The scorching hot New York Yankees travel to Houston to take on the Astros for the first time since Game 7 of the ALCS last season. After starting the season 9-9, the Yankees have become what most people thought they’d be at the beginning of the year, winning 9 straight to improve to 18-9. The Astros have been as good as advertised following their 2017 World Series campaign and have improved to 19-10 after winning two in a row against the Athletics. With the Mariners and Angels off to good starts, the Astros look to keep rolling and maintain an early divisional lead. The offenses of both AL powerhouses aren’t the question today. It’s the four pitching matchups we will see this week. Let’s go game by game and see who holds the advantage.
Sonny Gray vs. Charlie Morton
Game 1 offers an intriguing matchup of right handers. Sonny Gray has struggled all season long, and facing a potent Houston offense is probably not a good remedy. Last time he faced the Astros lineup, it was Game 4 of the ALCS, allowing just 1 earned run in 5 innings of work. On the flip side, Charlie Morton has been great this season up until his last start. Against the Angels, Morton struggled to find the zone and walked five batters in four innings. Against an especially patient lineup, this could be a tough matchup for Morton. Furthermore, look for a big night for Stanton, who has owned Morton in their matchups from the National League.
Sonny Gray has Cy Young caliber stuff. It just moves too much sometimes and Gray tries to bite corners instead of attacking hitters. In good weather against a lineup he has done well against, I think this is a bounce back start for Sonny.
Jordan Montgomery vs. Justin Verlander
One big question for Montgomery has been his ability to go deep into games. In his last 3 starts, Monty has gone at least 5 innings every outing. In addition, he is 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA in those 3 games. This Astros team hasn’t faced Monty too many times, but most of the team has struggled against him excluding Carlos Correa. For Houston, all time great Justin Verlander will toe the rubber. Verlander is tied for first in the AL in wins (four), is second in strikeouts (48) and opponents' batting average (.153) and is third in ERA (1.36). So yeah, he’s been kind of good.
It’s not too hard to pick a future Hall of Famer against a second year starter. Verlander has somehow gotten even better with age. The problem I see against the Astros is Montgomery’s tendency to get into jams. The Astros are 4th in the MLB is OBP and their lineup will provide an especially hard test to Monty, who is usually able to work out of said jams. Verlander will keep the Yankees bats silent for most of the night, leading to an advantage for Houston in Game 2.
Luis Severino vs. Dallas Keuchel
Dallas Keuchel has struggled this year and has also not gotten run support. He is the lone Astros pitcher without a winning record and is 1-4 with a 4.00 ERA. The advantage for Keuchel is his ability to keep the ball on the ground against a home run heavy lineup in the Yankees. On the visiting side, Luis Severino has been as good if not better than his third place Cy Young finish a season ago. Sevey has pitched to a 2.61 ERA and has struck out 42 in 38 innings pitched.
The Yankees haven’t hit Keuchel particularly well so far in his career. However, Keuchel pitches to contact, and the Yankees make hard contact. The good thing for Keuchel is he plays in front of a defense that has made just one error in the last 19 games, which was made by starting pitcher Gerrit Cole. This is going to be a great pitching matchup, but I give the advantage to Severino. He has truly been brilliant this year, and a strikeout heavy lineup favors well for the young righty. Furthermore, the Yankees right handed heavy lineup will be a tough one to navigate for Keuchel.
Masahiro Tanaka vs. Lance McCullers, Jr.
Thursday’s matinee provides a matchup of two hot pitchers. Backed by a 10-0 lead, Tanaka cruised towards a win after allowing just one run in 6 innings of work, striking out 9 Angels. For Houston, McCullers has shut down opposing lineups like he shuts down people on social media. In his last outing, a win over the A’s, McCullers threw seven shutout innings, allowing two hits while retiring his first 15 batters. McCullers has allowed only two runs in his last three starts. With his nasty curveball and nasty changeup starting to come to full force, McCullers looks to baffle the Yankees lineup, which is top 10 in strikeouts.
Although April has always been kind to Tanaka, the month of May has not. A 5.54 ERA in May is Tanaka’s worst statistical month. Pairing this with the nasty stuff of Lance McCurveball, look for a lot of swings and misses by the Yankees lineup.
As the four pitching matchups illustrate, this is an evenly matched series. In what could be a preview of the ALCS once again, pitching will play a key role in who ends up taking this series in Houston. No matter if starting pitching or the bullpen end up being the difference, this should be a fun series to keep tabs on.
(Picture credits: JZ Tours)