The American League Championship Series starts on Friday night with the Houston Astros hosting the New York Yankees in the first game of a best of seven contest. The good news is that since it's the Yankees, most of the games will be in prime time, meaning that fans will not have to miss work to see games. This is also good news in that the Astros have home field advantage thanks to the Yankees' upset of the Cleveland Indians, who were the only A.L. team with a better record than Houston.
How do these two teams match up? Who is going to win and advance to the World Series? Let’s play a game of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly for the answers.
The Astros had the second-best record in the American League this season. They won 101 games (the most in team history), which is ten more games than the Yankees won. And then there’s this stat: The Astros were 5-2 against the Yankees this season.
The Astros starting rotation is in perhaps better shape at this moment since the Astros, unlike New York, didn’t have to first win a wild card game and then play five games in the ALDS. Dallas Keuchel, starter of Game One, and Justin Verlander, the Game Two starter, both struggled in their ALDS starts, though in fairness, every starter in that series struggled. But both Keuchel and Verlander were able to get into the sixth inning of their games, and Verlander, except for a home run to the first batter he faced out of relief on Monday, pretty much locked down the Red Sox in Game Four.
The Yankees had to go with CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.53 ERA) in Wednesday night’s Game Five win against Cleveland. Masahiro Tanaka, who went 13-12 with a 4.74 ERA in the regular season, Luis Severino (14-6, 2.98 ERA) and Sonny Gray, a trading deadline acquisition from the Oakland A’s (10-12, 3.52 ERA) should round out the Yankees rotation.
Anybody who listened to the Red Sox radio broadcast for any of the games learned that Boston was shocked at just how stacked the Astros lineup was. The Yankees will offer probably Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, who smacked 52 homers this year. Catcher Gary Sanchez (33 HR and 90 RBI), third baseman Todd Frazier (27 homers and 76 RBI) and shortstop Didi Gregorius (25 homers and 87 RBI) all put up good numbers, but all had the benefit of playing in the notorious hitter's park that is Yankee Stadium.
While this lineup is good, it is not as all-around excellent and overpowering from one to nine as the Astros lineup. Houston leads off with George Springer (34 homers, 85 RBI), then goes to Josh Reddick (13 homers, 82 RBI), then Jose Altuve (24 HR, 81 RBI), then Carlos Correa (24 HR, 84 RBI), then Yuli Gurriel (18 HR, 75 RBI), then Alex Bregman (19 HR, 71 RBI), then Marwin Gonzalez (23 HR, 90 RBI), then Brian McCann (18 HR, 62 RBI) and the DH combination of Carlos Beltran (14 HR, 51 RBI)/Evan Gattis (12 HR, 55 RBI).
Keuchel and Verlander are perhaps the best one-two combination left in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the rest of the Astros rotation is nowhere near that strong. The Astros have not yet named starters for Game Three and Game Four, and have yet to even finalize the ALCS roster, so it remains to be seen which other Astros starting pitchers will be on the roster, though the thinking is that Brad Peacock, Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh will all be on the roster. The Yankees will trot out Tanaka and Severino in the first two games, followed by Sabathia and Gray going up against the still to be announced Astros starters.
But the rotation is not the real problem. The real problem is that the Yankees have one of those bullpens in which a win is almost guaranteed if the starter can get the game to the seventh inning with a lead. David Robertson (9-2 in with 98 strikeouts and a 1.84 ERA), Dellin Betances (100 strikeouts and a 2.87 ERA) and Aroldis Chapman (22 saves in 52 games) are way better than what the Astros have to offer.
The Yankees also have that whole momentum history thing going their way, as one of eight teams in the history of the ALDS to come back from a 0-2 deficit to win the series. Expect to hear lots about the Yankee history and all the championships the team has won, coupled with the feeling of being an underdog.
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Did you think the Fox Sports announcers were Red Sox homers in the ALDS? Just wait until you hear the announcers in the ALCS. The Yankees are one of the most historic teams in sports playing in the largest media market in the United States. It will not be a fun broadcast for non-Yankee fans to sit through.
I picked the Astros to win the ALDS in four games, and I even called the Astros winning games one, two and four. I see the Astros winning the ALCS in six games. Keuchel and Verlander shut down the Yankees in the first two games in Houston, but lose the third game in New York before winning the fourth. The Yankees get the fifth game, but the Astros come home to Minute Maid Park and win it all in the sixth.