After losing the American League Cy Young to the New York Mets in free agency, one might think that the Houston Astros could endure some problems to start the season. They have reached the AL Championship Series six consecutive years, though, and there is no reason that they will not be there again.
The New York Yankees signed starting pitcher Carlos Rodon to a six-year, $162 million contract this offseason. Still, the Bronx Bombers have multiple issues that limit them from being a perennial World Series contender like the Astros are. Here are three reasons why the Yankees still can not compete with the Astros.
The Yankees Are Still Inferior to the Astros
1. New York’s offense was mediocre last season and is regressing
While Aaron Judge was getting media coverage for breaking the AL home run record in 2022, people were ignoring just how bad the Yankees offense was at times. Their .236 batting average post-All-Star break ranked just 21st in the majors. Even if batting average is no longer a viable offensive metric anymore, the Yankees had four consistent starters hit lower than .225 for the season.
Additionally, multiple Yankees starters are starting to regress as they age. DJ LeMahieu, someone who was once one of the best pure hitters in baseball, will be turning 35 years old during the 2023 season. In the past two seasons, his OPS is just .721. LeMahieu’s .377 slugging percentage last year is more than 100 points lower than it was in his first two years in pinstripes.
Giancarlo Stanton also took a turn for the worse last season. A season after he looked unstoppable in the latter part of the season, he posted a .297 on-base percentage and a meager .759 OPS. Stanton’s days of being the power-hitting twin tower alongside Aaron Judge are no more.
The Yankees offense in 2022 had a penchant for leaving runners on base, striking out an uncharacteristically high amount, and going on random dry spells. They even lost Andrew Benintendi to the Chicago White Sox. Despite this, general manager Brian Cashman decided to bring nothing in this offseason.
Bryan Reynolds trade talks have recently been shut down due to Pittsburgh’s high asking price. It is concerning that Cashman feels as though a starting lineup consisting of Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks is one of a winning ball club. Although there are some very good hitters in the starting nine for New York, such as Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo, your top-of-the-lineup can not win you playoff games on its own.
The Astros brought former MVP winner Jose Abreu to the squad, re-signed Michael Brantley, and already had more offensive talent to begin with. The Yankees offense is simply not good enough to keep up with the pitching of Houston, and that was showcased when the Yankees got swept in the playoffs this year.
2. The Astros do not need Justin Verlander to have a good rotation
Valdez was absolutely terrific in 2022. He threw for 200 innings for the first time in his career, posting a 2.82 ERA and an AL-leading 0.5 HR/9. There is an argument to be made that Valdez is even better than the Yankees No. 1 pitcher Gerrit Cole.
Cristian Javier also shined this past season, striking out 194 batters in 148 2/3 innings. His 2.54 ERA was even lower than Valdez’s. To make things worse for the Yankees, the Astros locked up Javier this past week for the next five years. He will give New York fans nightmares for years to come. Javier was the starter when the Astros no-hit the Yankees back in June.
Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Urquidy, and Luis Garcia also contribute to the rotation for the Astros, even with Verlander no longer there. Their pitching alone is impressive enough to baffle most teams in the American League, but when you combine their elite offense, it is a scary one-two punch to think of.
3. A great starting rotation is not enough by itself to take down Houston.
There is no doubt that the Yankees starting pitching poses a threat to any lineup that they face. Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodon, Luis Severino, and Nestor Cortes can make up one of the best postseason rotations in recent history. But for the Yankees to defeat a team of Houston’s caliber, they need more than just pitching.
The clear issue for the Yankees when they played Houston in the AL Championship Series was its hitting, and Brian Cashman has failed to address that in free agency or through trades. Scoring nine runs across the entirety of a playoff series is embarrassing for a team like the Yankees. Even Aaron Judge, who had one of the best offensive seasons of all time, recorded just one hit in 16 at-bats.
The fact of the matter is that the Yankees will never be able to beat Houston with their current offense. Houston has a plethora of players who do not strike out and are great pure hitters, but New York is stuck with low-contact power hitters who do not know how to situationally hit.
No matter whether Cole or Rodon is pitching to Yordan Alvarez, the consensus is that Alvarez would have the edge — whereas Judge was dominated by the Astros pitching staff throughout the whole series. It is also worth noting that Cole, Severino, and Cortes struggled greatly against the Astros offense in their respective starts.
New York is only a few pieces away, but Brian Cashman is too passive and will not pull the trigger on big deals. Although some big-name prospects could be called up this season for the Yankees, their roster is simply not good enough to compete with Houston. Their best chance of reaching their first World Series in more than a decade is for an opposing American League team to upset the Astros.
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