Forget the World Series. This ALCS is the matchup people have been waiting for, as the 107-win Astros and 103-win Yankees are set to meet for the second time in three years with a trip to the Fall Classic on the line. In 2017, the wild-card Yankees were a surprise to get that far and took Houston to seven games before losing. On Saturday, the two teams with the best records remaining in the playoffs open the series in Houston. Though when the postseason started, the Astros would have been the favorites, their five-game series against the Rays may give the well-rested Yankees the edge. The Post’s Dan Martin breaks down how the teams match up heading into the series:
At The Plate
Getting on base: Not surprisingly, these teams have two of the top three offenses in the game. When healthy, the Astros have some of the top on-base hitters in the game, led by MVP candidate Alex Bregman. Yordan Alvarez has exploded on the scene since making his MLB debut in June, and Houston has old reliables such as Jose Altuve and George Springer. Though Giancarlo Stanton didn’t provide much power in the ALDS, he still drew walks for an offense that also features DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge at the top of the lineup.
Power: The Yankees and Twins weren’t the only teams to break the MLB home-run record, which was 267 going into this season. Houston hit 288, led by Bregman’s 41. He was one of seven Astros to finish with 20-plus homers. Just as important, the Astros led the majors with an OPS of .848. The Yankees weren’t far behind, and if they decide to add Aaron Hicks to the lineup now that he seems to have recovered from an elbow injury, that could give them more power, to go along with Judge, Gleyber Torres and just about everyone else in a lineup that finished with 306 homers. And the Yankees are still waiting for Stanton to find his groove.
On the basepaths: Neither team relies on speed, but the Yankees have struggled keeping runners from stealing late in the season.
In The Field
Infield: Yuli Gurriel, in addition to being a force in the lineup, has developed into a solid defender at first, playing alongside Altuve at second, Bregman at third and Carlos Correa at short. Correa has battled rib and back injuries, but is still capable of making highlight-reel plays. If Hicks gets time for the Yankees, Edwin Encarnacion could get time at first, with LeMahieu moving to third. Whether it’s LeMahieu or Gio Urshela at the corner, the Yankees are solid.
Outfield: The Astros have one of the top defensive outfields in the game, with Springer in center, Michael Brantley in left and Josh Reddick in right. It’s a versatile group. Hicks’ potential return could be just as a defensive replacement, with Stanton still in left, Gardner in center and Judge in right.
Cameron Maybin was the only bench player used by the Yankees in their series against the Twins, but facing a tougher opponent in this round, the Yankees might need more depth, which is where Hicks could help despite having been out since early August. The Astros have veteran presences in Jake Marisnick, Martin Maldonado and Aledmys Diaz, and they added another young player, Kyle Tucker, last month.
On The Mound
Rotation: We’ll find out if the rest the Yankees earned by knocking off the Twins early helps James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino, and if the added work Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander needed to exert in Games 4 and 5 versus Tampa Bay will take a toll. Tanaka is forging a reputation as an elite postseason pitcher and Severino is fresh, while Zack Greinke, a key trade-deadline acquisition for Houston, has a dreadful history against the Yankees — especially in The Bronx. Cole, a free agent to be, is pitching like someone who is about to be very, very rich.
Bullpen: The Yankees didn’t make a big splash at the deadline because of their belief in Severino and their bullpen. Their relievers weren’t overpowering in the ALDS, but they were largely effective, and CC Sabathia could be added to the mix if the Yankees think his shoulder and knee are healthy enough. Adam Ottavino wasn’t used much in the ALDS and the Yankees figure to go to the right-hander — as well as Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman — frequently in this round. Zack Britton’s right ankle bears watching after he left Game 3 of the ALDS with discomfort in the area when he hit it covering first base. Will Harris, Ryan Pressly and closer Roberto Osuna lead Houston’s bullpen. Osuna had an excellent September and has allowed just three runs in 34 career innings against the Yankees.
Aaron Boone certainly seemed to have learned from past postseason mistakes in the first round, using his bullpen aggressively in the first series. A.J. Hinch has led Houston to three straight AL West titles and guided the Astros by the Yankees in the ALCS two years ago, en route to a World Series title.
There’s a reason why the Yankees had hoped to catch Houston for the best record in the AL: No team finished with a better record at home than Houston and they’ll have home-field advantage in this series, just as they did two years ago — when they won all four games at Minute Maid Park. And it was more of the same this season, as the Astros swept the Yankees in Houston and the Yankees won three of four in The Bronx. The Yankees, though, are confident their break following the ALDS will pay dividends.
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