Today’s the day. The Yankees and Astros will meet tonight in Houston at 8:08 pm EST for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting for this rematch since George Springer caught Greg Bird’s flyout in Game 7 of 2017. I’m excited, and very nervous, now that it’s actually here.
Although the Astros have the upper-hand in recent matchups–and they’ve eliminated the Yankees two of the last three times New York has reached the postseason–the reality is that these two teams have always played each other tough. As I noted on Twitter the other night, since the beginning of the 2017 season, there have been a ton of one-run games and the Yankees have actually outscored the Astros in those matchups. This is going to be a wild ride.
Let’s get right to today’s news and notes.
ALCS Scheduling and Around the Internet
Lots of news on this front. To begin with: The Yankees have announced their starting pitchers for Games 1, 2, and 3, so now we know exactly how the two behemoths will matchup. Here it is:
- Game 1 (tonight): Masahiro Tanaka vs. Zack Greinke
- Game 2 (tomorrow): James Paxton vs. Justin Verlander
- Game 3 (Tuesday): Luis Severino vs. Gerrit Cole
These matchups really remind me of two ghosts of Yankee postseasons past: the 2009 World Series and the 2010 ALCS, both because of another dominant, seemingly unhittable ace in Cliff Lee. In 2009, Lee was a force for the Phillies and his mere presence put the pressure on New York to get to Philadelphia’s other great pitchers, particularly Cole Hamels. In 2010, he was amid a historically-great run like Gerrit Cole is now but the Yankees weren’t going to face him until Game 3 after two games in Texas, where his lefty arm loomed large. This series has a similar feel to me to both of those. The Yankees can get to Cole–they did score runs off him earlier this year, after all–but it will be imperative to steal at least one of these games in Houston before returning to the Bronx. I think they can do it.
Speaking of Game 3, we finally have game times for Games 3, 4, and 5 back in the Bronx:
- Game 3, Tuesday: 4:08 pm
- Game 4, Wednesday: 8:08 pm
- Game 5, Thursday (if necessary): 8:08 pm
So there we have it. Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole will face-off on a Tuesday afternoon in the Bronx at 4 pm on a Jewish holiday, which seems…like less than ideal scheduling to me. I know that there are a million factors that go into playoff scheduling, including the very obvious fact that there is another series playing simultaneously, but this seems like an avoidable mistake. But hey, whatever. Nothing any of us can do about that except root for the Yankees to be the team to finally pummel Gerrit Cole.
Finally, there are two other great previews aside from our own coverage to check out. Jay Jaffe over at FanGraphs’ provides a thorough overview of the ALCS rematch that I think is worth your time. We’ve provided tons of our own coverage here, but Jaffe’s overview comes from a neutral perspective and really highlights just how good these two teams are. And Friend of the Blog™ Lucas Apostoleris has the pen over at Baseball Prospectus for the series. Check both of them out, even if you won’t like their conclusions, but hey: that’s why they play the games. (And here’s another thing: George Springer is still shook by the Yankee Stadium crowd after Gary’s double in Game 4 of the 2017 ALCS. I love this so much.)
ALCS Roster Update
We also just got our roster for the ALCS, as both Houston and New York released theirs just a few moments ago. Houston’s roster is about as expected, though it’s worth noting that they did not carry a single LHP. There were a few notable changes on the Yankee roster, though:
- CC Sabathia is on the roster: CC Sabathia must be really healthy, as he is on the roster. He will likely serve a role as a LOOGY out of the pen–matchups against Brantley immediately come to mind. Whatever his role is, though, I am happy he’s back on the mound. Unless the Yankees advance (pls advance), these will be the final innings of his career. I don’t think any of us wanted him to go out injured.
- So is Aaron Hicks: Aaron Hicks must also be healthy, as he was activated as well. I have come 100% around on this: this is great news. Hicks is one of the most talented players on the team and therefore the best NYY roster includes him on it. What an incredible surprise this has all been. Who knows what role they have envisioned for him, but at this point, nothing would surprise me. It’s also worth considering that Hicks mashes up in the zone, which is how Houston’s three-headed dragon approaches the game. It’s a tough matchup to return after two dormant months and face Greinke/Verlander/Cole, but check out his wOBA zone in 2018:
- Tyler Lyons is Here, too: The Yankees brought two lefties, as Tyler Lyons also made the roster. They must have a specific plan of attack in mind for how to deploy the LHP, because otherwise they wouldn’t have done this. Obvious statement is obvious, I know. But this is worth watching. This also means that the team brought 13 pitchers and only 12 pitchers, which means….
- Tyler Wade and Luke Voit Are Not Here: Once we heard that Hicks was healthy, I don’t think many of us expected Wade to make the cut. No surprises. And while I have long believed that keeping Voit on the roster is the best method of attack, the only exception here would be if he isn’t healthy. You have to believe that he is not at this point. He was a complete non-factor in the ALDS and hernias are brutal. Regardless of what happens, Voit is a force at the plate and will likely be slated as the Yankees’ starting 1B/DH next season.
The Playoff Baseball
As I’m sure you’ve seen by now, there’s been a significant amount of speculation about the actual, physical baseball being used in the postseason over the last few days. Rumors abound that the league switched the ball, or “unjuiced” it, before the start of the playoffs. Rob Arthur of Baseball Prospectus has been leading the charge on the juiced ball since 2017, so when he writes something on this, I pay attention. The other day, he published a study of the Division Series that seems to suggest that, indeed, the ball is different now. It’s behind a paywall–but you should really just have a Baseball Prospectus subscription by now, come on–but here is the operative graph:
See that spike there at the end? That’s the “drag” on the ball, or the resistance on the ball. Lower drag has been to blame all year for why balls have been flying out, so that spike at the end is notable. That’s quite a jump, and Rob isn’t convinced that it’s a coincidence. I’m not going to draw conclusions, but there were a number of balls hit just in the Yankees series alone that felt like they “should” have been home runs, let alone in the other series. I find this plausible, though more research will need to be done. (MLB’s official statement, as you can imagine, provided almost no clarity except to say that the playoff balls are not manufactured separately or before the season.)
New Salary Arbitration Number
We’ll have more to say about the state of economics in baseball after the season wraps up, but here’s a hint: it’s bad! We’ve all seen the languid free agent markets and teams hesitant to try, so this is nothing new, but check this out from The Athletic’s Jayson Stark:
I’ll admittedly need to do more research into this before drawing any conclusions, but it feels intuitively like a really bad thing that the value of the qualifying offer actually decreased year-over-year. It doesn’t seem that complicated, since the QO is just the average of the top 125 salaries. It’s yet another example showing how, despite rocketing revenues, the players are seeing less and less of that money. Seems bad!
Wow, I really thought Aníbal Sánchez was going to do it last night, you guys. Especially after Nats’ legend Ryan Zimmerman’s insane catch to preserve the no-hitter in the 8th. It was, of course, not meant to be, but the Nationals still pulled out 2-0, allowing just one measly hit in St. Louis. Pretty impressive. Washington will now trot out Mad Max Scherzer, Big Game Extraordinaire Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin in five of the next six games.
Anything can happen–you just can’t predict baseball, Suzyn–and this is the Nationals we’re talking about, but you gotta feel good about their chances to take home the NL Pennant. Pretty incredible.