After failing to sweep another series – it’s ridiculous, honestly, how bad the Yanks have been in sweep-clinching games – the Yankees head to Minute Maid Park to take on the Houston Astros. It’s the first time they’ve been there since, well, you know. We don’t need to get into that right now.
Anyway, this is another big series for the Yankees, as Derek outlined yesterday. They need every win they can get going into the All-Star Break, and that includes against better teams. They need to win this series and nearly every other that follows to get back into serious contention. Not to mention, more qualitatively, it would be nice to go into the break with some good vibes for once this season. Anyway, let’s re-meet the 2021 Houston Astros.
Their Story Thus Far
The last time we saw them, the Yankees took two out of three against them at the Stadium. It was the most fun watching baseball I’ve had in 2021 thus far. No question. That left the Astros at 16-15. It’s been all up from there, though, as Houston is now 54-34. They’ve gone 38-19 (.667) since leaving the Bronx after a late-inning bullpen meltdown from the Yankees. If they go on to win, that comeback may be one of the turning points in their season. Disgusting.
They’ve had this success on the back of their offensive production, which ranks the best in baseball this season. The Astros are hitting .272/.347/.443 (121 wRC+) as a team, which is good for 20+ fWAR. These are all the best marks in baseball by a good margin. They’ve also scored 40 more runs than the next closest team, which is Boston. (God, what an absolutely hideous sentence.) They have a top-10 walk rate and they strike out less (18% of the time) than any team in the league. If this was a Houston blog, I’d use this as an opportunity to say that the 2017-19 cheating scandal was obviously overblown. Since it’s not, I’ll say that this is evidence that the Astros found a new, better way to cheat. Consistency!
The pitching staff has been pretty good too, although not quite as good as the offense. They’re ranked #9 overall by FanGraphs, so they’re not quite the formidable force we saw from 2017-19. Still, it’s plenty good enough to get the job done.
All of this adds up to be a pretty good team, obviously. Houston is all but certain to make the playoffs and is virtually a lock to win the division. To the graph:
I don’t like it any more than you do, but that’s where things stand right now. Not great if you’re an Astros hater, which I assume that most of you reading this are.
|Player||Position||Injury||Roster Status||Estimated Return|
|Brooks Raley||RP||COVID-19 Protocol||COVID-19||Next week|
|Jose Urquidy||SP||Shoulder discomfort||10-day IL||Mid-August|
|Austin Pruitt||RP||Elbow surgery||60-day IL||Mid-July|
|Josh James||RP||Hip surgery||60-day IL||Mid-July|
|Pedro Baez||RP||Shoulder discomfort||60-day IL||No timetable|
|Jojanse Torres||RP||Elbow||60-day IL||September|
|Alex Bregman||3B||Strained quad||10-day IL||No timetable|
|Kent Emmanuel||RP||Elbow surgery||10-day IL||2022|
|Jeremy Pena||SS||Wrist||60-day IL||August|
|Aledmys Diaz||OF||Hand||10-day IL||Mid-July|
|Justin Verlander||SP||Tommy John||60-day IL||2022|
Spotlight: Carlos Correa
This is going to be all about Carlos Correa for a fairly self-interested reason: I’m talking myself into wanting him on the Yankees after the season, when he’ll be a free agent. As much as I can’t stand him, I’m sure that will change if he dons the pinstripes. Just look at what happened with Gerrit Cole!
And, more to the point, he’s well on his way to having the best season of his career to date. The smug shortstop is hitting .288/.385/.510 (149 wRC+) with a 13.1% walk rate, a 17.6% strikeout rate (a career high and low, respectively), and 16 home runs. He’s been worth 3.7 fWAR to date, which is pretty damn good. To say that he’s rebounded from his brutal 2020 campaign (by his standards) is an understatement.
Importantly for Correa, he’s played in 82 of the Astros’ 88 games so far. The biggest knock on his game has always been health, so this is a good sign for him personally. If you’re going to have a fully healthy season, it sure helps to have it come right before hitting free agency.
He’s coming off a monster month of June, too, hitting .330/.451/.637 (198 wRC+) before the calendar turned. He’s stumbled a bit in July (72 wRC+) but make no mistake about it: Correa’s been one of the best players in baseball so far in 2021.
This will all come to be a major storyline this weekend, I’d guess. He recently announced that he will not join the All-Star team next week (nor will teammate Jose Altuve), so figure to hear a bit about that. But, as I said before, he’s a free agent after the season. Many people are starting to think about the future of the Yankee shortstop position. Stands to reason we’ll hear more about it this weekend. Hopefully as the Yanks are getting him to ground out a few times. I’m not counting on that, though.
Here’s Roster Resource’s projected lineup for the Astros this weekend:
- Jose Altuve, 2B (.282/.366/.502, 140 wRC+) – having a monster season as well for the ‘Stros and is really putting last year’s struggles behind him
- Michael Brantley, LF (.332/.377/.487, 142 wRC+) – I really wanted the Yankees to sign him
- Yuli Gurriel, 1B (.319/.385/.485, 141 wRC+) – this is a fearsome top of the lineup
- Yordan Alvarez, DH (.304/.373/.548, 154 wRC+) – we still haven’t gotten to Correa!
- Carlos Correa, SS (.288/.385/.510, 149 wRC+) – god, why are they so good
- Kyle Tucker, RF (.265/.325/.484, 122 wRC+) – is anyone on this team not way better than league average?
- Abraham Toro, 3B (.230/.301/.351, 86 wRC+) – finally
- Myles Straw, CF (.273/.355/.340, 102 wRC+) – good production in 83 games
- Martin Maldonado, C (.173/.259/.284, 58 wRC+) – woof
Tonight, 8:10 pm ET
Nestor Cortes, LHP
The Yankees will hope that the funky lefty’s delivery will keep the mighty Astros’ bats off balance, but the fact he’s starting is an indictment of the current state of the rotation.
Jake Odorizzi, RHP
Jake has been pretty good in 2021, with a decent bump in strikeouts but a few too many walks. The Yanks can tag him for some power, but batters are hitting just .187 against him this season.
Tomorrow, 7:15 pm ET
Gerrit Cole, RHP
Cole will return to Minute Maid for the first time since Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. This is a game that the Yanks should win and probably need to.
Zack Greinke, RHP
The Yanks pounded Greinke in the Bronx, and I really hope they’re able to do that again this time. Greinke has been very good thus far in 2021, but the Yanks should have the advantage here.
Sunday, 2:10 pm ET
Jameson Taillon, RHP
This one’s simple: the Yankees need Taillon to build on last week’s good start in Seattle. He’ll have quite a test here, but they better hope he’s up to it.
Framber Valdez, LHP
He’s been Houston’s best pitcher in 2021, with 47 K in 51 innings. He does give up homers, though, so that’ll have to be the game plan there.
|Ralph Garza Jr.|
Their pen, in other words, will be pretty available. The good news is that Pressley and Stanek may not be tonight. Let’s hope the Yanks win by 20 and it doesn’t matter, though. That’d be nice.