By: Matt G
It’s the matchup we’ve been waiting for, the matchup we’ve been anticipating all year long.
The 3rd entry into a so far closely contested but one-sided playoff rivalry. Its Yankees –
Astros Part 3 in the 2022 ALCS. The Astros posted the best record in the AL this season and
swept through their ALDS series against the Seattle Mariners. The Yankees struggled
through much of the second half of their season, squandering their chance at home field
advantage in the process, and were pushed to the brink in their ALDS series against the
Cleveland Guardians. In spite of the trials they’ve endured so far, the Yankees have made it
to where they wanted to be, with a chance to avenge their previous losses and get over the
mountain they have not yet been able to scale. The Yankees take the field tonight in game 1,
with a chance to beat the Houston Astros and advance to their first World Series since 2009.
The Astros will likely be regarded as a comfortable favorite heading into the series, let’s look
at how they stack up.
While the Astros head into this series with few roster questions and little prospect of serious
change from their ALDS roster, the Yankees have more questions to answer. The Astros
earned a sweep and as such, have their pitching rested and lined up as they would like it, we
will likely see few changes to their roster. The Yankees on the other hand, are not so lucky.
While fans screamed all year about the problem of Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s defense, the Yankees
did not address it until the most important games of the year, inserting Oswaldo Cabrera at
shortstop after electing to keep promising young shortstop Oswald Peraza off their ALDS
roster in favor of Aaron Hicks. Hicks is now lost for the year with a knee injury and Peraza
has been added for this round as the Yankees have now announced their ALCS roster. There
are a few factors in play here, most importantly who the Yankees feel comfortable with
playing the outfield. Tim Locastro is a speed and defense guy off the bench and is a solid
keep on the roster in a bench role with Hicks now lost. Andrew Benintendi will also not be
available, as his wrist has not progressed as quickly as the team would have hoped. DJ
LeMahieu took batting practice before game 5 and hoped to be activated for this series but
the team decided not to go in that direction.
The key players in this discussion are, Giancarlo Stanton, Matt Carpenter and Cabrera.
Cabrera has been the primary left fielder for a few weeks now but was pressed into duty at
shortstop when the Yankees benched IKF due to his struggles on defense. If Carpenter and
Stanton are able to play the outfield, then the Yankees would be able to play Cabrera at
shortstop and have cover incase they do not want to go back to IKF. If they do not feel
comfortable playing Stanton and Carpenter, they would likely need Cabrera for LF. Yankee
fans will be thrilled with the inclusion of the exciting young Peraza, he presents a likely
upgrade on defense from IKF, has much more upside and power with the bat and is a more
natural shortstop than Cabrera, but would the stage be too big for a rookie with just a
handful of major league games under his belt? Defense will be at a premium this series and
the Yankees cannot afford to give away outs and runs like they did against Cleveland. While
the Yankees are overall a very much improved and defensively sound team, they must find
the right combination here to shore up the shortstop and left field weak spots that caused
them problems last series.
Due to not one, but two rainouts in during the ALDS, the Yankees will begin this ALCS
series without an off day, and with their pitching staff not lined up as they would prefer it.
As it stands, the Yankees will have Jameson Taillon starting Game 1, perhaps piggy backing
with Domingo German, then Luis Severino in Game 2. Because of the long series, the
Yankees are staring at the possibility of not having Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes available
until games 3 and 4. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that the Yankees move up Gerrit Cole
to start game 2 on short rest. If they did move up Cole to game 2, the Yankees would have
Sevy for game 3 and Nestor for game 4, with the possibility of Nestor being available for a
relief appearance earlier in the series. This scenario would also allow the Yankees to bring
back Cole for a game 7 on regular rest. In this type of series, you must have your best players
available as often as possible and that is especially true for the Yankees with Cole and Nestor
here. Severino has been very good since his return from the IL late in the season, but I’m
very skeptical that the Yankees would consider pitching him on short rest to get him another
start, given his injury history. The Yankees lead dogs need to pitch well whenever they’re
given the ball, but to beat the Astros, the Yankees will need Taillon and their supporting cast
of pitchers to do their part as well.
