Astros vs. Yankees: Eight things to know and ALCS prediction for series between two MLB powerhouses

HOUSTON -- The 2019 ALCS will be a heavyweight fight. The Houston Astros (107-55) and New York Yankees (101-59) begin their best-of-seven series Saturday at Minute Maid Park in Houston. These two clubs also met in the 2017 ALCS. The Astros won that series in seven games en route to the first World Series championship in franchise history.

"I feel like it's something that everybody has looked at as possible," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said about the ALCS matchup after his team's win over the Rays in ALDS Game 5 (HOU 6, TB 1). "We haven't really played a series where both teams are completely healthy and completely armed. So we're about to buckle up and get to a seven-game series to see who represents the American League in the World Series. That's a good feeling. It's an even better feeling that it comes to our house and we have home-field."

The Astros finished with the better regular season record and thus have home-field advantage in the ALCS. It's a major home-field advantage too. The Astros have been dominant at home this season. Games 1-2 will be played in Houston, Games 3-5 will be in New York, and Games 6-7 will be back in Houston. Here is the ALCS schedule.

DateStart TimeVenueTV

Saturday, Oct. 12

8:08 p.m. ET

Minute Maid Park

Fox

Sunday, Oct. 13

8:08 p.m. ET

Minute Maid Park

FS1

Tuesday, Oct. 15

4:08 p.m. ET

Yankee Stadium

FS1

Wednesday, Oct. 16

8:08 p.m. ET

Yankee Stadium

FS1

Thursday, Oct. 17*

8:08 p.m. ET

Yankee Stadium

FS1

Saturday, Oct. 19*

4:08 or 8:08 p.m. ET

Minute Maid Park

FS1

Sunday, Oct. 20*

7:38 p.m. ET

Minute Maid Park

FS1

* if necessary

"It's obviously a great team. Very well run," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Thursday. "Obviously they've done a great job with their farm system of developing kind of homegrown superstars as well as making a lot of decisions, smart decisions of bringing in, whether via trade, via free agency. They've certainly kind of established themselves as the class of this league here the last few years. Hopefully we can ding it a little bit."

Here are eight things to know about this ALCS matchup between the American League's two powerhouse teams, plus a prediction for good measure.

1. The season series was even

As non-division rivals, the Astros and Yankees played seven games during the regular season. The Astros won the season series 4-3 and outscored the Yankees 39-37 in the seven games. That's about as close as it gets. Here are the individual game results:

at Minute Maid Park

at Yankee Stadium

The Yankees had a lead in the seventh inning or later in two of the losses in Houston, and the Astros did damage against the vaunted Yankees bullpen in two of those three losses in New York. These two teams played some intense games this year. That June 22 game is worth highlighting for all the back and forth in the late innings:

Two years ago the Astros beat the Yankees in the ALCS in seven games. The home team won all seven games that series. These two teams have seen each other plenty in recent years, though the 2017 ALCS won't have any impact on the 2019 ALCS. Different players, different coaches, different year.

2. This is a historic matchup

It's not often two teams this good meet in a postseason series. In fact, this is only the third postseason series in baseball history with two 103-plus win teams. Here are the other two:

  • 1912 World Series: Red Sox (105-47) over Giants (103-48)
  • 2018 ALCS: Red Sox (108-54) over Astros (103-59)

Also, according to YES Network researcher James Smyth, this is the 38th postseason series between the MLB leader in runs scored (Yankees with 943) and a top-two team in runs allowed (Astros were second with 640). In the previous 37 series, the leader in runs scored holds a slight 19-18 edge.

3. The ALCS is the velocity series

Few teams in baseball boast as much collective fastball velocity as the Astros and Yankees. There are two of the hardest-throwing teams in the game. Here is the regular season average four-seam fastball velocity leaderboard:

  1. New York Mets: 95.0 mph
  2. Houston Astros: 94.6 mph
  3. Tampa Bay Rays: 94.4 mph
  4. Cincinnati Reds: 94.3 mph
  5. Chicago White Sox: 94.3 mph
  6. New York Yankees: 94.0 mph

Remember, those are regular season averages. Pitching staffs shrink in the postseason as teams lean on their best arms, so I'm willing to bet the average fastball velocity in October is higher than it is from April through September.

Velocity is not everything -- spin rate, location, and sequencing all matter -- but it's not nothing either. The more velocity the pitcher has, the less time the hitter has to react, and we're going to see lots of velocity in the ALCS. As for hitting big velocity, the Yankees have a decided advantage there. Here are the regular season numbers against pitches at 95 mph or better:


Batting averageSlugging percentage

Astros

.233

.404

Yankees

.282

.496

MLB Average

.249

.419

I reckon we'll see the Astros try to combat those big power right-handed bats in New York's lineup with a steady diet of breaking balls, with high-velocity fastballs effectively serving as a show-me pitch.

4. The Astros couldn't line up their rotation

The Yankees owe the Rays a thank you. After falling behind 0-2 in the ALDS, the Rays rallied to force a decisive Game 5. Houston used Justin Verlander on short rest in Game 4 and Gerrit Cole on normal rest in Game 5. Neither of those two will be ready for Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday.

Here are the announced starting pitching matchups:

The Yankees swept the Twins in the ALDS and earned the right to rest their players this past week, and line up their ALCS rotation however they wanted. The Astros are stuck starting whoever lines up to pitch that day. The choices were made for them. Granted, the Astros have a stacked rotation, so they're always going to send a quality starter out there, but no one will have extra rest.

