We’re finally here. Ever since the Yankees embarrassed Boston across the pond back in June, it seemed inevitable that the American League would come down to these two heavyweights. The Twins had a nice story, and the Rays battled hard, but most baseball fans assumed the ALCS would come down to this.
Pitching match-ups, defensive alignments, and bullpen usage will all be analyzed, over-analyzed, and analyzed again. However the path to victory is a very simple one for our beloved Bronx Bombers.
They absolutely have to win one of the first two in Houston.
In 2017, the Yankees downfall was that they couldn’t win on the road at the juice box. In fact, they didn’t really come close. While this is fresh in everyone’s memory, keep in mind this team is light-years better than that team. The 2017 team featured Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury as starters. Those two are gone, and now we have names like Edwin Encarnacion, Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, and Gleyber Torres. The upgraded roster speaks for itself.
Back to 2019. It goes without saying the Yankees cannot fall behind 0-2 in this series. Going down 0-2 with Gerrit Cole waiting in game three is a death sentence. The easiest way to avoid this, obviously, is to win game one.
In game one, the Yankees will presumably send out James Paxton to take on Donald Greinke. Greinke is a skilled pitcher, but a skilled pitcher with well documented anxiety issues. These anxiety issues have surfaced in the playoffs over the years, most recently on Monday. In Game three against the Rays, Greinke was blasted for six earned runs and didn’t make it out of the fourth inning. The Yankees have a much better offense than Tampa, and the stakes will be higher. I’m not saying the Yankees will torch him, but they should be able to nick him for at least a few runs and then pile on the Astros bullpen.
If Greinke actually shows up and puts his anxiety aside, this path becomes pretty daunting. By losing game one, the Yankees will essentially be playing a must win game on the road against Justin Verlander on regular rest. Yes, I know Verlander got touched up on Tuesday, but that was on three days rest. It seems that A.J. Hinch and Verlander learned their lesson about trying to push the limits, and he won’t pitch on three days rest again.
Contrary to popular belief, Verlander didn’t dominate the Yankees at all this year. On April 8th, he allowed three runs over six innings (4.50 ERA). He actually left the game trailing, but the Yankees bullpen melted down. On June 23, he allowed three runs over seven innings (2.67 ERA). While the second start was better, neither start was reminiscent of 2017 or 2018, when he would regularly throw eight or nine shutout innings against the bombers. Verlander had another great year this year, but he also served up 36 bombs and showed some vulnerability that he didn’t show in 2017 or 2018.
If the Yankees can squeak across two or three runs against Verlander; Tanaka or Severino will have a great chance to match him and turn this into a bullpen battle, where you obviously have to like the Yankees chances. As I mentioned before, losing both of these games and then facing Cole down 0-2 is not ideal. It doesn’t matter which game in Houston the Yankees win.