The New York Yankees and Houston Astros will meet this week for the first time since the 2019 ALCS. The two clubs will play a three-game series at Yankee Stadium and it's their first meeting since Houston's sign-stealing scandal came to light during the 2019-20 offseason. The Yankees were among the first teams to confront the Astros about picking up signs.
"I'm sure we all have a memory, so we remember what happened. For us the main thing is to play well against them and to beat them," Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner told reporters, including Ken Davidoff of the New York Post, over the weekend. "That's the ultimate form of trying to get back at them."
The Astros have been booed in every road series this year (Angels fans threw garbage cans on the field earlier this season), and I reckon the boos and taunts will be worse in the Bronx this week than they will be anywhere else so far. When the commissioner says public shame is part of your punishment, you should expect zero leniency.
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"You can fire the boys up all you want. We'll come ready to play," Astros outfielder Myles Straw told reporters, including Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, over the weekend. "If they want to boo us they can boo us. Whatever."
The three-game series features two third place teams hovering around .500 and trying to get on a roll after an uneven start to the season. Here are the details for this week's Astros vs. Yankees series at Yankee Stadium. Select games can be streamed on fuboTV (try for free).
|Date||Start time||Starting pitchers||TV|
Tues., May 4
7:05 p.m. ET
YES Network, ESPN
Weds., May 5
7:05 p.m. ET
YES Network, AT&T SportsNet Southwest
Thurs., May 6
1:05 p.m. ET
YES Network, AT&T SportsNet Southwest, MLB Network
Cole, as you surely know, spent 2018-19 with the Astros and transformed himself with Houston, leading to his pitcher record $324 million free agent contract with the Yankees. Also, fun fact: McCullers' father, Lance Sr., pitched for the Yankees from 1989-90. Lance Sr. had a 4.42 ERA in 99 2/3 mostly relief innings in pinstripes.
Here are five things to know about this week's three-game Astros vs. Yankees series in the Bronx.
1. It's the first meeting since Altuve's ALCS walk-off.
As Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson once said, fans don't boo nobodies, and this week the Astros will hear it from the Yankee Stadium crowd not only for the sign-stealing scandal, but also because Houston has knocked the Yankees out of the postseason three times in the last six years. Their recent postseason matchups:
- 2015 Wild Card Game: Astros won 3-0 at Yankee Stadium.
- 2017 ALCS: Astros won in seven games.
- 2019 ALCS: Astros won in six games.
Game 6 of the 2019 ALCS, the last game between these two non-division rivals, featured Jose Altuve's pennant-clinching walk-off home run against Aroldis Chapman. DJ LeMahieu tied the game a half-inning earlier with a two-run homer against Roberto Osuna.
"If you look at his actions, they look a little suspicious. But at the end of the day, I just don't know," Chapman said in Feb. 2020, after speculation Altuve and the Astros used buzzers to steal signs during the 2019 postseason made the rounds. "... I think [the sign-stealing scandal] was the extra edge that allowed them to move on [in 2017]."
The regular season series from 2017-19 was as close as it gets. The Astros held a slight 11-10 edge over the Yankees while being outscored 105-102 in the 21 games. Can't get much closer than that. The Yankees went 6-5 against the Astros at Yankee Stadium those three years, and they've won five of their last six regular season matchups in the Bronx overall.
2. Both teams are coming in hot.
The Astros and Yankees came into the season as legitimate World Series contenders and neither started the season well. Houston did sweep the Athletics in four games in their first series of the year, but 10 losses in 13 games followed that. The Astros have since rebounded eight wins in their last 11 games, including two wins in three games in Tampa over the weekend.
