On the surface, it doesn't seem like the Yankees and Astros have much in common. They're geographically disparate, with fan bases that have considerably different worldviews and experiences. (For example, they wear smaller hats in New York.) The Yanks are expected to win the World Series every year; the Astros underwent a rebuilding process that took years and much patience.
But in many ways, these two teams are indeed similar. They're both young, with exciting talents we're going to be watching for the next 15 years. They've broken through with seasons they'd been building up to for awhile (the Yankees are probably a year early, all told). And they both have charismatic, transcendent players vying for the American League MVP Award this year, one massive (Aaron Judge) and one decidedly not so (Jose Altuve). And one of them is going to play in the World Series.
No matter what, this will be fun to watch. Let's break things down.
- Game 1: 8 p.m. ET Friday, Oct. 13, on FS1, (Masahiro Tanaka vs. Dallas Keuchel at Minute Maid Park)
- Game 2: 4 p.m. ET Saturday, Oct. 14, on FOX (Luis Severino vs. Justin Verlander at Minute Maid Park)
- Game 3: 8 p.m. ET Monday, Oct. 16, on FS1 (Charlie Morton vs. CC Sabathia at Yankee Stadium)
- Game 4: Time TBD Tuesday, Oct. 17, on FOX/FS1 (TBD vs. Sonny Gray at Yankee Stadium)
- Game 5 (if necessary): Time TBD Wednesday, Oct. 18, on FOX/FS1 (TBD vs. TBD at Yankee Stadium)
- Game 6 (if necessary): Time TBD Friday, Oct. 20, on FOX/FS1 (TBD vs. TBD at Minute Maid Park)
- Game 7 (if necessary): Time TBD Saturday, Oct. 21, on FOX/FS1 (TBD vs. TBD at Minute Maid Park)
New York Yankees
LF Brett Gardner
RF Aaron Judge
SS Didi Gregorius
C Gary Sanchez
1B Greg Bird
2B Starlin Castro
CF Aaron Hicks
DH Jacoby Ellsbury
3B Todd Frazier
CF George Springer
RF Josh Reddick
2B Jose Altuve
SS Carlos Correa
LF Marwin Gonzalez
3B Alex Bregman
1B Yuli Gurriel
DH Evan Gattis
C Brian McCann
Three questions for the Yankees
1. Can Tanaka do it again? Masahiro Tanaka might not have been the most consistent starter for the Yankees this year, but he's definitely the one with the highest upside, which we saw in the ALDS. If he can do that again -- and he could theoretically make three starts this series -- that would not only match up with the Astros' top-tier starters, it would also take some of the burden off that bullpen, the Yankees' strength. The Yanks don't need Clemens/Pettitte/Mussina. But if Tanaka could pull off his ALDS trick even once, it could make a huge difference.
2. Can Judge get going? Obviously, Aaron Judge is a streaky hitter -- we saw that during the regular season -- but man, how in the world did the Yankees just win a series in which their best hitter went 1-for-20 with 16 Ks? The Astros can score like crazy. The Yanks need Judge to snap out of it. And if he can get on one of his hot streaks, he can carry them by himself.
3. How much Chapman can Chapman Chapman? That bullpen is deep, but it's the guy with the 102 mph fastball who can shut a game down by himself. We saw last year with the Cubs how Aroldis Chapman can get worn down. How much can manager Joe Girardi use him without overdoing it? Can Chapman pitch, say, eight innings this series? (He just threw 5 2/3 in a five-game series.) You have to give him as much time as possible to rest, but you also have to use him every chance you can. It's a balancing act.
Three questions for the Astros
1. Can they knock around the Yankees like they did the Red Sox? Boston doesn't have a bad pitching staff, but man, the Astros were bashing everybody in the ALDS. Here are some players' OPS marks in the four-game series:
Jose Altuve, 1.765
Yuli Gurriel, 1.261
George Springer, 1.180
Carlos Beltran, 1.100
Evan Gattis, 1.100
Carlos Correa, .963
If they do that against the Yanks, they might just sweep this thing.
2. How crazy will they get in the rotation? Theoretically, the Astros' rotation lines up nicely. Keuchel in Game 1, Verlander in Game 2, maybe Brad Peacock in Game 3, and so on. But we saw in Game 4 of the ALDS how willing Houston is to get creative with starters pitching out of the bullpen. While it'd be a surprise to see Verlander come in mid-inning again, will manager A.J. Hinch go hog wild with him or other starters? Or will the strategy be more conventional?
3. Can Altuve have a legendary series? The Astros lost 100 games in Altuve's rookie season. They lost 103 the next year. They lost 105 the year after that. The Astros might be the young upstarts to the rest of the country, but Altuve has been here from the get-go. He'll probably win the AL MVP Award this year, he's one of the most exciting and inspiring players in the sport and he's on a Hall of Fame pace. Altuve might be the most beloved player in the sport. This is his time to have his spotlight moment, in his prime, with a great team, playing as well as he ever has. The world might be about to fall in love with Jose Altuve.
The Astros have the stronger lineup and the stronger rotation, but that Yankees bullpen is so overwhelming that it almost tips the whole series in their favor, like it did in the Indians series. The difference is that this series is best of seven rather than best of five. Girardi will have to go to his bullpen often enough that you can see it tiring out and blowing a tire by Game 6 or 7. I'll say the Yankees give the Astros a big scare. But this is Houston's year.
Astros in seven.