Strange times we live in where the Bronx Bombers are the up and coming youngbloods trying to knock the crown off the favored Houston Astros, but here we are with the Yankees needing just one more game to claim their 41st American League pennants.
The Yankees are tossing their young ace back into the fire, starting the 23 year old Luis Severino against potential Hall of Famer Justin Verlander. Severino has some of the most electric stuff in baseball, but can let it get away from him when he’s overthrowing. He started out the wild card game with an absolute clunker before mixing in a solid start at home against the Indians and getting pulled early in Game 4. The kid has been known to go on hot streaks where his stuff is unhittable and it feels like he’s due for a dominant performance.
Recent acquisition and lifetime Detroit Tiger Justin Verlander will toe the rubber for the ‘Stros tonight in Houston. The thirteen year veteran showed he’s got plenty left in the tank, notching an ERA of just over 1 since waiving his no trade clause to get the opportunity to pitch for a contender. Verlander’s bread and butter has always been his live fastball, and he had it on a string in Game Two, tossing a complete game shutout with 13 strikeouts. The Yankees as a team are good fastball hitters and their heavyweights should be able to take advantage of the short porch in left field, but turning on a mid nineties heater from Verlander on the inside half of the plate is no easy task.
The Yankees have been a different beast in the playoffs than they were in regular season, relying on pitching and timely hitting rather than outslugging opponents. The San Francisco Giants used this formula to the tune of three World Series championships earlier this decade so it’s tried and true. If Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez start heating up, as they did last game, watch out. The Yankees have been a streaky team, and they are hitting their stride when it matters most.
The Astros are no pushovers, however-let’s not forget they won ten more games than the Yankees this year. Jose Altuve should win the AL MVP this year and his quick bat and short stroke are the perfect antidote to Severino’s heater. Carlos Correa and George Springer are big time bashers than can turn a game around with one swing of the bat and have more postseason experience than the current group of Yanks. Objectively, they were the better team over the course of the entire season, but all bets are off come October.
This Astros team reminds me of the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, with two pitchers carrying the pitching staff and the offense doing the heavy lifting. While that maybe a painful analogy for Yankees fans, that was a series that the Yankees could have and should have won.
This one will be a bloodbath. Altuve is a fantastic player, but his play style brings so much more to his team than just statistics. He’s the sparkplug of one heck of an engine that is the Houston Astros, and you can bet your bottom dollar MinuteMaid will be bringing the noise. Altuve’s scrappy and energetic play style revs up a stadium in a way few can. Yankee Stadium has been rocking all postseason and has been the Yankees biggest advantage, but you’ve got to venture out and conquer on the road if you want to advance.
One guy to watch for is the Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez. A holdover from the years in the NL Central dungeon, Gonzalez has enjoyed a breakout season while playing all over the diamond, batting over .300 and cracking 23 homers to boot. He could be the difference maker in a series that’s looking like it will come down to the wire.
If there’s one guy you want digging in a big moment for the Bronx Bombers, it’s an easy choice-Didi Gregorious. The Yankees’ slick-fielding shortstop has inherited the clutch gene from his predecessor and has been the most reliable hitter in a Yankee’s lineup that is boom-or-bust by nature.
The Yankees need to bounce Verlander in six innings or less, because AJ Hinch will have no reservations about using Ken Giles for a four or five out save if the Yankees are threatening late. Giles is a lockdown closer, but the rest of the Houston bullpen is nothing to write home about. If Verlander gets deep into the game and they are backed up against Giles, the Yankees will be backed into a corner that will be tough to escape from. Verlander is too experienced to be rattled by the nerves of an elimination game, so Yankee hitters will have to work the count and be selectively aggressive at the plate and avoid fishing for the soft stuff. On the flip side, the key to hitting Severino is a contact oriented approach-all you’ve got to do is barrel anything up that’s coming in at triple digits and it’ll disappear in a hurry. Trying to crush the ball will most likely end in hitting nothing but air. I wouldn’t be surprised to see high strikeout guys like Springer and former stud prospect Alex Bregman struggle, but Altuve is tailor made to neutralize power pitchers.
It’s important for the Yankees to close it out here and for Severino to go deep into this game. The Yankees lack a true horse-Sabbathia is reliable, but there’s a lot of miles on that arm. Tanaka has been filthy but his elbow has been tender for a couple years now and was the worst starting pitcher in the AL for a good chuck of 2017. Sonny Gray hasn’t been able to go as deep into games as a Yankee as he was when he was in Oakland. Severino was objectively the third best pitcher in the American League this year, but he is prone to get lit up at times. The Yanks have leaned heavily on their bullpen this postseason, and they need a break if the Yanks want to keep this run going.
The Yankees weren’t even supposed to be good this year. The Astros have suffered through years of terrible baseball to build this team and have one of the most compelling stories in sports.
I think Didi gets the big hit and the Yankees win a low scoring game, two nothing. 8:00 toinhgt we’ll find out for sure.