The Houston Astros dodged one bullet. Now, they’ll have to contend with another.
When the New York Yankees defeated the favored Cleveland Indians in the fifth game of the American League Division Series, they established themselves as a powerhouse team. On one hand, Houston is lucky to avoid Cleveland, who dismantled the Astros in five of six 2017 meetings. On the other hand, the Yankees are really good, and their young team will only get better with time. This series could mark the beginning of a bitter new rivalry.
One thing working in Houston’s favor? Home field advantage. The Astros finished with a better overall record than the Yankees, so they’ll have the opportunity to start the series at Minute Maid Park—and end it there, if need be. The Astros also fared well against the Yankees in the regular season, winning five of seven contests including three of four at Yankee Stadium in May.
None of that matters very much now. Post-season baseball is a different beast, with each team playing as though it has to win every game. The rosters are quite different than they were in May, too—the Astros brought in Justin Verlander to solidify their pitching corps, while the Yankees acquired a shut-down bullpen that’s one of the best in the game.
The titans exchange their first blows tonight, as Dallas Keuchel takes the ball for the Astros. Keuchel turned in a characteristically great season, working to a 2.90 ERA across 23 starts. He’s been even better against the Yanks, pitching to a 5-2 record and a 1.24 ERA in seven starts, including one in the 2015 postseason.
Keuchel will be opposed by Masahiro Tanaka, whose raw talent belies his pedestrian 4.74 ERA in 2017. Tanaka possesses elite stuff—his split-fingered fastball made fools of the Cleveland lineup in a 1-0 victory last week.
Add it all up, and this is can’t-miss baseball. First pitch is set for 7:00 Central.
The Astros and Yankees are evenly-matched ball clubs. But they’re led by very different players. For the Yankees, rookie sensation Aaron Judge stands at 6’7” and paced the American League with a staggering 52 home runs (while striking out in over 30% of his plate appearances). For the Astros, diminutive Jose Altuve stands at just 5’6”, but led all of baseball with a .346 batting average and struck out in just 11% of his plate appearances. The pair will likely finish first and second in the American League MVP voting—the only question is who’ll come out on top.