After becoming the 10th team in MLB history to come back from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five playoff series, the Yankees are again the underdog when they face the Houston Astros in the ALCS.
The Astros own home-field advantage and ranked second in the American League with 101 wins, however the Yankees turned some non-believers into believers after their impressive comeback over the Cleveland Indians propelled them to the ALCS in what was originally supposed to be a rebuilding year.
How do the Yankees match up with the Astros?
Yankees in postseason: 4-2
Astros in postseason: 3-1
Yankees' home record: 51-30
Yankees' road record: 40-41
Astros' home record: 48-33
Astros' road record: 53-28
The Astros won the head-to-head season series 5-2, outscoring the Yankees 43-41.
The Yankees can be explosive up and down the lineup, but they enter the ALCS with an uneven group of hitters. The Yankees, who led the majors in home runs (241) have continued to hit the ball out of the park in the postseason (10 in six games), but overall they hit just .201 with a measly .289 on-base percentage in the ALDS. Still, the Yankees are averaging 5.3 runs per game in the postseason, exactly the mark they generated in the regular season, which was second in baseball.
Of course, the Astros led the majors in runs per game (5.5) and averaged 6.5 runs per game against the Red Sox in the ALDS. Houston's lineup is even deeper than the Yankees' with power spread throughout (11 players with 12 or more homers). The Astros pounded eight homers as a club with MVP-candidate Jose Altuve drilling three in Game 1. Houston's offense slashed .333/.402/.571 against Boston.
Edge: Astros. Houston's offense was the best in the regular season, and the Astros enter the ALCS as hot as ever with the bats.
The Yankees received solid starting pitching from three of their four starters in the ALDS, pitching to a collective 3.33 ERA, holding batters to a .188 batting average with 32 strikeouts in 27 innings.
New York lined up Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, CC Sabathia and Sonny Gray in succession for Games 1-4. Gray was the weak link among the four, while Tanaka dominated the Indians with seven innings of shutout baseball. Severino and Sabathia both gave the Yankees solid efforts in their starts.
The Astros lit up Tanaka for four home runs in his only start against them this season and hit .405 against Severino in two starts. Gray allowed five earned runs in his only start against the Astros as a member of the Athletics, while Sabathia did not face Houston this season.
Houston announced Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander as the Games 1 and 2 starters, respectively, but did not name Games 3 or 4 starters.
Keuchel (14-5, 2,90 ERA) and Verlander (15-8, 3.36 ERA in 2017; 5-0, 1.06 ERA with Houston) pitched well in their starts against the Red Sox in the ALDS, but Houston received poor efforts from Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock, resulting in a collective 3.86 ERA for the rotation. The Red Sox hit .301 against the Astros' starters, scoring 4.5 runs per game. Astros starters held the Yankees batters to a 3.11 ERA (37 2/3 IP) in their seven games in 2017.
Edge: Yankees. The Astros are stronger in Game 1, and it is even in Game 2, but the Yankees have a slight advantage with the Game 3 and 4 starters.
The Yankees' bullpen is having a remarkable postseason. Since forced into a 26-out effort in the wild-card game, the relievers have pitched lights out, sans Game 2 of the division series.
In 28 2/3 playoff innings, Yankees relievers own a 2.20 ERA and have held batters to a .153 batting average. The bullpen has an amazing 42 strikeouts in the span. Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman combine to make a formidable endgame crew, and if Dellin Betances can regain his mechanics he can truly help shorten the game.
The Astros bullpen struggled as a group this season pitching to a 4.47 ERA. That said, they received strong seasons from Chris Devenski (2.68 ERA, 100 K in 80 2/3 IP) and closer Ken Giles (2.30 ERA, 34 SV, 83 K, 62 2/3 IP). This points to a shaky middle-relief crew. In the Boston series, Astros relievers allowed 10 runs in 16 1/3 innings. Against the Yankees in the regular season, the Astros allowed 25 earned runs in 24 1/3 innings.
Edge: Yankees. New York's relievers are definitively better than Houston's.
Joe Girardi has endured a roller coaster ride this postseason. He was tremendous in the wild-card game, navigating his bullpen through 26 outs, but raised the ire of fans with his refusal to challenge a hit-by-pitch that wasn't called in Game 2 of the ALDS. Girardi eventually owned up to the mistake and the team seemingly rallied around their manager. Girardi continues to fight the battle between the stats in his binder and the feeling in his gut. He's getting better at the balance, but there will certainly be at least one instance in which he'll be questioned in the ALCS.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch got the club out to an incredible start, taking over the division lead on April 14 and never relinquishing it. Houston finished off the AL West with a 21-game lead. The club hit a rough spot in August (11-17 record), then turned things back around by going 21-8 in September and October. Houston returned to the postseason after missing out in 2016 (84-78 record), two years after an ALDS loss to the Royals.
Edge: Even. Girardi's indecisiveness could be an issue, but his experience balances that.
In order for the Yankees to reach the World Series, they need to continue to receive solid starting pitching and timely hits, and the bullpen must throttle opposing batters. The key will be for the Yankees' rotation to best -- or at least stick with -- the Astros starters and get to Houston's iffy middle relievers.
The Yankees have won four straight winner-take-all games during these playoffs, so getting behind in the series will not phase them. However, they would love to play from ahead for a change and get into the heads of their opponent early in the series. Leaving Houston tied at one game apiece and heading back on the road up 3-2 would provide them two games to defeat the Astros.
The Yankees battle from at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch. They believe in themselves and each other, and their collective confidence is growing with each win.
Prediction: Yankees in six