The Houston Astros Defeat the Boston Red Sox in Four Games
In a result that shocked very few, the Houston Astros soundly defeated the Boston Red Sox three games to one in their first-round matchup. After two straight 8-2 whompings in games one and two, the Red Sox tried to make a series out of it with a 10-3 drubbing of their own. Sadly for members of the Red Sox Nation everywhere, they fell in game four to the Astros with a score of 5-4. Even an inside-the-park home run by rookie Rafael Devers could not lift the team enough for a comeback, and the Astros advanced to the ALCS.
This is a bit of a brief review of the series, and that is more due to the lopsided nature of the first three games rather than the quality of the series. Offense was on full display and was the story of the series. Jose Altuve looked like the MVP finalist he will end up being this season, and the Astros overall looked like the force they were all season. Pitching took a back seat, which will sometimes take away from of the drama from it. Apologies to fans of either club, but this series may have had the least tension of all four ALDS matchups.
For those that read our ALDS series preview, you may note that Houston in four games was the correct prediction here.
The New York Yankees Defeat the Cleveland Indians in Five Games
Here is the one almost no one saw coming. The Cleveland Indians were a second-half juggernaut. They finished the season on a 31-4 tear, ending up second in wins with 102. Everyone was picking them to steam-roll through whichever of the Minnesota Twins or New York Yankees won the AL Wild Card game. Of 30 ‘experts’ from ESPN, all 30 chose the Indians to win their ALDS matchup.
Sure the Yankees have the Rookie of the Year/MVP finalist Aaron Judge, and one of the best bullpens we’ve seen in years, but the Indians had the most valuable pitching of any team in MLB history by fWAR. They also had a lineup on par with the Yankees. So what happened?
Game one started off on the wrong foot for the Yankees, being shut out 4-0, managing just three hits overall. Game two looked much better for the Yankees, taking a strong 8-3 lead by just the 5th inning. However, in the bottom of the 6th, things took a turn.
Lonnie Chisenhall was batting with 2 outs and two runners on, and with 2 strikes appeared to be hit on the on the hand by the pitch. Chisenhall was award first base, and there was no intervention on the part of Joe Girardi. The next batter, Francisco Lindor, turned on a pitch hitting a grand slam off of the foul pole, making it an 8-7 game. As it turned out, the ball did not hit the hand of Chisenhall, but hit the butt of the bat and was caught for what should have ended the inning. Due to the lack of a challenge by Joe Girardi, the Indians were able to get back into the game, eventually tying it in the 8th, and taking the game to 13 innings until a Yan Gomes single won it for the Tribe.
At this point, things were looking very dire for the Yankees. Not only did they just blow a 5 run lead in game two, but they were now down 2-0 in the series facing elimination with a loss. However, this seemed to have sparked a fire under the Yankees, with a masterful performance by Masahiro Tanaka in game three pitching seven innings and only allowing 3 hits with no runs scored. The Yankees won game 3 1-0. Game four had the Yankees offense going off early with four runs in the 2nd inning and 1 run in the 3rd. The Yankees took game four relatively unscathed by the score of 7-3.
After going down 2-0 in the series, and painfully so after Girardi’s blunder in game two, the Yankees had brought the series back from the brink and it was now a winner-take-all in game five. This would be a matchup of CC Sabathia vs Corey Kluber. Although Sabathia went just 4.1 IP, he struck out 9 and allowed just 2 runs. The more shocking thing was Kluber pitching just 3.2 innings and allowing 3 runs with 2 home runs. After a 3-0 lead by the 3rd inning, Cleveland managed just 2 runs and the underdog (is this even allowed to be said?) Yankees upset the 102 win Indians.
Understandably so, in Baseline Times Greg Huss’ ALDS preview, he believed the Indians would win the series in four games. It’s safe to say Greg was in the majority here, ending up on the wrong side of this one. Crazy enough, if Girardi had challenged the HBP of Chisenhall in game two, this could have been a four-game series win for the Yankees. What a sport baseball is.
How the Yankees and Astros Match-Up
Astros: 121 (1st)
Yankees: 108 (2nd)
wRC+ vs Left-Handed Pitchers
Astros: 120 (1st)
Yankees: 101 (9th)
wRC+ vs Right-Handed Pitchers
Astros: 122 (1st)
Yankees: 110 (2nd)
Yankees: -11.6 (23rd)
Astros: -47.1 (29th)
Yankees: 3.75 (5th)/3.88 (5th)
Astros : 4.12 (11th)/3.91 (6th)
Yankees: 3.34 (3rd)/3.37 (2nd)
Astros: 4.27 (17th)/3.84 (6th)
ERA/FIP vs Left-Handed Hitters
Yankees: 3.71 (6th)/3.68 (2nd)
Astros: 4.05 (11th)/3.73 (3rd)
ERA/FIP vs Right-Handed Hitters
Yankees: 3.77 (5th)/3.99 (6th)
Astros: 4.17 (12th)/4.05 (9th)
While both clubs are fairly close in overall pitching, the real divide starts to appear when looking at the team’s bullpens. The Yankees ERA/FIP are near the just about tops in the MLB at 3.34 ERA/3.37 FIP, while the Astros are a good amount lower with 4.27 ERA/3.84 FIP. This advantage will be key if the Yankees have a hope in this series, as the Astros offense is just the absolute best in the MLB, no questions asked.