Moving to the bullpen, the Yankees again face interesting questions. The Astros are again
set up as they would prefer. Their rotation is headed by old foe Justin Verlander and
followed up by the exceptional Framber Valdez as well as Lance McCullers Jr. After that
they boast a deep cast of hard throwers, including Ryne Stanek, Ryan Pressly, Cristian
Javier and Luis Garcia. The Yankees bullpen meanwhile has been far less settled than in
years past and at worst has been an injury riddled revolving door throughout the season.
Clay Holmes did not resemble his first half, all-star self for much of the second half. While
he and Wandy Peralta suffered injuries late in the season, both delivered good performances
in the ALDS. They were joined by the versatile Jonathan Loaisiga, who had an up and down
season but appeared in 4 ALDS games and did not allow an earned run.
These 3 could give the Yankees the back end of the bullpen they need to stay in a tough
series. Interestingly enough, while Holmes pitched well, Boone actually closed multiple
ALDS games with Peralta and we were told that if the Cleveland lineup turned over in the
9th inning of game 5, that Gerrit Cole would have come into the game. All of that to say that
Boone is going to have to do this by committee and they will have to be open to using their
best arms as often as they can, even though the schedule will be brutal this series. The
Yankees will have to piece together some games if their starters cannot provide depth. Lou
Trivino had a 1.66 regular season ERA after joining the Yankees and a returning Frankie
Montas may also be relied upon, with Montas joining the bullpen in his return from a late
season injury. While they had questions coming down the stretch of the season, the Yankees
bullpen performed well overall in the ALDS, with the majority of the questions coming from
how Aaron Boone deployed his arms rather than the performance of the players themselves.
The Yankees may not have as much firepower in their pen as they have in years past, but
they have enough to keep them in this series. If you keep the games close in the playoffs,
anything can happen. It will be up to Aaron Boone to make sure it happens.
We’ve heard all the thoughts, opinions, comparisons etc between these two teams all year
long. Much like the Los Angeles Angels in the early to mid-2000s, this Astros team
represents a hurdle the Yankees have not yet been able to get over. On paper, it is more than
fair to say that the Astros are a better overall team and that the Yankees have questions that
need to be answered. But sometimes those questions can go out the window in the playoffs.
These are the two best teams in the American League and have been all year long. The
Astros pitching is superb from front to back, both teams boast an overall stellar defense and
like the Yankees, a slightly top heavy but very productive lineup that can hit home runs and
put up runs in bunches.
The Astros lineup is powered by a core of Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker and of
course, Jose Altuve. For the Yankees to have a chance, they must not allow Alvarez and co.
to beat them. Altuve went 0-for-16 in the ALDS and did get much of anything to hit. It is
important that the Yankees learn from what the Mariners did well, as well as what they
didn’t do well (notably pitching to Yordan Alvarez in game changing situations). If they can
keep this core in check, they have a chance. Easier said than done? Sure it is, but here we
are. The Yankees will counter with their own core of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and
Anthony Rizzo. In the ALDS they were aided by surprisingly effective performances from
Harrison Bader and Gleyber Torres. In the ALDS, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton
combined for just 6 hits, but 4 of them were home runs. While the Yankees may need to
manufacture runs to win this series, what they do better than anyone is hit home runs and
they will need their sluggers to him them to win this series.
As mentioned above, Aaron Boone did not do himself any favors at times during the ALDS.
His bullpen usage in game 3 cost them that game and perhaps some valuable days off.
Boone cannot continue to make these mistakes. While Boone’s concern for the health of his
players is important, the rules are different in the playoffs. In order to make a deep run, you
need to use your best players as often as possible. Boone cannot treat his best pitchers with
kid gloves if they hope to win this series. The same could be said with their shortstop and
left field situations. Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s defense has cost the Yankees all year long, it is
almost impossible to envision a scenario where it would make sense to return to him as the
starting shortstop. If the Yankees give away runs and outs against this Astros team, they
very flatly will have no hope of winning this series. Aaron Boone cannot outsmart himself,
play your best lineup, use your best pitchers and take it one inning and one game at a time.
We’ve been waiting for this series all year long and really since the bitterly disappointing
losses of 2017 and 2019, the Yankees have now earned the opportunity to avenge those
losses, only thing that’s left to do is see how it plays out.
Article by Matt Graziano