Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
If you're an observer, Yankees-Astros is the playoff series you want and you want it to last as long as possible. Sign us up for a rematch of the 2017 ALCS and let those two behemoths swing away for seven games. The record books can sort it all out.
However, if you're mainly interested in Yankee fortunes, well, it might be best if the Astros encounter an upset in the ALDS. Not that the Yankees can't beat them, but facing that lineup, backed by the mega-rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke is not exactly apple picking on a cool October afternoon.
With that in mind, here are some potential pinstriped playoff scenarios to mull over during the final few weeks of the season. It's not too early to start thinking about these things. The Astros and Yankees are already battling in a preliminary that could have real impact on next month -- who finishes with the AL's best record and gets home-field advantage.
Bronx, sweet Bronx
Let's assume for now the Yanks get home field, which would obviously be ideal and might be crucial. They are 53-22 at Yankee Stadium and haven't lost a series there since April. They have a 3.77 ERA at home (5.01 on the road) and their top three starters have pitched better there than on the road. We all know there's been a lot of handwringing over the rotation.
So what team do they want coming out of the AL Wild Card Game? Easy: the Rays. Yes, Tampa Bay is pesky and smart. And, perhaps in part to their lack of household names, the Rays are perennially underestimated. But the Yanks have handled them this season, going 12-5 with two games remaining in Tampa Bay. The Yanks have a plus-50 run differential against the Rays and have averaged 5.58 runs against them.
Also, Yankee pitching owns a 2.78 ERA against Tampa Bay this year and has held their hitters to a .673 OPS -- by far the best marks against potential October opponents. MLB's average OPS is .763.
The Yankees have a losing record against both Cleveland (3-4) and Oakland (2-4). Small sample sizes, sure, but no likely playoff teams have been as stingy against the Yankees, who averaged 3.33 runs against the A's and 4.43 against the Indians. And the lefty hitters on both teams enjoyed at least a 1.199 OPS at Yankee Stadium this year.
One more note about Oakland -- the Yanks don't want to go to the Coliseum in a short series. They are 1-9 in their last 10 games there and the A's swept them there in August.
Bronx Bombers versus the Bomba Squad
What if the Yanks advance and the Twins ambush the Astros on the other side of the bracket? That would set up a Home Run Derby, er, ALCS between two slugging clubs. The Yanks and Twins have been swapping the single-season home run record this month, so expect more moonshots.
The Yankees went 4-2 against Minnesota during the regular season. Didi Gregorius had 10 RBI in the season series. The Yanks scored 30 runs in three games at Target Field. The Twins pounded 16 home runs against Yankee pitching and hung a 7.84 ERA on Domingo Germán in two starts.
Will the Twins have to overcome psychic baggage if they face the Yanks in October again? Hasn't worked out so well in the past, considering the Yanks eliminated Minnesota in 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2017.
Still, home runs can chase demons. The Twins own the all-time homer record (at least for today) and have four players with 30-plus homers and one, Miguel Sano, sitting on 29. The Yankees have allowed 235 homers, tied for sixth-most in MLB.
The Twins may not be the Astros, but any team that hits the ball out of the yard that often is dangerous.
If it comes down to Yanks-Houston, it could be epic. The teams played a thrilling seven-game ALCS two years ago where the home team won every game. The Yankees only scored one run in the final two games in Houston. Verlander threw seven shutout innings in Game 6 and was ALCS MVP. He might be even better now.
The Yankees were 3-4 against Houston this year, but they haven't played since June. The Astros swept three games in Houston in April and the Yanks won three-of-four at the Stadium from June 20-23.
Since the start of 2017, the Yankees are 13-15 against the Astros, including that ALCS. It breaks down like this: 9-5 at Yankee Stadium, 4-10 at Minute Maid Park.
The Yankees can score anywhere -- they have 483 runs in 76 road games so far and 403 runs at home in 75 games. But their pitching is better at home and one extra game there might make all the difference.
Germán's had a breakout, but he has large home-road splits. He's 8-1 with a 2.35 ERA at Yankee Stadium; 10-3 with a 5.45 ERA on the road. Masahiro Tanaka is better at home (3.24 home ERA v. 6.16 road ERA). James Paxton's splits aren't as stark, but he's still better at home (3.63 v. 4.14).
D.J. LeMahieu (1.385 OPS) and Gary Sanchez (1.091 OPS) punished Houston pitching this year. Tanaka could be a pivotal Yankee. He had two starts against the Astros this year and notched a 2.25 ERA. He had a 1.38 ERA in two starts against them in the '17 ALCS, too.
Whatever happens, the Yankees' easiest path to the World Series probably does not include three or four games in Houston. But for anyone watching, another installment of Astros-Yanks would heighten October's drama.