The Astros are waiting in Houston for the Yankees, rested and formidable. With the best offense in baseball and a rotation bolstered by the late-season acquisition of ace Justin Verlander, this team is not going to be easy to beat in the American League Championship Series.
But here are a few ways the Yankees can look to go into Houston and beat the Astros.
Didi Gregorius put the Yankees on his back in the Yankees’ ALDS win over the Indians.
(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
MAKE THEM WORK
The Astros, rested from wrapping up their ALDS with the Red Sox in just four games, will have Dallas Keuchel and Verlander ready and waiting as an ominous one-two punch to greet the Yankees for the first two games in Houston. The rest of the Astros’ starting staff — Brad Peacock, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers — also have swing-and-miss stuff and are not a huge dropoff.
But Yankees hitters can look forward to getting to the Astros bullpen.
Though Astros relievers have good stuff — their 10.9 strikeout per nine innings rate is envied throughout the big leagues — they have proven to be beatable. Houston’s bullpen had a 4.27 ERA and 21 blown saves this season. They are particularly susceptible to the long ball, having given up 77 home runs, the 11th most in the majors and the most of any bullpen left in the playoffs.
Yankees hitters have to try and work up the starters’ pitch counts and get to the bullpen as quick as they can.
Justin Verlander has been light out for the Astros since Houston acquired him from Detroit at the end of August.
HIT ‘EM WHERE THEY … ARE?
The Astros have won on the strength of their ridiculous lineup and solid starting pitching. Their pitching might have gotten a bad rap in part because of the defensive issues behind them.
They were the 11th-worst fielding team in baseball, according to the The Baseball Gauge. They committed 99 errors, above the American League and overall average in baseball this season. Their .983 fielding percentage was a tick below the average across baseball and middle of the pack. Their defensive platoons against left-handed pitching are particularly vulnerable, leading to their losing record against southpaws this season.
HANDLE HITTERS WITH CARE
The Yankees pitchers have to be very careful with this lineup. The Astros scored a major-league leading 896 runs this season and it was no fluke. They led the majors with a .282 batting average and .832 OPS. The Astros did have a losing record against left-handed starters with their numbers dipping a bit to .278 with an .814 OPS.
They are a good fastball-hitting team, but they have some weakness that even righthanded Yankees pitchers can take advantage of. According to an AL Central scout, the Astros hitters are noticeably susceptible to right-handed breaking balls.
Jose Altuve, an AL MVP candidate, has given the Astros plenty of offense this season.
(David J. Phillip/AP)
LET THEM RUN
Astros baserunners will take what you give them and test the Yankees catchers. They like to try and make things happen. They stole 98 bases this season and in the playoffs, those kinds of plays are the ones that give a team an edge — and can rattle a pitcher. But they do give away some outs on the bases. They were below league average of 73% in stolen base success rate (70%) and ran into the third-most outs in the majors (42).
STEAL BACK THE ADVANTAGE
On the other side of the ball, the Astros will give away bases — if the Yankees can get on board. Astros catchers allowed 102 stolen bases this season and threw out just 14. That’s a dismal 12% caught-stealing percentage, the worst in the majors this season. (The White Sox were second-worst at 18%.)
The Yankees stole 90 bases this season and had the best stolen base percentage in the majors (80%), so they need to exploit that strength against what is one of the Astros’ few weaknesses.
It will be a tough assignment, but it will not be impossible for the Yankees to beat the Astros.