With the Cleveland Indians now out of the playoffs, the Houston Astros are considered the favorites to make it to the World Series. Houston finished the season with the second-best record in the American League and defeated the Boston Red Sox in four games in the ALDS.
The New York Yankees finished the season as the first wild card team and beat the reigning American League Champion Cleveland Indians in five games to get to the ALCS.
Both teams have similar strengths and weakness which makes this series a fun one to watch.
1 Starting Rotation
Houston has two of the best starters in all of baseball at the top of their rotation in Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander. Keuchel has given the Yankees fits throughout his career including the 2015 Wild Card game where Keuchel shut down the Yankees lineup. Verlander was acquired in August to help bring the Astros to another level and he has. In five regular-season starts with the Astros, Verlander went 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA and is 2-0 with a 3.02 ERA this postseason.
However, outside of Keuchel and Verlander, the Astros' rotation weakens with guys like Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. Although both have had great seasons for the Astros, both have struggled this postseason. McCullers Jr. has a 6.00 ERA and Morton has a 4.15 ERA which requires the Houston offense to score tons of runs.
Led by Luis Severino, the Yankees have one of the best rotations in all of baseball. The Yankees made a major in-season acquisition in Sonny Gray to help bolster their starting rotation for a playoff series. Although Gray had a rough start in Game 1 of the ALDS, the Yankees rotation is deep enough to last a seven-game series with the reemergence of Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia led the Yankees in Game 5 while Tanaka got them right back into the series in Game 3 with seven shutout innings. Severino seemed to conquer whatever nerves he had in the Wild Card game with a dominant Game 4 and suddenly, the Yankees' rotation is fixed.
2 Starting Lineup
Both the Yankees and the Astros have firepower lineups and can put up runs in a heartbeat.
A trio led by Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, and Gary Sanchez have all had career years. The three players have combined to hit 110 home runs in the regular season as some of the most productive 2-3-4 hitters in baseball. The firepower doesn't stop there as Greg Bird, Starlin Castro, Brett Gardner, and Aaron Hicks have produced all season. Even with a lineup as stacked as the Yankees have, there are holes that can be exploited and were exploited in the ALDS. Judge has not been the same player he was in September and struck out 16 times in the Division Series while hitting .050. Even though he hasn't been producing offensively, Judge saved the series for the Yankees by robbing Francisco Lindor of a two-run home run in the seventh inning of Game 3.
The Houston Astros absolutely pounced on the Boston Red Sox during the ALDS. Houston scored 24 runs in four games against the Red Sox including nine off of AL Cy Young candidate Chris Sale. The beauty of the Astros' lineup is that they aren't a home run or bust team, which allows them to hit with anyone. The home rune ball virtually goes away in the playoffs and a team that doesn't rely on the home run ball finds more success than a team that relies on it. Houston has six players that hit over the .300 mark in the ALDS, whereas the Yankees had five players hit below .250.
Teams that make it to the ALCS usually have one of the best bullpens in baseball, and this is the case in this series as it features two of the top ten bullpens according to FanGraphs.
FanGraphs has the Yankees bullpen emerging as the best bullpen in baseball with a WAR of 9.2. The in-season acquisitions of David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle saved a bullpen that struggled in the first half of the season. Chad Green's emergence has allowed the Yankees to piece together one of the best back ends in baseball. Aroldis Chapman's reemergence propelled them to two wins in the ALDS where the flame-throwing Cuban had to get three plus outs in Games 3 and 5. The bullpen has been so good that Dellin Betances is becoming less used due to inconsistency.
Houston's bullpen is right up there with the Yankees according to FanGraphs with a 5.6 WAR which ranked eighth in baseball during the regular season. The emergence of Chris Devenski this season has helped Houston to shorten the game to get the ball to closer Ken Giles, who had 34 saves in the regular season. Devenski struggled in the ALDS with an ERA of 11.57 and the same goes for Giles who posted a 6.00 ERA against Boston.
Think about this for a moment, Carlos Beltran finds himself on the bench on certain nights. The Astros have a lineup so deep that on some nights, a future Hall of Famer comes off the bench. When it isn't Beltran coming off the bench, it's Evan Gattis and when it's not Gattis, it's Cameron Maybin. Houston's bench is so deep it can afford to keep players who would be starters on other teams on the bench and still have production.
According to regular season numbers, the Yankees have a deep bench but the playoff statistics aren't great. Matt Holliday has not been in the lineup since the final day of the regular season. Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury have split time at DH but have not produced as a Yankee DH did not record a hit during the ALDS. Ronald Torreyes has been a quality bench player all season for the Yankees but made a crucial mistake in Game 2, getting picked off at second in extra innings.
5 Prediction: Astros in Six Games
Despite bouncing the reigning American League Champion Cleveland Indians, the Yankees magic will run out against the Houston Astros. Historically, the Yankees have never hit well of Dallas Keuchel who they will most likely see twice in the series.
Houston's offense shows no signs of slowing down and since they can survive without hitting home runs, they will find success against this Yankees pitching staff.
The Yankees will put up a strong fight but will end up falling short in six games.
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