Underdog New York Yankees Seek Vengeance Against Houston Astros

Posted on: October 19, 2022, 11:58h. 

Last updated on: October 19, 2022, 12:38h.

The best news for Yankees fans is that they now have an excuse to not watch the Knicks.

The New York Yankees celebrate winning the ALDS against the Cleveland Guardians on Tuesday night in the Bronx. The Yankees face the Houston Astros Wednesday night in Game 1 of the ALCS in Texas. (Image: ESPN)

That’s a New York joke that can be easily understood by those who believe the once-hated George Steinbrenner was a super citizen compared to curmudgeonly Knicks owner James Dolan. The latter’s latest target is a law firm whose season tickets were revoked because they are representing litigants who are suing MSG.

Dolan won’t be slumped in his baseline seat until Friday night when the Detroit Pistons are in town. By then, we’ll know where the Yankees stand following Games 1 and 2 at Minute Maid Park in Houston. That’s where the team that led the majors in home runs will face the team that allowed the fewest home runs in the majors.

No Love Lost in ALDS

The Yankees have to open against AL Cy Young award lock Justin Verlander, the 39-year-old veteran workhorse who went 18-4 this season with a league-leading 1.75 ERA. The Yanks are starting Jameson Taillon, who was supposed to be their Game 5 starter until that contest was postponed a day due to inclement weather. He was bumped and the Yankees closed out the Cleveland Guardians 5-1 to win the ALDS, 3-2.

The ALDS will be a best-of-7 contest, and the Astros may be able to use Verlander three times because rain is forecast for this weekend in New York. That could force postponements of Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Sunday. So, if the Yanks make it to the World Series, they’re going to have to earn it against a nemesis that knocked them out of the 2015, 2017, and 2019 postseasons, the middle one coming as the Astros were cheating.

Houston won the season series, 5-2, and the teams last met on July 21 when the Astros swept both games of a doubleheader. The Astros enter this series well-rested after sweeping the Seattle Mariners in the ALDS, and when the series begins tonight, it will be only their fourth game since October 6. The bat racks in Houston have developed cobwebs over that span, and there’s an argument to be made that extended time off didn’t exactly help the Dodgers and Braves.

“We don’t like them,” Yankees catcher Klye Higashioka said. “They’ve gotten the best of us the past few years. We do have that chip on our shoulder. We have to prove we can get past them.”

Can Verlander be Defeated?

The Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the Astros in two of Verlander’s final three regular-season starts, and the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox did the same in consecutive Verlander starts in mid-August. Verlander got no decisions in three of those games, and although his W-L record is exceptionally gaudy, Houston actually went 20-8 when he was the starting pitcher. He surrendered just 12 home runs all season, and had 185 strikeouts in 175 innings pitched with just 29 walks. So, yes, he is a stud.

But Verlander also allowed 10 hits and six earned runs in just four innings in Game 1 of the ALDS series against Seattle. That’s a game that ended with Yordan Alvarez’s walk-off, three-run homer with two outs in the ninth. It’s only the second time in baseball history that has happened when a team was trailing by multiple runs (Kirk Gibson had the other in 1988).

Verlander was mumbling to himself as he exited that game against Seattle, so let’s not assume that he’s exactly brimming with confidence, despite his terrific regular season to cap a remarkable comeback from Tommy John surgery.

Aaron Judge is 2-for-14 with one home run in his career vs. Verlander. Giancarlo Stanton is 2-for-11 with six strikeouts (both of his hits were home runs), and postseason upstart Harrison Bader has never faced him, according to Stathead. Verlander has never thrown a complete game in 23 career starts against the Yankees and has surrendered at least seven hits in 13 of those appearances, according to Statmuse.


The Oddsmakers Speak

The Astros are favored by 1 1/2 runs in Game 1, and Houston is a -215 favorite to win the series. They are +800 to sweep the series, whereas the Yankees are at +2200 to win it in four. So, yeah, the Astros are heavy favorites.

