The New York Yankees are underdogs facing the Houston Astros in the 2019 ALCS. The Yankees are currently 5/2 odds to win the World Series, while the Astros are even money.

Jose Altuve Aaron Judge Yankees Astros ALCS
Houston Astros SS Jose Altuve and NY Yankees RF Aaron Judge during the 2017 ALCS. (Image: Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

The 2019 ALCS is a rematch of the 2017 ALCS. The Astros defeated the Yankees in seven games two years ago in the ALCS. The home teams won every game in that extended series. This season, the Astros won 107 games and clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with the best record in baseball. Houston also boasts the best home record in baseball at 60-21.

The Yankees hit the road for the first two playoffs games in Houston after sweeping the Twins in the ALDS.

The Astros jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the Tampa Bay Rays. No one thought the Rays could win a game, but they won two straight in Florida to force a Game 5 in Houston. Gerrit Cole dominated the Rays for a second time in a week, and the Astros easily advanced to the ALCS.

Bronx ER Closed

The first warning signs came in spring training. The Yankees had to shut down their ace, Luis Severino and their setup man, Dellin Betances. They were already playing without Didi Gregorius, who was rehabbing after elbow surgery, before Aaron Hicks went down and things got ugly. The revolving door on the infirmary included multiple stints for CC Sabathia, Miguel Andujar, Giancarlo Stanton, Greg Bird, and Aaron Judge.

Despite the ridiculous rash of injuries, the Replacement Yankees held the line with most of their AAA squad filling in at different times this season. Guys like Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford, Clint Frazier, and Kyle Higashioka never made it on the postseason roster, but the “next man up” mentality helped the Yankees win 100-plus games with a banged-up roster.

“We haven’t really played a series where both teams are completely healthy and completely armed,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. “So we’re about to buckle up and get to a seven-game series to see who represents the American League in the World Series.”

Replacement infielder Gio Urshela (.314, 21 HR, 74 RBI) played the best ball of his career when he seized the opportunity to play every day at third base when Miggy Andujar went down with multiple injuries. The Yankees also discovered, almost by accident, that they had a potential Gold Glove candidate at the hot corner with Urshela. With a sick glove and a hot bat, there was a month early in the summer in which Urshela was the best player on the Yankees.

The Yankees two big dogs, Stanton and Judge, spent significant time on the IL. Stanton missed almost the whole season, and Judge missed almost two months with an oblique injury. In their absence, two young All-Stars took over. Gleyber Torres (34 HR) and catcher Gary Sanchez (38 HR) emerged as the big bats in Bronx Bombers’ the lineup.

It took a while before Judge finally looked like his old self. He finished the season with 27 home runs, buoyed by a strong September.

The Yankees World Series odds were near the top of the board all season, mostly due to the steady play of the backups and replacements.

LeMVP

Ask anyone in the five boroughs and they’ll tell you that DJ LeMahieu was the Yankees MVP. In his first season in the Bronx, LeMahieu quickly won over fans with his humble attitude and blue-collar work ethic.

A late-summer slump hurt his chances at winning a batting title, but he finished second overall, hitting .327 with 26 home runs and 102 RBI. You know you have a stacked line up when your leadoff hitter has 100-plus RBI.

LeMahieu won a Gold Glove at second base for the Rockies last season. This season, he played all four infield positions. If manager Aaron Boone asked him to pitch or catch, LeMahieu would have done it.

LeMahieu is currently playing first base to replace a slumping Luke Voit. He also made several clutch defensive plays in the ALDS against the Twins to remind everyone he’s got a vacuum cleaner for a glove.

Second-Rate Rotation

The Yankees have a second-rate rotation in the playoffs compared to the three aces in Houston. Then again, half the teams in the American League would kill to have the Yankees’ top four starters. It’s all about perspective. Almost any rotation would be hard to stack up against the Astros trip aces.

You know you have a stacked rotation when Zack Greinke is the third-best pitcher. Luckily, the Yankees don’t have to face Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole until Games 2 and 3.

ALCS STARTING ROTATIONS:
Zack Greinke vs. Masahiro Tanaka (Game 1)
Justin Verlander vs. James Paxton (Game 2)
Gerrit Cole vs. Luis Severino (Game 3)

Lefty James Paxton won nine straight starts to end the season. At one point, he was 5-6 shortly after the All-Star Break. That’s when Yankees pitching coach, Larry Rothschild told him to add more curveballs to his diet. Paxton mixed in more breaking pitches and he saw immediate results. He finished the season 15-6, and the Yankees went 11-0 in his final 11 starts.

Masahiro Tanaka lost his feel for his trademarked splitter. Tanaka and Rothschild tinkered with his grip, and he rediscovered an effective splitter. It’s been nasty since he got it back. He started the season 3-5, and then went 8-4 the rest of the way. Tanaka got the nod to start Game 1, which surprised many local beat writers.

After missing almost the entire season, Severino returned to the team in the last week for a couple of tune-up starts. Boone inserted Severino into the rotation. He looked rusty, but worked out of multiple jams during the series-clinching victory over the Twins. The Yankees hope a rested Severino can match up against red-hot Cole in ALCS Game 3.

Aces in the Pen

Boone isn’t shy about using the most-feared bullpen in baseball. What the Yankees lack in starting pitching, they make up for in the bullpen.

Boone gets antsy when a starter heads through an opposing batter order for a third time. He’s not shy to dispatch his relievers as early as the fourth inning in the playoffs. Then again, when you have a Yankees bullpen with three ex-closers, you can afford to make the call as early as possible in the ALCS.

Boone’s reliable pen includes opener/reliever Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle (1.06 WHIP), Adam Ottavino (1.90 ERA), Zack Britton (1.91 ERA), and closer Aroldis Chapman (2.21 ERA). Both JA Happ and CC Sabathia could also be available, if needed.

“I always talk about in baseball, that a lot of decisions are grey,” said Boone. “Sometimes you make a decision and it works out and it’s not necessarily the right one, but usually decisions made, and certainly in the postseason, are always up for debate, and that’s part of it.”

According to William Hill, the Yankees World Series odds improved to 5/2. The Astros are even money. The Astros and Yankees played seven games this regular season, and Houston won the season series 4-3.

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