The big difference between the AL and NL this year is twofold; namely, the AL has twice as many powerhouse teams as the NL. That said, both the Astros and Yankees could have their hands full with the little-engines-that-could, the Rays and Twins. Yes, the Astros are baseball’s closest thing to a dynasty, and yes, the Yankees are 5-for-5 against the Twins in the playoffs this century. But don’t assume it will be that easy for these clubs.
Let’s look a little closer at the Junior Circuit matchups:
Rays vs. Astros
This one is supposed to be a mismatch. The Rays are a bunch of castoffs and employed a three- or four-man rotation this year. The Astros have the best 1-2 punch the game has seen in some time, and a historically good lineup in some respects. No chance, three-game sweep — right?
Maybe not. While I expect Houston to advance, the Astros are certainly cognizant of the fact that the Rays took the season series, 4-3, and just hit four home runs against a stout A’s pitching staff in the wild card game. The Rays won 96 games in a rugged American League East and come in hot, having won two games against the Yankees last week before their ambush in Oakland.
In the end, the Astros are so talented in every facet and, unfortunately the Rays, very experienced in recent years in October. This isn’t some flash-in-the-pan team that always falls flat on its face in October; the ‘Stros were world champs with the most difficult path of all-time perhaps in 2017 before returning to the ALCS last year.
The only way the Rays pull the stunner is to salvage a split in Houston before returning to the Trop for Game 3, where former Astro Charlie Morton will be on the hill. If Houston takes the first two at home, the series is done. Prediction: Astros in 4.
Twins vs. Yankees
Oh, so the Twins are back for more, are they? Before we start our Minnesota bashing and rehash the Twinkies’ past October failures against the Bronx Bombers, let’s acknowledge one thing: this series could be about as much fun a playoff series as we’ve ever seen. 613 home runs combined between these clubs? Sign me up.
But what will ultimately tip the scales will be the pitching. Both teams have question marks in the starting rotation, but the Yankees have the superior bullpen. I believe homefield advantage and experience also favors the Yanks, and they have survived a rash of injuries all year. Minnesota earned its AL Central crown, but the Yankees are more battle tested from the AL East and needs to scrub the bad taste of falling in this round last year to Boston.
I expect Luis Severino and D.J. LeMahieu to be big X-factors for the Yankees in this series. Severino was a major culprit last year when he was bombed in a Game 3 loss to the Sox last year and needs to turn in a great start in Game 3 this time around. LeMahieu has been baseball’s steadiest player wire-to-wire and I think he’ll have a big series setting the table for his lineup-mates. Prediction: Yankees in 4.