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Houston, We Have a Rematch: Goliath vs. Goliath, Yankees vs. Astros

Although it took longer to get here, the New York Yankees punched their ticket to the American League Championship Series on Tuesday, outlasting the Cleveland Guardians in Game 5. With the season starting later due to the lockout everything was pushed back. Then the scheduled Game 5 was rained out on Monday, leading it to be played Tuesday mid-afternoon. So now the Yankees have a quick turnaround, flying to Houston to meet the Astros for Game 1 of the ALCS. The Astros will be all rested up, as they took care of business against the Seattle Mariners, sweeping the best-of-five series. While the five days off for the top two seeds in the National League seemed to be an issue - with the Dodgers and Braves both getting eliminated - it wasn't for the Yankees and Astros.


The Yankees needed all five games to finish the series off, but ultimately got the job done. Gerrit Cole rocked the baby to sleep in Game 4 with a dominant seven inning performance to keep the Yankees alive. It was more of the same in Game 5, with Nestor Cortes, Jr. twirling a gutsy five innings while allowing just one run on three days rest. Clay Holmes and Wandy Peralta both tossed a scoreless inning in each of the last two games, with Jonathan Loaisiga backing Cortes up with two strong innings in Game 5. Peralta became the first pitcher in Division Series history to appear in all five games. He went at least an inning in all five, with his only blip coming in the Game 3 loss as he surrendered two runs. Even then, Cleveland didn't hit the ball hard off of him, and it was ultimately Clarke Schmidt who allowed the inherited runners to score. Things looked dire after that Game 3 loss in which Oscar Gonzalez delivered his second walk-off of the postseason, but the Yankees never wavered. The Bombers did what they do best and won via the long ball, striking first in Game 5 with a Giancarlo Stanton three-run shot to right field.


The AL MVP Aaron Judge struck for his second home run of the postseason in the second inning and the pitching staff did the rest. With "Who's Your Daddy" chants raining down, Josh Naylor was the Yankees "little ****ing son" as he went 0-for-4 in the win-or-go-home game. With a grounder to short, Isiah Kiner-Falefa tossed it over to Gleyber Torres for the force out as they Yankees clinched. Torres then mocked Naylor with the "rock the baby" motion toward the Guardians' dugout. This of course all occurring because Naylor did this celebration while rounding the bases after hitting a homer off of Cole in Game 4. With the Guardians still losing the game. In the end, the Yankees got the last laugh. Josh Naylor, you are not the father.


So, We Meet Again


Now it's time for the Yankees to meet up with the Astros in the ALCS for the third time in six years and first time since 2019. The Astros have made it to the ALCS in each of the last six years and got past the Yankees in the previous two meetings. There is something different about this year, though. For starters, the Astros were cheating in the first meeting of 2017. Then in 2019, it was Aroldis Chapman giving up another back-breaking homer to send Houston to the World Series. Chapman isn't a part of the ALCS roster, which shouldn't be a surprise. Another difference is Carlos Correa not being a member of the Astros, although his replacement Jeremy Pena has been no slouch. The only real constant has been Jose Altuve, who has been a Yankee killer. The homer that Chapman gave up in Game 7 of the 2019 ALCS was to Altuve, and he has slashed .275/.336/.459 with 11 homers, 10 doubles, and 25 RBI against them. In the postseason, those numbers are even more in favor of the second baseman. In 14 postseason games, he has hit .327 with four homers, eight RBI, and 11 runs against New York. He will be looking to break out against them once again, as he went 0-for-16 in the three-game sweep of the Mariners. That included and 0-for-8 performance in Game 3 before Pena smashed the eventual game-winning homer in the 18th inning.


The Astros proved to have a deep lineup since they were able to sweep the series without Altuve hitting. Yordan Alvarez was on fire, crushing a walk-off homer in Game 1 and another bomb in Game 2 while going 4-for-8 in the first two games. But it was really the pitching that carried the Astros the final two games. After an 8-7 win in Game 1, the next two games were 4-2 and 1-0. Their bullpen dominated the Mariners fiery, up-and-coming offense. Hector Neris, Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero, and Ryan Pressly combined for 3 1/3 shutout innings in relief while allowing just one hit in Game 2. Then in the clinching Game 3, Houston went down the line with seven different relievers combining for 12 innings after Lance McCullers Jr. gave them six innings of two-hit ball. Luis Garcia hurled the final five innings and struck out six to hold the score knotted at zero then eventually made the Pena homer hold up.


Likely Pitching Matchups/Game Schedule


Game 1: Wednesday, October 19, 7:37 p.m. EDT (at Houston)

Jameson Taillon vs. Justin Verlander


The Game 1 pitching matchup certainly favors the Astros, especially with the Yankees having a quick turnaround. Taillon was lined up to start Game 5 of the ALDS before the rain pushed it back and Cortes got the ball instead. He pitched once in the Division Series, in relief during Game 2, and gave up two runs in the 10th inning. The Texas native gets a chance to put up a big performance in his home state. His last start came on October 4 against the Texas Rangers in the final series of the regular season and he surrendered four runs on seven hits and two walks. Taillon finished his 2022 campaign with a 3.91 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 151 strikeouts to 32 walks in 32 starts. His one start against Houston this season came on June 23 and they blew him up for six runs on 10 hits (including two homers) over 5 2/3 innings. As everyone knows, October baseball is a different animal and that was months ago so anything can happen. That was also a game in which the Yankees bats had his back, as Aaron Judge walked it off in the bottom of the ninth after they had been down 6-3. Taillon will have to work better at limiting the damage and not let the big boppers kill him. In that game, Alvarez and Alex Bregman each hit a homer off him, while Altuve recorded three hits off him including two doubles. Peña has been a huge asset this season and is a Rookie of the Year candidate. He further deepens the lineup and gets on base at a high level to set up the sluggers. Taillon will have a lot to navigate as well as the rest of the Yankees pitching staff. The bullpen will be key and Luis Severino is an arm that may follow him in Game 1 if Houston pounces. Getting five innings out of Cortes and just using three relievers was not only key in getting the Yankees to the next round, but how they are set up in the next round. They will still have a number of arms available, including Ron Marinaccio who was not on the ALDS roster due to a stress reaction in his left shin. The right-hander is likely going to be on the roster as he is heading to Houston after throwing to hitters on Sunday.




