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