The 2019 ALCS is set, as the Houston Astros are set to host the New York Yankees for Game 1 at 8:08 PM on October 12th. This will be a rematch of the 2017 ALCS, a series that went to Game 7 before Houston eventually won on their way to their first-ever World Series title. However, both of these teams have bolstered their rosters since their last playoff bought and baseball fans should have another great series in store. Let’s dive into the major factors in this series, keys to victories, and a series prediction.

Pitching:

The Astros pitching staff has dominated media coverage, and rightfully so. They have the top two candidates for AL Cy Young in Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, and they added Zack Greinke at the trade deadline. This led to the team’s league-best in opponent batting average, strikeouts and quality starts. Cole has been nothing short of dominant in the postseason, as he has pitched 15.2 innings with a 0.57 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and 25 K’s with two wins.

Verlander was just as impressive in Game 1, with 7.0 innings. 1 hit allowed, 0 runs and 8 K’s. There should be no doubt in regards to Verlander’s capability in the postseason, as the 2017 ALCS MVP has cemented himself amongst the best pitchers of all-time. The question comes with Greinke, as he comes off a tough performance in Game 3, where he allowed three home runs before being yanked in the fourth inning. Greinke is a stud when he is on, but the former Cy Young winner was exposed on the road and may struggle in the playoff atmosphere that Yankee Stadium presents.

Although the Yankees pitching struggles dominated headlines at the trade deadline, New York’s staff is more than capable. Masahiro Tanaka takes the bump in Game 1, and he has been nothing short of spectacular in his playoff career, boasting a 1.54 ERA. In the ALDS he continued his success, going 5 innings with 1 run, 1 hit and 7 K’s. James Paxton will take the mound in Game 2 after a great second half of the season. Paxton had ten straight victories from August 2-September 21 but had a shaky Game 1 vs. Minnesota. The X-factor on this staff is Luis Severino. The 25-year-old missed nearly all of 2019 with a shoulder injury but is back for playoffs. He has yet to pitch more than 5 innings in his three starts this year but has a 1.50 ERA. If Severino can give the Yankees two starts of 3-5 innings with 2 or less runs, and then hand it off to that stellar bullpen that should put the team in good shape. New York will also probably have one game started by an opener or a “bullpen game,” in Game 4. For most teams, this is a tall task but New York has arguably the most talented bullpen of all time. Bullpen depth has proven to be a crucial part of playoff matchups in recent years, and for that reason, I believe New York’s pitching issues have been blown out of proportion.

Batting:

This is a battle of two heavyweight lineups, as they were both top three in the MLB in OPS, home runs and runs. They each have a player who will be towards the top in MVP voting, Alex Bregman for Houston and DJ LeMahieu for New York. The tale of this series will be representative of the trend in baseball over the past couple of years – lots of home runs. It is hard to say who has the edge in this aspect because of how similar the teams are in their run production and depth. However, there are things each team can do to maximize their offensive output.

As for Houston, they need to hop on offspeed from the Yankees staff. Neil Greenberg from the Washington Post recently wrote an article detailing how the Astros struggled with pitches of 95+ MPH throughout this year, batting nearly 40 points lower and almost 60 slugging points lower against those pitches. Severino, Paxton, Chapman, Chad Green, Jonathan Loasaiga and Tomm Kahnle all consistently hit those speeds, so this may be a tall task for Houston.

As for New York, they need to find ways to score outside of the home run ball. This has been the demise of the Yankees in past seasons, but they have addressed that need in the offseason. DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela were the only players on the Yankees to bat .300+ this season, and they will both need to have good series if they want to prevail in this matchup. Even Brett Gardner has turned into more of a slugger this year, and when a lineup with him, Judge, Stanton, Sanchez, Encarnacion, etc. faces Houston’s staff there is sure to be plenty of strikeouts. That means DJ and Urshela will need to be hitting for contact, sluggers need to be selective, and Aaron Boone may get creative with runners on base. If New York is simply home run or strikeout, they will have a long series.

Keys To Victory:

  • Yankees: Win Game 1

This is crucial for the Yankees so that they do not enter Game 2 already behind in the series, only to face Justin Verlander in Houston. If New York is going to win this series, they have to steal one on the road from the Astros. Game 1 presents a perfect opportunity for the Bombers, as they face Zack Greinke on the heels of a very shaky start. The other games in Houston are 2, 6, and 7 – all of which would presumably be started by Verlander or Cole. If New York wants to get to the World Series, they have to come out hot in Game 1.

  • Astros: Win every game that Verlander and Cole pitch

These two are not only the best pitchers on the Astros, but they’re also the best pitchers in the American League. Having both of these stars is an advantage that Houston needs to take full advantage of. Manager AJ Hinch rushed Verlander back to the mound on three days rest in Game 4 of the ALDS, but he will be better able to plan his starters in this seven-game series. If both of these aces are at the top of their game throughout the series, New York has an extremely difficult road ahead.

Prediction:

Yankees win 4-3.

This is not the same New York team that lost to Houston in 2017. The team is more experienced and added key pieces such as Paxton, LeMahieu, Encarnacion, Stanton, Ottavino, Britton and more to address their needs. Houston is obviously an extremely tough opponent, but I think this year’s Yankees team is too motivated to lose. A motivated team with phenomenal bats is capable of overcoming Houston’s staff. They remember being knocked out by Houston in 2017, and players such as Cameron Maybin have praised the chemistry and passion this Yankees team has. It is CC Sabathia and possibly Brett Gardner’s roster, and New York will win this tough battle in seven games.