Game 4 is currently TBA vs. TBA. It seems unlikely either team would use their Game 1 starter on short rest in Game 4. The Astros could go with Jose Urquidy or Wade Miley depending on their long relief needs in Games 1-3. The Yankees could start J.A. Happ in Game 4, or, more likely, pair Happ with an opener (Chad Green) if their bullpen situation makes it possible.

5. Yankees will have to manage their bullpen differently

Boone was very aggressive with his bullpen in the ALDS. He removed Paxton with two outs in the fourth inning of Game 1 to get the matchup he wanted, and he mixed and matched his way through the final five innings of Game 3. The Yankees have a great bullpen and they understandably leaned on it.

In the ALCS though, Boone may have to be a little more conservative with his bullpen only because it's a longer series, and pitchers can only pitch so much before wearing down and losing effectiveness. Games 3-5 will be played on three consecutive days and not once this year did Boone use a reliever three straight days. That might change in the ALCS.

The longer series could mean the Yankees will push their starters deeper into the game and/or rely on their second-tier relievers like Luis Cessa and Jonathan Loaisiga to get key outs at some point. It should be noted Paxton and Tanaka have severe splits the third time through the batting order:


PaxtonTanaka

First time through lineup

.221/.289/.446

.245/.281/.356

Second time through lineup

.232/.300/.355

.236/.281/.449

Third time through lineup

.305/.366/.508

.309/.347/.596

That will undoubtedly influence how long Boone sticks with them in a close postseason game. Chances are the Yankees will not be able to use Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton, and Tommy Kahnle in every single ALCS game, which is advantage Astros. (This is where the Yankees miss the injured Dellin Betances.)

"The game will kind of dictate it and where you are in the series, when the off days fall, who you've used. It just kind of depends," Boone said regarding his potential ALCS bullpen usage. "We're going for broke. We'll try and do everything we can each and every day to win a ball game, keeping in mind that everything has an effect on everything. So each and every day you've got to make those kind of adjustments. So we'll see how that plays out."

6. Brantley is getting hot at the right time

In Games 1-4 of the ALDS, Astros hitting machine Michael Brantley went 2 for 16 with five strikeouts, and the two hits came in Game 1. He went 0 for 4 in Game 2, Game 3, and Game 4.

Then, in Game 5, Brantley contributed to the four-run first inning with an opposite field single, plus he swatted an insurance run solo homer in the eighth inning. His final swing was the best swing he took in the entire ALDS.

The Astros have a deep enough offense that they can still put up plenty of runs when a key middle of the lineup guy like Brantley (or Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, etc.) falls into a slump. It happens. But, with Brantley looking like he's about to go on a hot streak offensively, it'll make the Astros that much more dangerous in the ALCS.

7. Torres is having a breakout postseason

It sounds weird to say a two-time All-Star is breaking out, but that is exactly what Gleyber Torres is doing. The Yankees second baseman went 5 for 12 (.417) with four extra-base hits in the ALDS sweep over the Twins, and he made several sparkling defensive plays as well.

Here's a look at Gleyber's great all-around effort in the Game 3 clincher. He had a homer, two doubles, and a fantastic defensive play to snuff out a rally.

With the Yankees, the focus is on Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, and understandably so. Torres might be their best all-around player though, and if he's not now, I think he will be at this time next year. He's a star and he's doing it in October.

8. The Yankees are getting some help

Somewhat surprisingly, the Yankees will have center fielder Aaron Hicks for the ALCS. He's been out since early August with an elbow injury, and there was some concern he would need Tommy John surgery. Hicks was thought to be done for the year. Instead, he rehabbed on his own and against doctor's orders. From NJ.com's Brendan Kuty:

Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks was sitting on his couch in his Arizona home when he noticed his throwing elbow was feeling better than expected. 

So he grabbed a friend, set up a video camera, played catch and sent the video to the Yankees' training staff. They were surprised by how good Hicks looked — thinking that the right flexor strain he suffered was going to keep him out the rest of the year. So they ordered him to Tampa to continue workouts with the outside shot that he'd be able to play again this year. 

Hicks is indeed on the ALCS roster. It's unclear how he will be used -- "I would say he could potentially be a starter, be off the bench, not be on (the roster)," Boone said earlier this week -- but it's likely Hicks will at least replace Stanton for defense in the late innings. The Yankees have stuck with Stanton in left, Brett Gardner in center, and Judge in right this postseason.

Putting Hicks in the starting lineup would likely mean Gardner moves to left field, Stanton moves to DH, Edwin Encarnacion moves to first base, DJ LeMahieu moves to third base, and Gio Urshela goes to the bench. That said, Hicks hasn't seen game action since August. He's been getting live at-bat in recent weeks, but that's not the same thing. His timing at the plate might not be where it needs to be. Either way, Hicks is on the ALCS roster, and he'll be a late-inning defensive upgrade if nothing else.

Prediction

Prediction: Pain. For both teams, really. This series should be intense and well-played, with multiple back-and-forth games. That means exciting baseball for non-Astros and non-Yankees fans, and stressful baseball for Astros and Yankees fans. The official CBS Sports ALCS prediction: Astros in six. The Yankees beat Verlander in Game 2 but lose a Game 4 battle of the bullpens. George Springer hits three homers in the six games to win ALCS MVP honors. It has been foretold.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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