As for the Yankees, they started the season 5-10, the franchise's worst start since 1991 (also 5-10). The Yankees have won nine of their last 13 games, however, including sweeping the lowly Tigers this past weekend. Here are the American League's best records since April 21, an admittedly cherry-picked date:
- Astros: 8-3 (plus-33 run differential)
- Yankees: 8-3 (plus-24 run differential)
- Blue Jays: 6-2 (plus-13 run differential)
- Royals: 6-3 (plus-17 run differential)
- White Sox: 6-3 (plus-14 run differential)
Not only is this is a series between two non-division rivals and frequent postseason opponents, it's also a series between the two hottest teams in the league over the last two weeks. The Astros and Yankees are playing their best baseball of the (very) young season right now.
3. New York's offense is coming around.
Coming into 2021, the Yankees looked like a team that could lead the league in runs scored but also struggle to keep runs off the board. The exact opposite has been true in the early going. New York is averaging only 3.43 runs allowed per game this season, second fewest in baseball behind only the Padres (3.21 runs per game). They've been a run prevention powerhouse.
Creating offense has been a different story. The Yankees are averaging 3.93 runs scored per game so far this year, the seventh fewest in baseball. Their team .379 slugging percentage is 12th lowest in the game despite all the star power in the lineup. Just about every Yankee other than Aaron Judge and Gio Urshela has underperformed this season.
The offense is starting to come around, however. Since bottoming out with a .205/.296/.334 team batting line on April 21, the Yankees have hit .246/.342/.448 in their last 11 games. They've averaging 4.63 runs per game since April 21. It was 3.63 runs per game prior to that date. Giancarlo Stanton has been a one-man army since April 21.
Stanton has multiple hits in five of his last 10 games and recently had three hits in back-to-back-to-back games for the first time in his career, which of course includes an MVP award in 2017. Gleyber Torres has turned it on recently as well (13 for 39 since April 21), though he is still looking for his first home run of 2021.
4. Houston's pitching has settled in.
This had the potential to be a trying season for the Astros on the mound. Staff ace Justin Verlander could miss the entire season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and left-hander Framber Valdez suffered a broken finger in spring training. The club rushed to sign Jake Odorizzi to replace Valdez, though he allowed nine runs in eight innings before going down with an arm injury.
Through April 21 (there's that date again), Houston's pitching staff owned a 4.63 ERA and allowed a 4.59 runs per game. At one point they allowed at least six runs nine times in a 10-game span. Since April 21, the Astros have pitched to a 2.61 ERA, and only four times in 11 games have they allowed more than two runs (and never more than five runs).
It takes an entire staff to prevent runs that well in an 11-game span. McCullers has allowed two runs in 13 innings in his last two starts. Cristian Javier, who won't face the Yankees this week, has allowed three runs in 17 innings in his last three starts. The bullpen foursome of Ryan Pressly, Brooks Raley, Joe Smith, and Ryne Stanek has allowed three earned runs in 18 innings.
Long-term, it's fair to wonder how well Houston's pitching will hold up given Greinke's age, McCullers' injury history, and Javier's workload limits. Right now though, the pitching staff is performing as well as anyone could've reasonably expected coming into the season, and especially so following a rough stretch to begin the year.
5. Expect a lot of balls in play.
No offense in baseball strikes out less than the Astros. Their hitters have struck out in only 19.1 percent of their plate appearances this year, the fewest in baseball and well below the 24.3 percent league average. The Yankees aren't too far behind them though. Here are the lowest team strikeout rates entering this week:
- Astros: 19.1 percent
- Angels: 20.9 percent
- Royals: 21.7 percent
- Padres: 22.1 percent
- Diamondbacks: 22.4 percent
- Red Sox: 33.7 percent
- Yankees: 22.9 percent
It's easy to think the Yankees have a strikeout problem given some of the names in their lineup, but, overall, their team strikeout rate is comfortably below the league average. It's not a one-month blip either. Last season, with basically the exact same lineup, they had the eighth-lowest strikeout rate in baseball at 21.7 percent. The Yankees don't strike out as much as you may think.
That said, the Yankees do have a few hitters who will strike out more than the league average (Judge and Stanton, most notably), creating a lane for opposing pitchers to escape jams without allowing a ball in play. By and large though, these two offenses are among the best at putting the ball in play, so expect a lot of action these next three games.