To be perfectly candid, the scheduling issues due to rain postponements was the main reason for splitting the Championship Series guides. However, with the Yankees victory over the Guardians yesterday, the contrast between these two series couldn’t be more clear. The National League Championship Series is the battle of hopeful Wild Card teams who could, while the American League Championship Series is the battle of the Evil Empires.
Yankees vs. Astros: The Let The Hate Flow Through You Series
It was actually more difficult than I thought it would be to decide which evil empire to cheer for. With the Red Sox as my AL team I pretty much never cheer for the Yankees. Cheering for the Yankees and their fanbase that manages to be simultaneously cocky about their 27 World Series Championships and aggrieved that they haven’t won in over a decade just feels gross. But, they do have Anthony Rizzo on their team and he’s always been one of my favorites. How can I possibly cheer against this type of joy?
Then there are the Astros, who I can’t think about without remembering their elaborate sign-stealing scandal. That alone would be enough to disqualify them as the team I want to win under normal circumstances. If they were playing literally anyone other than the Yankees I’d already be cheering for that other team. That said, once the smoke cleared from trashcan-gate, the Astros hired Dusty Baker as their manager. An all-time great manager who has one glaring omission on his resumé: a World Series win. I admit, I want Dusty Baker to get a ring about as much as I want joy for Anthony Rizzo.
As an aside, I can’t help but look at the Astros with a smidge of jealousy. Their rebuild tracked basically the same timeline as the Cubs rebuild. The Cubs made it to the playoffs a year earlier, but the Astros accomplished what Cubs fans were promised: waves and waves of talent to sustain a top tier team far into the future. The Astros have been in six consecutive American League Championship Series dating back to their initial appearance in 2017. Since it’s been 22 years since the Yankees (of course) were the last team to repeat as World Series Champions, the Astros’ dominance in the American League is the closest thing baseball has had to a dynasty in the 2000s.
Both lineups feature fierce hitters, in fact, the two best collections of hitters in the AL by wRC+ since my beloved Toronto Blue Jays were ousted in the Wild Card round:
AL Teams by wRC+
The Yankees put up a team wRC+ of 115, the Astros were right on their tails at 112. The Yankees slashed .241/.325/.426 as a squad, while Houston put up a nearly identical .248/.319/.424 as a team. The Yankees are the only team in the AL who walked more than 10 percent of the time, but Houston is one of two teams (Cleveland is the other) who struck out less than 20 percent of the time. Both teams hit. They hit for power and they hit for average.
The heart of the Yankees order is a fearsome trio that includes new Yankees home run champion Aaron Judge followed by Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton, who did this yesterday [VIDEO].
The Astros line up features rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker. Oh, they also arguably have the best overall hitter in the league in Yordan Alvarez, who seemed to thwart the Mariners with this one devastating swing in Game 1 of the Division Series [VIDEO].
Both teams also have exceptional pitching, as you can see from the AL pitching leaderboards at FanGraphs:
American League pitching leaderboard by WAR
Looking at this table it’s easy to see why both Houston and New York are playing for a spot in the World Series. They are two of only three teams with K/9 rates over nine. They are the only two teams with HR/9 rates lower than one. Both teams are in the top five for limiting walks. Honestly, these two teams look fairly similar until you scroll to the far end of the table and see that the Astros got almost eight additional WAR from their pitching over the course of the season. Amazingly, the Astros got more value out of their starters and relievers than the Yankees, putting up 1.6 additional WAR from their bullpen and the remainder from their rotation.
Speaking of the rotations, if there is an advantage to be had here it can be found in scheduling and how each team will be able to deploy their pitching depth. The Astros swept the Mariners in the Division Series, so they’ve been able to rest their starters and will deploy their rotation on full rest. Justin Verlander who has been resurgent in his return from Tommy John surgery, although he did not pitch well in the ALDS going just 4 innings while allowing 6 earned runs, will get the start in Game 1. He’ll be followed by Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers and Cristian Javier. The Yankees will counter with Jameson Taillon and then some combination of Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes and staff ace Gerrit Cole.
It promises to be a great series of baseball played by two teams most of us love to hate. I imagine some people out there will be cheering for a meteor. I am not doing that, mainly because I love Anthony Rizzo and Dusty Baker, however, I understand the inclination. Honestly, my biggest take away from writing this all up is that I really hope one of the Padres or Phillies can keep some serious momentum going, because whoever wins the NLCS will have a remarkably difficult foe waiting for them in the World Series.
Who are you rooting for in the ALCS?
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Who will win the ALCS?
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