The Yankees and Astros first met in the postseason in the 2015 American League Wild Card game. The Bronx Bombers lost that game 3-0. Since then, the two have matched up twice more, once in the 2017 AL Championship Series, where the Yankees lost in seven games, and the Astros went on to win the World Series. The next was in the 2019 AL Championship Series again, and again, the Yankees lost, but this time in six games.
When the Astros cheating scandal was uncovered, the bad blood between these teams was taken to a new level. In 2022, nothing much changed. The jeers toward Astros players echoed throughout Yankee Stadium. However, the question remains, can the Yankees overcome the clear obstacle and beat the Astros if they match up in the AL Championship Series? Can they get the monkey off their back? First, they have to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
Manager: Dusty Baker
Top hitters: José Altuve and Yordan Alvarez (6.6 fWAR)
Top pitchers: Justin Verlander (6.1 fWAR)
The Astros, as they do most years, have a ton of strengths. It starts with 25-year-old Yordan Alvarez, who crushed baseballs the entire season. He slashed .306/.406/.613 with a wRC+ of 185. He also smashed 37 home runs, which ranked second in the American League (behind the 62 of Aaron Judge) and fifth in Major League Baseball. His wRC+ ranked second in the AL and MLB.
However, Alvarez’s 6.6 fWAR was tied for first on his team with every Yankees fan’s favorite player to hate: Altuve. The 32-year-old second baseman slashed .300/.387/.533 with a wRC+ of 164, which beat his 2017 MVP year by four points. There’s not much that the 5-foot-6 infielder can’t do. He can hit home runs, but he can also hit for contact as well. He doesn’t shy away from the bright lights of the postseason either.
Finally, there’s Alex Bregman. If Altuve isn’t the face of the Astros, he is. Slashing .259/.366/.454 over the course of 2022, he continued to make his mark on the league at the third base position.
However, what makes the Astros the Astros isn’t necessarily all their hitting. Their pitching is what separates them from some of the other best teams in MLB. It starts with Justin Verlander, who had a Cy Young-caliber season in 2022. Other pitchers on the Astros were great, and it’s mind-boggling how many players they find and turn into top-quality starters (Jose Urquidy, Cristian Javier, Framber Valdez all come to mind). But the 39-year-old Verlander brought the heat...literally. In 28 games started he posted a 1.75 ERA and 6.1 fWAR, which is especially impressive considering he basically missed two full seasons. He is going to be the guy starting Game 1 in most postseason series. He may be on the older end, but he will take pleasure in nonetheless blowing it by you.
Houston’s 2022 season was top-to-bottom excellent. Their worst month was the first, where they went 11-10. Over the rest of the year, their lowest winning percentage in any given month was .607. Needless to say, their road to the top of the American League was one that they made look fairly easy outside of some early inconsistency.
It feels like if the Yankees want to win the 28th World Series that has avoided them since 2009, it’s going to happen if they get through the Astros. Like many quirky things about sports, it may take one or two or three, or even four matchups for a team to eventually get over the hurdle. The Astros have been a postseason pain for the Yankees, and they continue to prove that they are not a team to be taken lightly. Are they as strong of a team as they were from 2017 to 2019? Maybe not quite, but they continue to find diamonds in the rough and develop them into studs, which not many teams can say they do with consistency.
The thorn in the Yankees’ side could grow when this is all said and done. Or, the demons could be exorcised. The fate is in their hands.