The Yankees ventured back to New York, found their bats, and displayed the resilience demonstrated often throughout the regular season and several times during the playoffs. Kickstarting the offense has been important to the Yankees ability to tie the American League Championship Series at two games apiece, but the key to the team's play in this series has been the pitching staff.
The Yankees have benefitted from extremely solid starting pitching, and the bullpen continues to dominate hitters. Much of this may have been unexpected considering the Yankees are playing against the best offense in the majors this season, and Houston came into the ALCS extremely hot at the plate.
In the four games, Yankees pitching has held the Astros to nine runs (seven earned) on 18 hits (.153 batting average against). That's impressive against a club that averaged 5.5 runs per game, and put together a collective 121 wRC+, by far an MLB-best. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa have consistently provided the Astros with solid at-bats (.310 combined average and half of the club's total hits), while the rest of the lineup is hitting just .101.
Holding the Astros offense in check starts with the Yankees rotation. Each of New York's starters have done a tremendous job, and that's with no assurances coming in. In 21 innings, Yankees starters are pitching to a 1.71 ERA and have limited the Astros to a collective .137 batting average. Each starter has pitched well enough allowing the Yankees to alleviate some of the extended work the bullpen was pushed into during the division series.
For the most part, the bullpen has also been exceptional, pitching to a 2.03 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings. Keep in mind the Astros do not strike out a lot, but the Yankees relievers have been able to rack up strikeouts in key spots. In Games 1, 2 and 4, the Yankees bullpen did everything they could to keep the team in the game, and it worked to their advantage in Game 4.
Despite losing the first two games in the series, the Yanks had the ability to pull out a win because of the pitching staff. This has to give the them some confidence with Masahiro Tanaka taking the hill in Game 5.
Of course, the Yankees' offense will have to solve Dallas Keuchel, or at least figure out a way to knock him out of the game earlier than they managed in Game 1. However, if Tanaka is not stifling the Astros again, it may not matter.
Tanaka and the Yankees have a few things going their way in Game 5.
First, Tanaka can build off the Game 1 start, one in which he was able to contain the Astros without using his best pitch. This could be a major factor in Wednesday's contest. Tanaka gave the Astros an unexpected look, pitching directly against their strength, using more four-seam fastballs. It's not a certainty, but if Tanaka has a good feeling for his signature split-finger fastball, he could confuse the Astros once again.
Next, Tanaka has pitched significantly better in Yankee Stadium than he has one the road, and he's been marvelous there in his last seven starts, including his magnificent ALDS Game 3 performance. In those games, Tanaka owns a 1.10 ERA with a whopping 64 strikeouts in 49 innings.
Should Tanaka duplicate his recent efforts in Yankee Stadium, he could hand the ball over to a bullpen that's ready to go. Only Chad Green's availability is in doubt for Game 5 after throwing 28 pitches in two innings of work. Tommy Kahnle did not pitch in Game 4, while David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman threw just 17 and 10 pitches respectively. This means the Yankees will have at least three of their four best relievers available and fresh.
The Yankees might seem to be at a disadvantage with Keuchel on the mound. However, they have demonstrated their pitching staff - as a whole - can hang with, and more importantly, beat the Astros.