The New York Yankees and Houston Astros just finished a landmark series for both teams, with the Astros winning two of three games. After facing off in the ALCS last season, both teams had sights on making another run this year. While the Astros are still ahead in the race, both teams have some similar questions to answer if they want to have a successful postseason.
3 Questions for the Astros-Yankees after ALCS Rematch
How Deep is the Lineup?
The Houston Astros do not have a colossus of a lineup that will easily carry them to another World Series appearance. The core of the lineup is still a nightmare for opposing hitters, with Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker. How deep does the rest of the lineup go, though?
Jose Abreu was an interesting off-season addition, but he has an OPS of .641 on the season. Jeremy Peña had an incredible postseason in his rookie year but generally has not taken the next step in his game. The lineup has to fit in an assortment of Martin Maldonado, Jake Meyers, and Mauricio Dubón, who have all been below-average hitters.
The offense has been on a steady climb, however. Altuve missed much of the first half of the season. Abreu’s season numbers are still unsightly, but he has been much better since the start of June. And perhaps the most important development is the breakout of Chas McCormick. He has made more consistent hard contact as the season develops and adds some serious power while providing great defense.
The Yankees lineup is much more maligned, but there are serious problems. Outside of the stars, who can you rely on? The major problem, of course, is that they have not been able to even rely on their stars outside of Aaron Judge.
Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres have only recently lifted their OPS above league average. Torres has been the Yankees best pitcher over the past few months as Judge returned from injury. Over his past 30 games, Torres has a .906 OPS.
DJ LeMahieu and Anthony Rizzo both struggled for extended periods of time, but Rizzo was suffering from post-concussion syndrome. Anthony Volpe is a promising player for the future, but his bat is not at an All-Star level yet.
The strangest development of the season is that the Yankees have had to rely on infielders and career minor leaguers to fill out their outfield. Oswaldo Cabrera has seen a lot of time in left field, but has been up and down between Triple-A due to underperformance. So, it’s been Isiah Kiner-Falefa, another career infielder, embracing the role. He has a 115 wRC+ since the beginning of July.
Billy McKinney and Jake Bauers have been relied upon in a strange fashion. It is an incredible story and fun to watch these players have a breakout for a team that desperately needs them, but can the Yankees rely on those players carrying them to October? McKinney has a 108 wRC+ and Bauers has a 119 wRC+. In the series finale, the Yankees fielded five players with below-average OPS.
Will the Pitching Dominate?
Both teams entered the season with designs of having an elite pitching staff. For various reasons, it did not work out that way. But for both teams, it might be turning around.
The Astros’ Framber Valdez just threw a no-hitter after allowing 15 runs in his previous three outings. His overall season numbers are impressive, even if they are not as dominant as last season. His groundball rate is down significantly, but he is not allowing any more home runs and he has even bumped up his strikeout rate a few ticks.
The rest of the staff is intriguing. Jose Urquidy has not performed well, but only recently returned from injury. Hunter Brown helped the Astros win the first game of this series and has impressed in his first full season. JP France has an impeccable 2.75 ERA, but his underlying numbers draw more skepticism.
In what could end up being the most important trade of the deadline, Justin Verlander returned from the Mets. He instantly reinforces this Astros rotation, even if he has not been in Cy Young form this season.
The Yankees fall into a similar place. After last year’s performance and the addition of Carlos Rodon, the Yankees expected to rely on their rotation. Outside of Gerrit Cole, it has looked vastly different. Rodon has not been the same since returning from injury. Luis Severino has a 7.74 ERA. Domingo Germán had an inconsistent season before going on the restricted list.
Responsibility has fallen upon Clarke Schmidt to have a breakout season as he currently sits at a 4.35 ERA. He has enticing potential, rating in the top 5% of curveball spin and fastball spin, but generally giving up too much hard contact. Jhony Brito might be able to contribute next season, but currently needs more time to refine his skillset.
Nestor Cortes‘ return in this Astros-Yankees series is the most promising sign Yankees’ fans have seen in a while. Cortes looked shaky early in the season but dominated in his first start back. The Yankees would like to see more encouraging results from players like Severino and Rodon, but having Cole and Cortes at the top of your rotation is already pretty nasty.
Does the AL Still Run Through Houston?
For the first time in years, the Astros are having trouble in their own division. The Texas Rangers lead the AL West and have the best run differential in baseball. The Yankees are fighting simply to avoid last place in their division.
Do these teams still have what it takes for another ALCS rematch? After a dominant 4-0 series win in the ALCS last season, Houston still looks to be far ahead of the Yankees. It is going to take some serious work for both teams to make it back.
Houston’s championship window certainly is not over, but it looks to be a tougher road than in years past. With the caliber of players they have, though, it is possible the ALCS will run through Houston once again. The Yankees have the star names and recognition, but underperformance has plagued their season. This August matchup showed there is still a gap between the teams, but that they always match up for entertaining baseball.
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