But this series matches a team that won 106 regular-season games against a team that won 99, so we actually have two behemoths here, one of which just came back from a 2-1 deficit against Cleveland. That’s after losing four of their final seven regular-season games when Judge’s pursuit of the AL home run record was clearly a distraction.

Houston had a team batting average of .217 in the series against the Mariners, and their best regular-season hitter, Alvarez, had a pair of homers and seven RBIs. First baseman Yuri Gurriel hit 6-for-15 (.400), and third baseman Alex Bregman hit .333. Nobody else was above .300.

New York had a team batting average of just .192 against the Guardians, but nine of their 28 hits were home runs. That doesn’t auger well going into a series against a pitching staff that allowed just 134 home runs, 23 fewer than the Yanks’ staff. Houston pitchers also had an AL-high 1,524 strikeouts while the Yankees whiffed 53 times against the Guardians — 11 by Judge and 10 by Oswaldo Cabrera.

But do any of those postseason stats matter going into this series? Are they trends or merely a very small sample size?

Verlander had a bad game. Judge had a few bad games. And guess what? We all have bad days, so the way to approach this series from a wagering standpoint is with a 0-0 mindset because that’s the score of the series heading into Game 1, OK?

Aaron Boone can be expected to have a quick hook with whoever his starting pitcher is and he will turn to his beleaguered bullpen often. He even had Gerrit Cole warming up in the bullpen in the ninth on Tuesday night, just in case. Astros manager Dusty Baker will have his postseason history brought up, and the fact that he’s never won the World Series in 24 years as a manager will be a conversation topic.

Baker was the National League Manager of the Year in 2003 for San Francisco and didn’t make the postseason. He was NL Manager of the Year in 2007 for the Giants and got swept by the Marlins, and he was the award winner a third time in 2000 and lost 3-1 to the Mets. He’s 40-44 managing in the postseason for the Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nationals, and Astros. He has 2,093 career wins as a manager, but has reached the World Series only twice, and his teams lost both times.

At 73, perhaps he should have sat out this celebration. Because ultimately, it will mean nothing to him if Houston loses. Champagne for an ALDS win? Seriously?

The Wagering Strategy

Because of the strength of the Astros’ pitching staff and their ability to possibly use Verlander three times if rain forces the series to be delayed, it’s going to take a leap of faith for Yankees fans to believe that their team can win four games. That’s especially true since Houston’s second-best starter, Framber Valdez, went 17-6 and led the major leagues with 26 quality starts.


So the expectation, especially given the low batting averages for both teams, will be for low-scoring games. And for that, we must assume that Verlander’s most recent start was an outlier.

Keep a close eye on player props, especially strikeout over/unders for the starters. Verlander’s is 6 1/2 and Taillon’s is 3 1/2 for Game 1.

Verlander has an over/under line of just 1 1/2 walks allowed, and it should be noted that he hasn’t walked two batters in a game since July 23. His season high for walks allowed was three, and it happened only twice: on Opening Day in April and again on May 15. So the under would seem likely, and it’s priced at -160 if you want to use it in building a parlay.

Bader leads the Yankees with three postseason home runs and he’s +950 to homer Wednesday night. Giancarlo Cabrera had two HRs vs. Cleveland and is +425 to hit a homer while Judge is +210. Alvarez, who hit 37 homers in the regular season, is +330 for Houston. New York’s Gleiber Torres is +550 to steal a base, and since manufacturing runs on the basepaths will be paramount, we look for Yankees manager Aaron Boone to try to take a few chances. Shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who led the Yankees with 22 regular-season stolen bases, is at +425 to swipe one in Game 1.

It should be a great series and thankfully, unlike the NL, the American League has left us with its two best regular-season teams.

The Astros are +140 to win the World Series, the Phillies are +270, the Yankees are +350, and the Padres are +500. If you really, truly believe that the Yanks will win it all, you should probably take them at +500 to defeat the Phillies and +1000 to defeat the Padres. But that counsel is for true believers only. Good luck.