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The New York Yankees swept the Minnesota Twins while the Houston Astros handled the Tampa Bay Rays in their respective American League Divisional Series, and now they meet up for what should be a thrilling seven-game series to crown an American League champion.
The Yankees outscored the Twins in their three-game set, 23-7. Tommy Kahnle, Masahiro Tanaka, and Chad Green found themselves being declared the winning pitchers. Aroldis Chapman picked up the save in the third and final game. The Yankees advanced quite easily, ending the Twins’ season that saw them finish with the best record in the AL Central and hit the most home runs in a single season in baseball history.
As for the Astros, their series had some more suspense. Their five-tilt set with the Rays saw Houston barely emerge victorious in the run column (19-18) and the win column (3-2). The elite one-two punch of Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander won Games 1 and 2 before Zack Greinke and Verlander pitched to losses in Tampa Bay in Games 3 and 4. The series returned to Houston for the fifth match, which the Astros won, led by ace Gerrit Cole.
We have yet to receive much clarity or confirmation from either teams regarding what roster changes they will make ahead of their best-of-seven showdown, but the one move that has been reported is quite significant. The Yankees are expected to activate center fielder Aaron Hicks from the 60-day injured list. Hicks’ season appeared to be over just a week ago, but suddenly he is healthy enough to play in the Yankees’ biggest series so far this year. Hicks appeared in just 59 games this regular season, slashing .235/.325/.443 with 36 runs plated on 52 hits, including 12 homers. He struck out 72 times and drew 32 walks.
Hicks is expected to replace Tyler Wade on the postseason roster. Ford, a first baseman, was on the Yankees’ ALDS roster but did not make an appearance as breakout star D.J. LeMahieu held that post.
Starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia is also a candidate to make the team’s ALCS, although as of now, it is mostly speculation based on comments indicating he feels ready to return. Manager Aaron Boone said Friday he had yet to make a decision on Sabathia, and hadn’t come to a decision regarding Hicks, either.
As for Houston, manager A.J. Hinch didn’t have much to say at his media appearance, and there haven’t been many reports about the roster structure of the ALCS. The biggest move that we know is in the works is the Astros’ contemplating whether or not to add reliever Brad Peacock to the ALCS roster. Hinch mentioned it was possible he’d be promoted as an extra arm, so presumably any move would see one of their 14 position players demoted. The Astros have six outfielders, so Kyle Tucker or Myles Straw seem like the most likely demotions, but it’s worth noting Hinch said Tucker could be a possible starter in the series. Also regarding the outfield, Hinch said Aledmys Diaz took ground and fly balls in left field and he could start there, shifting Michael Brantley to right field.
The series kicks off Saturday at 8:08 p.m. EST in Houston on FOX. Zack Greinke will toe the rubber for the Astros while Masahiro Tanaka gets the ball for New York. On Sunday, also at 8:08 p.m. EST but this time on FS1, Justin Verlander and James Paxton will get the nods for their respective teams.
The teams have the day off on Monday before traveling to New York ahead of Game 3 on Tuesday at 4:08 p.m. EST. That contest will be started by Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino. Game 4, which could be the earliest the series ends, will start at 8:08 p.m. EST on FS1. Starting pitchers for Games 4 and beyond have yet to be announced. Game 5 is also in New York and will begin on FS1 at 8:08 p.m. EST.
The series returns to Houston for the final two games next weekend. Saturday’s Game 6 is expected to start at 4:08 p.m. EST on FS1, but if the NLCS between the Nationals and Cardinals concludes prior to Saturday, the ALCS contest will be moved back to 8:08 p.m. EST. The final game of the series would begin at 7:08 p.m. EST, also on FS1.
According to BetOnline, the Astros are 63/100 favorite to win the series, while the Yankees check in as 7/5 underdogs. Meanwhile, FiveThirtyEight gives the Astros a 54 percent chance to reach the World Series.
In all likelihood, this game will require all seven games. The Astros’ pitching staff is elite, but the Yankees’ bats came alive for the second-best single-season home run performance in baseball history this year. Jumping out to a quick start in individual games will be crucial for success in this series, as is always the case when star pitchers face off against each other ... especially with a trip to the World Series on the line.