Astros and Rays to play Game 5: What does it mean for the ALCS?

At some point late tomorrow night, we’ll finally know whether the Yankees will play the Astros or Rays in the ALCS. We’ll also know where Game 1 will be held. In any case, the Yankees will have had four days off between the end of their series victory over Twins and the start of the ALCS on Saturday. Meanwhile, Houston or Tampa Bay will have just one day off: Friday. This seems like a distinct advantage for the Bombers over their next opponent.

Rest is one (important) thing, but the ability to line up one’s starting rotation is another. Regardless of who triumphs tomorrow, neither will be able to pitch start their best pitcher in Game 1 vs. the Yankees. For Houston, that means Gerritt Cole. For Tampa Bay, Tyler Glasnow.

That said, both teams have pretty deep pitching staffs so it’s not like their Game 1 options are terrible. Far from it, in fact. Zack Greinke or Charlie Morton will be on full rest to open the series against the Yankees. The Rays could also go with Blake Snell should they win, as he only pitched in relief yesterday in place of a throw day, which essentially would allow him to pitch on full rest.

Here’s how the first three games could line up for either squad:

  1. Charlie Morton/Blake Snell or Zack Greinke
  2. Charlie Morton/Blake Snell or Justin Verlander
  3. Tyler Glasnow or Gerrit Cole

That’s a tough gauntlet for the Yankees. But! It also means the Yankees could avoid facing someone like Glasnow or Cole twice (at least, as a starter) if they can take care of business before Game 7. They still would have to face other excellent starters twice, but at least it’s not Cole or Glasnow until the very end (that they hopefully avoid).

My reaction to the Astros and Rays playing five games. (MLB GIF Hub)

Now, let’s circle back to the rest factor. Houston or Tampa Bay will have a relatively quick turnaround before the ALCS begins while the Yankees will have had a few days to relax in the comfort of their homes. This sort of match up in an ALCS or NLCS has happened eight times:

YearDS Winner, 5 GamesDS Winner, 3 GamesCS Winner
1995Mariners (79-66)Indians (100-44)Indians (4-2)
1999Red Sox (94-68)Yankees (98-64)Yankees (4-1)
2000Yankees (87-74)Mariners (91-71)Yankees (4-2)
2001D’Backs (92-70)Braves (88-74)D’Backs (4-1)
2002Giants (95-66)Cardinals (97-65)Giants (4-1)
2005Angels (95-67)White Sox (99-63)White Sox (4-1)
2010Rangers (90-72)Yankees (95-67)Rangers (4-2)
2017Cubs (92-70)Dodgers (104-58)Dodgers (4-1)

It’s a 4-4 split. The teams that lost the CS after sweeping the DS are the 2000 Mariners, 2001 Braves, 2002 Cardinals, and 2010 Yankees. So, it’s not as if the Yankees have the pennant in the bag because the Astros and Rays are battling to the death.

In 2000, the Yankees were on pace for 95 wins through August but had a brutal September. They were a better club than its final record showed and of course went on to win the World Series that season. It may look like the Mariners were the favorite given the better regular season (and Pythagorean) record plus the fact that Seattle had additional time off between series, but that’s not quite the case. Again, the Yankees were better than their regular season record indicated and also were in the midst of the dynasty years.

The 2001 Diamondbacks were even better than their 92-70 record and also were World Series champs (sigh). They may have had a tougher path to the NLCS than the Braves that year, but they were undoubtedly the better team.

In 2002, the Giants need five games to knock off the 101-59 Braves whereas the Cardinals swept the defending champions. San Francisco’s win over St. Louis may look like an upset per regular season marks, but the Giants also had the best player in the world in Barry Bonds.

And then there’s 2010, the last time a team that needed five to win the DS wound up going to the World Series (again, sigh). We all remember that Rangers team as the one with Cliff Lee, but it was actually Colby Lewis (ugh) who stifled the Yankees twice in that series. Texas advanced even though their regular season and Pythagorean records were five and six games worse than the Yankees.

In 1995, 1999, 2005, and 2017, it was no surprise that the team that swept the DS toppled the club that needed five games to reach the CS. Cleveland was head and shoulders better than Seattle in ’95. Those ’99 Yankees were one of the forgotten dynasty clubs and clobbered the Red Sox. They also only had to face peak Pedro Martínez once (and lost). The White Sox were eventual champions in 2005. 2017’s Dodgers club was a historically great team.

What does all of this history tell us? Probably nothing. The teams that swept the DS and went on to win the CS were the favorites in the first place. Many of the teams that won the pennant despite maxing out the DS were the better team than the opponent that swept the DS. In sum: the favorites usually win regardless of previous circumstances.

Even though the past doesn’t necessarily indicate any sort of advantage for the Yankees, that doesn’t mean a few extra days of rest is a bad thing. This is a great Yankees team, everyone. They’re more than capable of beating the Astros or the Rays. And, now that both of those potential opponents will not get to set up its rotation for the ALCS in an ideal fashion, they’ll be somewhat disadvantaged in the next round. Plus, since it’ll be all hands on deck for tomorrow’s Game 5, either team could face New York with a tired bullpen. For now, let’s sit back, relax, and hopefully watch a 16 inning marathon tomorrow night.


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  1. As Mike Axisa said, let’s hope for a 37 inning game.

  2. dasit

    don’t care if it’s a harder road
    i want houston

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