Yankees would welcome another shot at Astros come playoff time

NEW YORK -- October came early to the Bronx this week.

While the Houston Astros and New York Yankees are done playing one another for the regular season, the seven games in which they squared off this spring revealed one thing: These teams are very likely to meet again this fall.

The real October can't come soon enough.

"When I look across at that club, I look at them as, they're a really good team," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "We know that. I certainly think we have their respect, and we know we're a really good team.

"But we also recognize it is only May."

Yes, that's true. For one more day it is. But even if it feels too early for those participating in this matchup to talk about the postseason, the rest of us can get ahead of ourselves.

Everything about this continually evolving Astros-Yankees rivalry feels like it's leading to another playoff meeting. Last season, Houston knocked off New York in the seven-game American League Championship Series to advance to the World Series, which the Astros also would win.

For three nights this week and for four across the end of April and the start of May, the foes met in a sequence of emotional, high-energy and well-pitched games. These meetings felt as close to last year's dramatic postseason contests as games this time of the year can.

At times, particularly late in the contests, there was a raucousness inside Yankee Stadium that was reminiscent of what the ballpark showcased earlier this season when the rival Boston Red Sox came to town. As with the Yankees and Astros, there is an anticipation that the Red Sox will be in the AL's postseason mix. Houston hosts Boston in a four-game set beginning Thursday.

Luis Severino's masterful seven-inning, four-hit, 11-strikeout performance helped culminate the latest Astros-Yankees meeting, as New York earned a 5-3 win Wednesday.

The win, Severino's eighth, gave the Yankees their 10th series victory in 11 tries, and their second series win over the Astros. Overall, the Yankees took five of seven games from the defending champions.

"It's good, but you want to take five of seven from everybody, I guess. Maybe even more," Yankees catcher Austin Romine said. "But we're just going out there trying to play good ball, and when we play good ball in what we're trying to do, and stick with our game plans from before the game, good things tend to happen."

Good things happened all night for the right-handed Severino, who was going up against another quality starting pitcher in Houston's Dallas Keuchel, the crafty lefty who entered the game with a 3.39 ERA. While still comparatively low, that ranked fourth among the five starters in Houston's electrifying rotation.

Justin Verlander (1.11), Gerrit Cole (2.05) and Charlie Morton (2.26) have anchored the Astros' major league-best team ERA, which stood at 2.64 entering Wednesday's series finale.

Although Verlander beat the Yankees earlier this week, Morton, like Keuchel, could not.

"It's great to go up against the best and have some success, no question about it," Boone said.

The four earned runs Keuchel allowed Wednesday were the most he had given up to the Yankees in his career, matching the four he allowed in Game 5 of last year's ALCS.

Severino found the right balance with his fastball-slider-changeup usage, recording double-digit strikeouts for the third time this season.

Two of those games came against the Astros. In 16 innings against Houston this season, Severino has allowed just two earned runs. In 16⅓ innings over four starts against the Astros last year, including the playoffs, he gave up 13 runs.

"They always crush me," Severino said earlier this week, reflecting on previous appearances against Houston.

Across the better part of May, Yankees hitters had been crushing opposing pitching. In three-game series at the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals last week alone, the Yankees hit 12 and nine homers, respectively. In each series, they had one game apiece in which they hit four home runs.

Against the Astros' formidable pitching staff, the Yankees didn't use the long ball quite as often. New York hitters, who are on pace to set a team home run record, had just four homers against Houston this week. They also hit just three in the four-game set in Houston a few weeks ago.

In the postseason, stringing together tough at-bats and having small-ball success could be a difference-maker.

"I know I see it when I look out on the field. I see 1-to-9 guys grinding out at-bats, every single pitch, you've got guys grinding it out," Romine said. "When you've got a team doing that, you're going to chip away at them. They've got really good pitching over there and you have to have that mentality of grinding it away if you're going to beat some of their good guys."

On Wednesday, the Yankees got run-producing contributions from Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks. That quartet entered the game in a collective 6-for-69 (.087) slump across the first five games of the homestand.

Contributions from unlikely sources often can be key come playoff time.

Only time will tell if this October features an ALCS rematch.

"I don't know if we're going to face them, but if we face them, or we face any team," Severino said, "I'll be ready and my team will be ready to compete."