Go­liaths meet

Pow­er­houses Astros, Yan­kees go head-to-head once more

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Kristie Rieken

HOUS­TON — It’s the AL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries matchup most ev­ery­one ex­pected en­ter­ing the sea­son.

But the paths the Astros and Yan­kees took to get here weren’t ex­actly what ei­ther team en­vi­sioned.

“It’s def­i­nitely been brew­ing,” Astros ace Justin Ver­lan­der said. “We heard from the first se­ries we played each other: ‘Here’s an ALCS pre­view’ (and) it worked out.”

Jose Al­tuve, Alex Breg­man and the Astros led the ma­jors with a fran­chise-record 107 wins but needed five games to dis­pose of the wild-card win­ning Rays in the AL Di­vi­sion Se­ries. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and the Yan­kees over­came a laun­dry list of in­juries to win 103 games and their first AL East ti­tle since 2012, then flat­tened the Twins.

“Both teams got here and they earned their way here maybe not as eas­ily as peo­ple want to think,” Astros man­ager AJ Hinch said. “I think both teams had in­juries. Both teams played well in the face of ex­pec­ta­tions, and it’s just not a sim­ple plug-and-play sea­son. One-hun­dred and sixty two games will ex­pose you to a lot of dif­fer­ent chal­lenges.”

Game 1 is Sat­ur­day night at Minute Maid Park af­ter the Astros se­cured home-field ad­van­tage through­out the post­sea­son by post­ing MLB’s best record.

“That’s huge for us that we get to start the ALCS here,” Al­tuve said. “We like it here.”

While the Astros have home-field ad­van­tage, the Yan­kees could have some other edges. Since they swept their se­ries they’ll have had four days of rest by Sat­ur­day’s game and will have their en­tire pitch­ing staff avail­able for the opener.

The quick turn­around for the Astros means that they won’t be able to start Ger­rit Cole or Ver­lan­der in Game 1 and will in­stead go with trade-dead­line ac­qui­si­tion and 2009 AL Cy Young Award win­ner Zack Greinke, who strug­gled in a Game 3 loss in the di­vi­sion se­ries.

Ver­lan­der will start Game 2 on Sun­day night in Hous­ton and Cole will get the nod in the third game on Tues­day in the Bronx.

The Yan­kees will counter with Masahiro Tanaka in Game 1, James Pax­ton in the sec­ond game and Luis Sev­erino on Tues­day.

These two AL Go­liaths have matched up in the play­offs of­ten in re­cent his­tory. The Astros beat the Yan­kees in a seven-game ALCS on the way to their first cham­pi­onship in 2017. The Astros also won the 2015 AL wild-card game at Yan­kee Sta­dium.

Un­likely slug­ger: Al­tuve has shown a knack for home run hit­ting in Oc­to­ber. The 5-foot-6 All-Star had three homers against the Rays to give him 11 in his post­sea­son ca­reer. He con­nected Thurs­day night to pass Chase Ut­ley for most by a sec­ond base­man in post­sea­son his­tory and tie Ge­orge Springer for most by a player in fran­chise his­tory.

Ros­ter de­ci­sions: Both teams have some im­por­tant de­ci­sions to make be­fore they set their ros­ters, Hinch plans to carry one more pitcher than in the di­vi­sion se­ries, but wouldn’t com­mit to who that would be.

For the Yan­kees, man­ager Aaron Boone has yet to make the fi­nal call on if cen­ter fielder Aaron Hicks and left-han­der CC Sa­bathia will make their ros­ter. Hicks has been out since the be­gin­ning of Au­gust with a strained right el­bow and Sa­bathia was left off the ros­ter against the Twins af­ter not bounc­ing back well af­ter a re­lief ap­pear­ance late in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

ERIC GAY/AP

Astros sec­ond base­man Jose Al­tuve takes bat­ting prac­tice on Fri­day in Hous­ton. The Astros and Yan­kees kick off the AL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries on Sat­ur­day night.

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