Karpin: Yankees vs. Astros – Birth Of A Rivalry?

The word rivalry is defined as “competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.” Could we be looking at the birth of a rivalry in the American League Championship Series?

The Yankees and Astros will be staging a “competition” on the “same field” and for the “same objective,” to advance to the World Series. By time this series is over, we may have seen a rivalry born.

The Astros and Yankees are on a similar trajectory. Both have young teams with lots of promise and they both may be prime contenders for the World Series in years to come.

The last time that Houston faced a New York team in the League Championship Series, it was 1986 and we all (including Yankee fans) know how much excitement that series provided. The Mets won an epic sixth game to cap off a classic series.

The Astros overpowered a flawed Red Sox team in four games in the ALDS and are loaded on offense. Houston’s “1-9” provides the best balanced line up in the sport. They don’t rely on home runs and they don’t strikeout.

Houston has a terrific 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation with Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander. Keuchel has dominated the Yankees but so did Corey Kluber. Verlander has faced the Yankees four times in post season including 2012 (the last time that the Yanks were in the ALCS) when, as a member of the Tigers, he tossed 8 1/3 innings of one run ball in a 2-1 win in game three of a four game sweep.

Houston’s bullpen is not as deep as the Yankees or the Indians. Will they rely on their starters a little more than the other teams in the field or will they try and play the bullpen game that has become a staple of the post season in recent years. Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle are all throwing well but Chad Green didn’t even warm up during game five. It bears watching what his status will be.

The Yankees starting rotation has been at it’s best in October. If it continues to be productive in four or five inning stints, the Yankees will continue to be a very difficult out. Any real length from a Yankee starter would be a bonus.

Manager Joe Girardi has elected to “go against the numbers” and start Masahiro Tanaka in game one at Minute Maid Park. Tanaka has pitched much better at home as compared to his road stats. Girardi is playing a hunch because Tanaka is coming off his best two outings of the season, the 15 strikeout gem vs. Toronto in his final regular season appearance and his clutch performance in game 3 of the ALDS to keep the Yankees alive.

Girardi named Luis Severino for game two while C.C. Sabathia will start game three and Sonny Gray lines up for game four. Houston will likely counter with a combination of Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton.

The Yankee pitching was superb in the ALDS. It needs to be so again.

Houston has an edge offensively but it’s not a large gap. MVP candidate Jose Altuve is having a monster post season so far, hitting .533 with three homers and four “rib-eyes,” while Carlos Correa hit an even .500 (14 for 28) against the Yankees with two home runs and 10 RBI’s and 7 runs scored in 7 games.

Aaron Judge is also an MVP candidate but he’s coming off a record setting ALDS where he struck out 16 times in 24 at bats. Houston will try and duplicate the game plan that Cleveland used on the Yankee rookie. Girardi may want to consider moving Judge out of the #2 hole.

Gary Sanchez will be facing the same dilemma as Judge in that he will also see a steady diet of breaking balls, low and away. He’s got to lay off that pitch. If Sanchez and Judge get going in this series, the Yankee offense will be just as dangerous as Houston’s. If you believe in these things, then maybe they are due.

The Yankees are going to need more from the designated hitter spot. No hits from Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley doesn’t cut it. Matt Holliday was on the roster but was never used. There’s been some talk that Girardi may consider Holliday as the DH in game one vs. Keuchel but he’s only 1 for 7 in his career against the former Cy Young Award winner and has not had many A-B’s in recent weeks. Is it worth it to keep Holliday on the playoff roster for maybe a couple of at bats. I’d rather see Clint Frazier on the roster. He gives the Yankees more versatility than Holliday.

The Astros were a terrific home team but they were even better on the road. The Yankees have thrived at Yankee Stadium although Houston took three of four in the Bronx in May. That was a different team but the Yankees will still need to play well in their ballpark. The Astros will be very difficult to beat in the games at the Stadium so it may be incumbent upon the Yankees to have to win two games at Minute Maid Park to win this series.

On paper, the Astros are the better team and deserve to be favored but it doesn’t always play to the script. The Yankees are playing their best baseball of the season and they couldn’t have picked a better time.

A karma of exciting games seems to be a staple of the Astros’ post season history. The Yankees’ post season history is well documented. This series could give us some more memorable and historic moments.

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