.
The last time that New York faced him in the playoffs, however, things were better. In the first inning of Game 5 of the 2019 ALCS, DJ LeMahieu led off with a solo home run. Later in the frame, Aaron Hicks clubbed a three-run smash. Those four runs were enough to hand Verlander the L and extend the series. Unfortunately, neither DJ nor Hicks are on hand to go yard this series.
But there are some capable bats in the Yankee lineup who can hopefully mash Verlander. Notably, tonight marks Matt Carpenter’s first start of the playoffs, as the recently returned, mustachioed renaissance man hits sixth tonight as the designated hitter. And to make room for Carpenter, Giancarlo Stanton makes his return to the outfield for the first time in a while. Playing in front of the Crawford Boxes in left field, Big G will hit cleanup for the Yankees.
As far as playoff experience against Verlander, not a lot of Yankees have much to go on. Stanton is 0-for-3, while Gleyber Torres is 2-for-6. Aaron Judge has faced the Astros ace the most times in October, going 2-for-13, though one of those left the yard.
The Yankees come into this series as definite underdogs. But this is a seven-game set that will likely feature five starts from Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, and Nestor Cortes. If the Yankees steal Game 1 tonight — in Houston, with Verlander on the hill for the Astros — there become a myriad of paths to the World Series.
“To be The Man, you’ve gotta beat The Man.” Beat The Man, Yankees. And that becomes a less daunting task if they knock off the future Hall of Famer Verlander tonight in Houston.
How to watch
Location: Minute Maid Park – Houston, TX
First pitch: 7:37 pm ET
TV broadcast: TBS
Radio broadcast: WFAN 660/101.9 FM, WADO 1280, ESPN Radio / KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, TUDN 93.3/KLAT 1010, ESPN Radio