The Houston Astros are taking a 2-0 lead over the Yankees back to New York. Their pitching, led by Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez and Ryan Pressly in the ninth inning has repeatedly fooled the so-called Bronx Bombers, to the point they have scored just four runs in two games.
That was somewhat expected: the Astros finished with the second-best ERA among MLB teams during the regular season with a 2.90 mark, and have both star power and depth to attack Yankees hitters.
But on the other side, the Yankees’ pitching nearly as good of a job against the Astros’ potent bats. While Houston’s offense has a .851 OPS in the two games against the Yankees, New York’s arms have limited them to 3.5 runs per game so far, considerably down from their 4.54 average runs per game at home and 4.55 mark overall in the regular season.
To put it another way: Yankees’ pitching bent, but didn’t break in the first two games. They got into some trouble, but got crucial outs, too. If the series is 0-2, it’s because of the anemic offense and its .462 OPS in the first two matchups at Minute Maid Park.
Jeremy Peña, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman and even Chas McCormick have done damage against the Yankees, but New York’s staff has been able to neutralize important sluggers such as Yordan Álvarez, José Altuve and Kyle Tucker.
Álvarez entered the series as the Astros’ most dangerous hitter, and obviously still is. He had two go-ahead home runs in the late innings against the Seattle Mariners in the ALDS, one of the walk-off variety. However, he only has a single hit in the ALCS, and it was a single; he has struck out three times in two games.
Look at this chart of Yordan’s whiff rate per zone:
The Yankees have apparently zeroed in on this, and Luis Severino in particular found success with the high and away fastball against Álvarez in Game 2. He made him miss twice around the zone in the same at-bat, resulting in a strikeout.
Álvarez is a premier slugger in the game, but to the contrary of what you would think, he is not that vulnerable: he is an excellent hitter who has few weaknesses. Kudos to the Yankees for identifying that little detail so pitchers could attack him there.
Altuve, on the other hand, was struggling long before he took the field against the Yankees. He is 0-for-23 in the postseason so far, and 0-for-7 with two strikeouts in the ALCS. The folks at MLB Tonight identified that he is late on four-seam fastballs in the playoffs. Altuve did make solid contact (albeit on the ground) in Game 2, but Oswald Peraza robbed him a hit.
He is chasing 44.4 percent of the four-seam fastballs he has seen during the playoffs, up from just 10 percent in the regular season. He looks anxious at the plate, and the Yankees are taking advantage of that.
This is a perfect example of him being late to a fastball and chasing it out of the zone:
He will need to make adjustments, and we all know he is more than capable of making them. For now, Yankees pitchers have neutralized him.
As for Tucker, he hasn’t struck out against the Yankees yet but is 0-for-7, including that double play that killed a rally in Game 1. That was a perfectly-placed 96-mph sinker in the outer part of the zone:
If he wanted a groundball, that was the perfect zone to place his sinker. Here is Tucker’s regular season GB% by zone:
Overall, the Yankees pitching has not been perfect, but it has gotten the job done. Manager Aaron Boone certainly could have managed some specific situations in a better way to minimize damage even further (sending Clarke Schmidt back out for the sixth inning of Game 1 and using Frankie Montas, Schmidt and even Miguel Castro more than Lou Trivino are/were puzzling decisions, to say the least), but the Yanks’ arms have been competent.
The offense? Not so much. That remains the key to this series.