On the other hand, Verlander has shutdown the Yankees in the past but did get smacked around against the Mariners. The lock for the AL Cy Young surrendered six runs on 10 hits and walk over just four innings in Game 1 of the ALDS. But it was the offense that bailed him out, ending with the walk-off bomb by Alvarez. Against the Yankees in his Astros career, though, Verlander hasn't allowed more than three runs while going at least six innings. His one start against them this season came on June 24 and he allowed just one run on four hits and one walk over seven innings. This will now be his fifth postseason start against the Yankees as a member of the Astros. His last one was a loss, as the Yankees scored four runs against him in Game 5 of the 2019 ALDS. He also had four starts as a Detroit Tiger and pitched a complete game in his first postseason start as an Astro against the Yankees in 2017, striking out 13. You can throw that right out the window, though, as this Yankees team is much different than that year and in 2019. Judge is now the frontrunner for MVP after he was a rookie that season. He's joined by an offense that can be a juggernaut, although they have struggled at times this season. Right now, Gleyber Torres has been hitting well along with Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, and Harrison Bader. The acquisition from the St. Louis Cardinals hit three homers in the ALDS, his first bombs as a Yankee. He was acquired for his elite defense in center field, but has more than been a factor at the plate. One thing to note is that Aaron Hicks' season is over after sustaining a left knew injury colliding with Oswaldo Cabrera. Cabrera played shortstop the last two games after the Yankees benched Kiner-Falefa, and has played outfield most of his first major league season. Verlander is a tough arm to face, but the Bombers' offense is more than capable than pouncing on him especially with the long ball. He made a huge bounce back from missing the 2021 season following Tommy John surgery, posting a 1.75 ERA -- the lowest for a qualified AL pitcher since Pedro Martinez, who had a 1.74 ERA in 2000 -- in 28 starts.


Game 2: Thursday, October 20, 7:37 p.m. EDT (at Houston)

Luis Severino (6 K, 4.76 ERA, 5.2 IP) vs. Framber Valdez (6 K, 3.18 ERA, 5.2 IP)

Game 3: Saturday, October 22, 5:07 p.m. EDT (at New York)

Gerrit Cole (16 K, 2.03 ERA, 13.1 IP) vs. Lance McCullers Jr. (7 K, 0.00 ERA, 6.0 IP)

Game 4: Sunday, October 23, 7:07 p.m. EDT (at New York)

Nestor Cortes (5 K, 2.70 ERA, 10.0 IP) vs. Luis Garcia (6 K, 0.00 ERA, 5.0 IP)

Game 5: Monday, October 24, 4:07 p.m. EDT (at New York)
Game 6: Tuesday, October 25, 6:07 p.m. EDT (at Houston)
Game 7: Wednesday, October 26, 7:37 p.m. EDT (at Houston)

Potential Lineups

Yankees

Gleyber Torres 2B

Aaron Judge RF

Anthony Rizzo 1B

Giancarlo Stanton LF

Matt Carpenter DH

Josh Donaldson 3B

Oswaldo Cabrera SS

Harrison Bader CF

Jose Trevino C

Bench: C Kyle Higashioka, SS Oswald Peraza, UTIL Marwin Gonzalez, PR Tim Locastro

Pitchers: Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino, Jameson Taillon, Domingo German, Lou Trivino, Jonathan Loaisiga, Clay Holmes, Wandy Peralta, Ron Marinaccio, Clarke Schmidt, Lucas Luetge


Astros

Jose Altuve 2B

Jeremy Pena SS

Yordan Alvarez LF

Alex Bregman 3B

Kyle Tucker RF

Yuli Gurriel 1B

Trey Mancini DH

Chas McCormick CF

Martin Maldonado C

Bench: C Christian Vazquez, INF Mauricio Dubon, OF Jake Meyers, INF David Hensley

Pitchers: Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Lancer McCullers, Luis Garcia, Bryan Abreu, Hunter Brown, Christian Javier, Hector Neris, Ryan Pressly, Ryne Stanek, Jose Urquidy, Will Smith, Rafael Montero


Prediction


These teams have been on a collision course all season and all the way back since the last time they met in October. The Yankees may have taken a windier path to get to this point, but that doesn't mean they can't get by the rested Astros this time. Looking for their first trip to the World Series since 2009, the Yankees have what it takes to finally slay their demons. The Astros are set up with better pitching depth and rest, on top of the experience that has brought them to six straight Championship Series. It is certainly going to be a dogfight and will take everything for the winning team to get to the World Series. There just seems to be something magical about this year's Yankees team that will catapult them past Houston. The offense is hot enough at the moment to carry that momentum into this meeting of Goliaths. Gerrit Cole has something to prove and is pitching out of his mind and will have a little something extra facing his former team. The rest of the pitching staff has been strong even despite the injuries. Give me the Yankees to exact revenge on their biggest postseason nemesis these past several seasons.


Yankees in 7




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