You won’t have to wait until the world Series to see the two best teams left in the 2019 MLB Playoffs face off. That’s going to happen in the American League Championship Series, where the New York Yankees and Houston Astros will meet for the second time in three years.
Neither team in the national League Championship Series won more than 93 games in the regular season. The Yankees finished 10 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in the standings with a 103-59 record. The Astros led baseball with a franchise-record 107 victories.
With home-field advantage and MLB’s best record, Houston is favored to get back to the Fall Classic. The Astros have anywhere from -175 betting odds at DraftKings sportsbook to -190 odds at Bovada. The Yankees are between +145 and +150 underdogs at various sportsbooks.
Houston’s starting pitching is what makes them the favorites in this series. They’ve got the top two AL Cy Young candidates in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Former Cy Young winner Zack Grienke joined the team at the trade deadline, going 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP in 62.2 innings with the AL West champs.
All three starters are expected to take the mound in the first three games of the ALCS, but the division series with the Tampa Bay Rays will force Houston to alter their plans. It might be the break that New York needs to ultimately pull off the upset and return the favor to the team that knocked them out of the postseason two years ago.
Tampa Bay pushed Houston to five games, forcing the Astros to pitch Cole in Thursday’s deciding Game 5. The right-hander was brilliant in the clincher, allowing four runners to reach base and one runner to score in eight innings of work. With a 2-0 record and a 0.57 ERA in the playoffs to go along with his AL-leading 2.50 ERA, 326 strikeouts and 2.64 FIP, Cole probably established himself as the best pitcher in baseball for 2019.
By doing so, Cole won’t be available in the ALCS until Game 3 when the series shifts to Yankee Stadium. His second start on full rest can’t come until a possible Game 7 in Houston.
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Neither team announced their Game 1 or Game 2 starter as of early Friday. Greinke will almost certainly get the ball for the Astros in the series opener Saturday, followed by Verlander in Game 2 Sunday night.
There’s a chance the Yankees will deviate from their ALDS rotation, even though every pitcher is well-rested following a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins.
James Paxton gave up three runs and didn’t get out of the fifth inning in New York’s first playoff game of 2019. He could swap places with Masahiro Tanaka, who continued his postseason success in Game 2. Luis Severino could also potentially be bumped up after throwing four shutout innings in the series clincher.
The ALDS has closed the gap—at least to a degree—that exists between the two rotations. Verlander and Cole will each only pitch on full rest once in the first five games.
Verlander tossed seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the ALDS. When he returned on three days’ rest in Tampa Bay, he gave up four runs and didn’t make it out of the fourth inning.
The veteran was the ultimate difference-maker in the 2017 ALCS. Verlander went 2-0 against the Yankees, surrendering one run with 21 strikeouts in 16 innings.
The Yankees have to avoid facing Cole in a Game 7. The Astros have won his last 15 starts. Cole has given up either one or no runs in 12 of those starts. A two-run, eight-inning outing marks the only time in his last eight starts that Cole has allowed more than one run.
New York’s best hitters will have to show up in order for the AL East champs to win this series. That was the case in the ALDS when the Yankees hit .293/.403/.525 with five home runs and 23 runs in just three games. DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres, who drove in the most runs for the team in the regular season, led the way with nine hits and eight total RBI against Minnesota.
MLB’s No.1 offense can get to Greinke. He’s a couple of years removed from being a Cy Young candidate and a tier below Verlander and Cole. That was evident in Game 3 of the ALDS when the Rays teed off on Greinke for three home runs and six runs total in 3.2 innings.
Greinke has given up three runs or more in each of his last four playoff starts.
Aaron Boone will rely on his bullpen to match Houston’s starters. New York relievers pitched 13.2 innings in the ALDS, allowing three runs and 10 hits with 16 strikeouts.
Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino and Tommy Kahnle pitched to a combined 2.41 ERA in the regular season with 314 strikeouts in 246 innings. Chad Green has arguably been better than all of them over the last four and a half months, pitching to a 2.21 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP with 86 strikeouts in his last 57.2 innings.
Severino has looked like his old self in four short outings since returning from the injured list, giving up just two runs in 16 innings. The Yankees can have confidence that Tanaka will match Verlander or Greinke inning for inning. Tanaka has never surrendered more than two runs in any of his six career playoff starts, and he’s allowed the lowest opponents’ batting average in history among the 227 pitchers that have made at least five postseason starts.
Tanaka gave up three runs in 12 total innings against the Astros during the regular season. The right-hander allowed nine runners to reach base and two runners to score when he pitched 13 innings against Houston in the 2017 ALCS.
The Astros have the edge if the series goes the distance. The Yankees couldn’t close out the 2017 ALCS against Verlander in Game 6 in Houston. Things could be different this time around, especially if Tanaka is on the mound.
Even though Houston won both games, New York did manage to score three runs twice against Verlander this season. Only two pitchers in baseball surrendered more home runs than Verlander in 2019. The Yankees hit 306 home runs, demolishing the team record they set in 2018.
New York might just have the formula to get their revenge and reach the World Series for the first time in a decade.
ALCS Prediction: Yankees in six