The Astros will host the Yankees in the American League Championship series starting on Friday.
This comes on the heels of an impressive three-win rally by the Yankees over the Indians to advance. As we shift our focus to the next round, here are a few thing the Astros must take advantage of to win this series.
Take Advantage of Starting Pitchers
The Astros have been one of the best, if not the best offense in baseball this season. The line-up forces pitchers to be mistake-proof, as every spot is filled with a power of contact hitter.
Sonny Gray, Luis Severino, and Masahiro Tanaka have struggled against the Astros. Therefore, they should look to take advantage of these matchups early. However, they are yet to face CC Sabathia this season. Sabathia poses a great threat to the Astros abilities to hit, as he is left-handed and has learned to use his off-speed pitches to generate outs. This was on full display last night against the Indians. He was only able to pitch 4.1 innings, while still allowing two earn runs off two hits.
Force Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez to Beat You
If you had said that Aaron Judge would record a .050 batting average, with one hit and 16 strikeouts in 24 plate appearance during the ALDS, analysts and fans would’ve denied it.
Better yet, Judge was unable to hit a home run in this series. However, he managed four walks during the series. The same applies to Sanchez, who produced a .174 batting average in the ALDS, living off the long ball.
It is clear who is seeing the baseball well and who is not. As an Astros pitcher, I would be focusing my attention on containing the other hitters in the Yankees lineup, and force Judge and Sanchez to produce. Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander can do just that. Keuchel will command the strike zone early against a team he has great success against. The Yankees have yet to see Verlander this season, boding well for the veteran’s chances in this series.
The old saying, “Work ahead, stay ahead,” holds great weight with the Astros approach to this series and the entire playoffs. If they gain the lead early in games, they force opponents to do things differently to get a win.
All in all, Houston will need to apply pressure early and make the struggling hitters in the Yankees lineup beat them.
**Statistics and data courtesy of Baseball-Reference and ESPN.com**