For a couple American League teams in 2022, their season, their expectations, and ultimately their measuring stick for success is no less than a trip to the Fall Classic. Absolutely nothing else matters to the New York Yankees or Houston Astros, and it’d take a one-of-a-kind showing in any series exit before then to not feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment with an elimination in the ALDS or ALCS.
Aside from elusive breakthroughs by the Red Sox and Rays, the Yankees and Astros have ruled over the American League for the past five years, and that’s led to two classic ALCS matchups in 2017 and 2019. That looming rivalry has continued this year, as even with the Yankees’ recent slump, the two ballclubs are virtual locks for the top two AL playoff seeds and subsequent byes in the Wild Card Round.
From the Yankees’ perspective, the Astros have been public enemy number one, responsible for eliminations in not one, not two, but three eliminations since 2015, most painfully in those aforementioned ALCS clashes. One can quickly wonder where New York would be without the Astros during this period. It’s a new feeling for Yankees fans, as recurring series in October have historically favored the Bronx Bombers. So when you see an adversary that’s found overwhelming success, it creates a new dynamic.
We won’t know until October whether or not one of these teams will need to beat the other in the playoffs, but the odds of another showdown are solid. With that in mind, there’s been an analysis that boils down to a microscopic level regarding the two regular season series between the Yankees and Astros.
In a season where they’ve run away with the strongest division in the sport, not a lot has gone wrong for the Yankees in 2022. Despite a recent skid, they remain 10 games ahead of the second-place Blue Jays and 12 up on the Rays and Orioles. One of the primary topics of criticism, however, has been this team’s 2-5 record against the Astros this year.
The two ballclubs split a four-game set at Yankee Stadium, and the Astros took all three games in Houston. The combined no-hitter in the Bronx and the losses on the road in particular prompted a very adverse reaction about how this team isn’t built to beat Houston, and the failure to lead at any point during those games brought on significant criticism.
Breaking it down by run differential, the Yankees scored 22 runs to the Astros’ 27 in these seven games. It was hardly a disastrous showing and one pretty understandable among two of the better baseball clubs. You can believe and assign value to those past three postseason series, but it ultimately doesn’t matter in any other way than to fill the script in case the Astros win a hypothetical playoff series.
In the 2019 and 2021 World Series, the Nationals and Braves each faced not only the Astros, but also agonizing personal playoff histories to overcome. Houston was favored in both Fall Classics, but the National League clubs won anyway, even clinching their respective titles on the road at Minute Maid Park. They’re not popular around these parts, but the Rays rose to the occasion in 2020 as well, taking Game 7 of the ALCS when the script was all but written for Houston to finish its comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
The Yankees lead baseball in runs scored and have the second-best ERA. They’re not a carbon copy of the 2017 and 2019 ballclubs that fell short. They might be in a cold spell right now, but there’s plenty of time for them to right the ship and live up to those lofty leaderboard positions. The talent is there. Meanwhile, the simple truth is that the Astros are by far and away the best-equipped adversary to take on the Yankees in the AL postseason because they’re the only team in the same stratosphere as the Yanks in terms of record.
This may all sound somewhat simplistic, but sometimes the truth is just that. A lot of the noise can be boiled down to an attempt to create narratives and feed them until they become larger than life. A hypothetical series between Yankees and Astros in postseason play doesn’t present an overwhelming edge to either side, and the results of the regular season series between the two holds no water in this debate. Those 2017 Yankees could tell you that too, as they went 2-5 against Cleveland in the regular season before taking them down in a memorable ALDS comeback to set up that Astros matchup.
Ultimately, the Yankees could’ve been blown out four of seven times, and it wouldn’t be a primary factor in who’s the favorite in October, but it didn’t come close to that. With a four-game split in Yankee Stadium and on the road, the Yankees didn’t lose any game by more than two runs. There’s no reason to abandon all hope before any potential postseason games are played.