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Ok, Bring On The Astros!

The Tampa Bay Rays gave them a good run for their money, but the Houston Astros prevailed (possibly because of home field advantage) to secure a spot in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees.

This promises to be a huge series, filled with great baseball, lots of tension, and great pitching.

Some thoughts, perspectives, and such…

In 2017, when these two teams last met in the ALCS, the home team won each of the games. I fear that that same dynamic might be at play again. Both the Yankees and the Astros are great teams at home – and less great on the road.

The Yankees had a .704 winning percentage (57-24) at home in 2019.

The Astros had a .741 winning percentage (60-21) at home in 2019.

The Yankees played to a .568 winning percentage (46-35) on the road, the Astros were .580 (47-34) on the road.

One fact remains above all – for the Yankees to now reach the World Series, they must win at least one road game in Houston. The Yankees cannot advance without winning at least one game on the road.

These two team are about as evenly matched as can be. They played seven games against each other in 2019. The Astros (4-3) were just one game better than the Yankees. Unfortunately for the Yankees, this home field concern was very present. The Yankees lost all three games they played in Houston in 2019. The Astros lost three out of four at Yankee Stadium

Looking back to 2018, the Yankees were again better at home (.654 winning percentage) than on the road (.580). Interestingly, in 2018, the Astros were a better road team. They had a .704 winning percentage on the road and only played to a .658 winning percentage at home. In 2018, the Yankees went 5-2 against Houston with them winning three out of four in Texas. (It can be done!)

There is a line of thinking that says for the Yankees to truly appreciate a World Championship, they should defeat the best teams along the way. Well, Houston is the best team. Hands down. The task is now set before them. The Yankees have the talent. It will just be a matter of playing great baseball.

That is probably the big difference between playing very good teams (like the Twins) in the playoffs and playing a great team like the Astros. For the Yankees to win this series, they will have to play exceptionally great baseball. There will be little room for error. Very little room. This is the type of series that can, and probably will, be determined by the little things. Physical and mental errors can be the difference. The margin of error (for both teams) will be very small.

In a series like this, the umpires will play a huge role. I hate that that will be the case. I want the players to determine the games, but a lot of this series will be determined by the close pitches in and around the plate that are called balls or strikes. This will add to the tension that accompanies each pitch.

One of my fears against a team like Houston, with three top high-quality ace-level starting pitchers, all right handers, will be that these great pitchers will be able to shut down the big Yankees hitters. I surely do not want to watch a series (like we have in the past) with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton swinging and missing at bat after at bat. That will get old very fast. Very fast. That being said, both Aaron Judge (with great results in the ALDS) and Giancarlo Stanton (less so in the results column) looked “locked in” in recent games. If there ever was a time for them to both come up big, this would be it. Now is the time. In fact, those two batters might be the key to the whole series. If they can punish the Astros pitching (it won’t be easy), that could (and probably would) be the difference maker.

Since so much of the Astros’ strength is right-handed pitching, the Yankees might want to consider adding Mike Ford (rather than Luke Voit) and Aaron Hicks (if he’s healthy) for Cameron Maybin to the roster. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a spot for a left-handed batter to come up in a big spot.

One of the big strengths the Yankees have is the ability for their batters to work the opponent’s starting pitchers by taking lots of pitches and driving up their pitch totals. That probably won’t happen with the Astros starting pitchers who throw strikes. Getting the starter out of the game early won’t really be an option for the Yankees in these games. For the Yankees to win, they are going to have to defeat Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Grienke.

I said this before, but when the Yankees didn’t get Gerrit Cole and he went to Houston, and when the Yankees didn’t get an ace at the trade deadline and Zack Grienke also went to Houston, this was the fear. The worry was that the Yankees would have to confront these pitchers in the biggest series of all. Those were zero-sum acquisitions. The Yankees didn’t get these guys (Grienke was never coming to New York, but another ace could have) and the Astros got them. The same was true with the Yankees passing on Justin Verlander in 2017. These acquisitions made the Astros better. This was the risk the Yankees ownership was willing to take. Now the Yankees have to face that reality – either (or both) of the Astros Big Two pitchers (Verlander and/or Cole) could easily have been Yankees. The Astros went all-in, the Yankees didn’t. Verlander already rewarded Houston in 2017 with a World Championship. It’s not often that a team has to confront their decisions in such a direct fashion, but much of the angst surrounding the Yankees decision making of recent years will play out pitch-by-pitch in this series. That will add to the tension, but it will also make the games that much more exciting.

Then again, for all the talk of the great Houston pitching, the Yankees actually out scored the Astros this year 42-34.

This promises to be an exceptionally exciting series.

Let’s hope the Yankees’ magic continues. I am really hoping and longing for a World Series in the Bronx.

Let’s Go Yankees!!!!!!!

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