The divide between the best (Astros) and the second best (Yankees) is 13 points in wRC+ from 121-108. A bulk of the Yankees offensive firepower is shared between Aaron Judge (173 wRC+) and Gary Sanchez (130 wRC+), while the Astros have four batters at 140 wRC+ or higher (Jose Altuve – 160, Carlos Correa – 152, Marwin Gonzalez – 144, George Springer – 140). Overall, the Astros have 10 potential starting players with a 103 wRC+ or higher, which is just pure insanity.
Players To Watch In The ALCS
In a series with the two leading MVP candidates, one on both teams, Altuve is easily the most unlikely. He is a 5’6” 2nd baseman with no right to put up a season line of .346/.410/.547, but he did it anyway. In the ALDS against Boston, Altuve started off game one with a 3 home run barrage, followed up by a 2 hit and 2 walk performance, following that with a game three with a 3 hit and 1 walk effort. It took until game four to go hitless, but he still managed a walk. Overall, he hit .533/.632/1.133 going 8 for 15 with 3 home runs and 4 walks in the series.
Altuve is the heart of the Astros, and if he is hitting, it’s likely he will be sparking the Astros around him to hit. If Yankees pitching cannot get Altuve out, not only do they have a nearly impossible lineup surrounding him, but he could change the dynamic of every at-bat with his base-running ability. Altuve stole 32 bases this year, which marks the sixth straight year he has done so. A big key for New York will be to try and keep Altuve off of the bases.
Shifting to the other side of the coin, we take a look at the without-a-doubt 2017 AL Rookie of the Year and top two 2017 AL MVP candidate Aaron Judge. As important as Jose Altuve is to the Astros, Judge is likely just that much more important to the Yankees. Without Altuve, the Astros would still be the top offense in the MLB, just not as far ahead. Without Judge on the Yankees, I believe they would have been right there with the Angels, Royals, Mariners, and Rangers just under .500. Judge was just that incredible this season.
Unlike Altuve who batted mostly 3rd this season, Judge has been spending a lot of time recently in the number two spot. However, much like Altuve, it’s hard to just pitch around him, because Gary Sanchez is hitting just behind him. In three games against the Indians, Sanchez hit 3rd just behind Judge. In 2 games, both against right-handed starters, righty-masher Didi Gregorious slotted into the 3rd spot to protect Judge while Sanchez moved to 4th in the lineup. As mentioned, the Yankees are just simply not as deep or great of a lineup as the Astros, but they are as good or better than every other squad in the MLB, so it will not be a cake-walk.
As far as the playoffs go, Judge started off on the right foot with a 2 hit performance in the Wild Card game against the Twins, including a home run and 3 runs scored. Since that point, however, Judge has 1 hit in 24 plate appearances with a record 16 strikeouts. According to The Ace Of Spaeder Twitter account, Judge’s 16 strikeouts in this postseason (all in the ALDS against the Indians) eclipse Joe Dimaggio’s 1941 and Tony Gwynn’s 1995 strikeout totals respectively.
Still, the Indians were quite possibly the best pitching staff in MLB history, and the Astros are no Indians on the pitching side. I would look for Judge to turn around the way his postseason is going and start hitting a few more home runs in big spots. I think we see 3 or 4 home runs with a .900-plus OPS from Judge this series.
In a season that was a bit of a struggle for Chapman, he had a 3.22 ERA/2.56 FIP in 50.1 innings pitched. For most relievers, this would be an excellent season. For Chapman, with a career 2.21 ERA/1.96 FIP, it was a rough go. After saving minimum 33 games for each of the previous 5 seasons, Chapman saved just 22 games in 2017. This followed a heavy use postseason run with the Chicago Cubs in 2016, where he was again good, but not great, with a 3.45 ERA, 4 saves, and 3 blown saves in 15.2 innings pitched.
Although the Yankees have several good relievers, Chapman is supposed to be THE guy in the pen. He is the one that they should be able to bring in to any late-game situation and have him shut the door. In a series against the best offense in baseball, Chapman’s success will be one of the few most important things to the Yankees. Luckily for them, Chapman was brilliant against the Indians in the ALDS. He pitched in four of the five games in the series, not giving up a single run in 6.2 innings pitched while striking out 13 with just 2 walks and 5 hits allowed. This is the Aroldis Chapman the Yankees will need if they want to make it back to the World Series.
Bobby’s ALCS Series Prediction
All season I have believed that the Astros are the best team in the MLB. Their offense is just too much of a powerhouse for most teams to overcome. However, their pitching, although good, is certainly able to be touched up. The Yankees have enough good hitters to open up on the Astros pitching staff and have the ability to win some games here. The biggest strength of the Yankees is going to be their bullpen, but with a lineup like the Astros have, no lead will be safe. The Yankees are going to have to score score score to stand a real chance here.
Overall, I think Judge will rebound and help the Yankees contend for a while, but the Astros offense will just be too much them and the Astros will take the ALCS in 6 games.