It’s a great time to be the Houston Astros, who topped the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS and are fully rested and ready to go against a New York Yankees team that is depleted after coming back from a 2-0 deficit against the Cleveland Indians.
Where do the Astros advantages in this series lie?
Start with the starters and their co-ace, Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel’s 1.41 ERA against the Yankees ranks first among active pitchers who have made at least five starts against them.
The Yankees did crush a pitcher with a 1.80 ERA against them in Corey Kluber, but the advantage that Keuchel has over Kluber is that he had previously faced and beaten the Yankees in postseason. He defeated the Yankees in the 2015 AL Wild Card game with six scoreless innings.
The Astros also have a hitter who has dominated the Yankees in shortstop, Carlos Correa. Correa hit .500 against the Yankees with two home runs and 10 RBIs in seven regular-season games this season.
Correa’s .384 career batting average against the Yankees ranks second among active players with at least 60 at-bats against them. Adam Eaton ranks first (.426).
Hitting the hard stuff
The Astros can handle the heat - they batted .280 on pitches 95 mph or higher, the third-highest in the AL
The Yankees threw 4,826 pitches 95 mph or higher, the most in the AL. The rate of missed swings against those pitches was 27 percent, second-highest in MLB. The bulk of that comes at the back of the bullpen.
There are a good number of well-known Astros, including Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer, but one of the secret weapons on offense is Yuli Gurriel, who led the majors with a 25 percent hard-hit rate.
In the LDS against the Dodgers, Gurriel was dangerous because he attacked pitches at the top of the strike zone and expanded his hitting zone to reach pitches outside the strike zone. Six of his nine hits in the LDS fit that description.
Gurriel also closed the regular season strong, hitting .385 with nine RBIs in his last 15 games.
The longtime veterans
This was all part of a master plan for the Astros, mixing the young players they got when things weren’t going well, with veterans like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Reddick, and the ultimate in “go-for-it” gets, Justin Verlander.
At age 40, Beltran may be getting his last chance for his first World Series ring. He’s a career .325 hitter with 16 home runs in postseason, including eight in 12 games for the Astros in 2004. This is Beltran’s seventh trip to the postseason. He’s only reached the World Series once.
Verlander may be the one who gets them there. He went 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA in five regular-season starts with the Astros. He’s 2-0 with a 3.12 ERA in the postseason. And he has a desire for redemption. He’s 0-3 with a 7.20 ERA in the World Series.