This four game set matched the AL West and AL East division leaders at Yankee Stadium. Both teams feature lineups with some promising young talent mixed in with a few veterans. Each also has a solid top of the rotation that turns a bit iffy at the bottom, so it’s good that both offenses are among the highest scoring in the league. More after the jump.
Game 1 pitted Houston ace Dallas Keuchel against Michael Pineda for the Yankees. The Astros got the early jump with a Carlos Correa two run homer in the first. It was home run number 47 of Correa’s career, just eight behind Cal Ripken for the second most home runs by a shortstop through his age 22 season (A-Rod is safe in first place with 106 blasts, the most for any player by age 22, regardless of position). The Astros extended their lead to 3-0 in the 5th inning, thanks to a timely steal of second by Nori Aoki after Alex Bregman was erased trying to take third base on Aoki’s comebacker to the mound. Two pitches after reaching second, Aoki scored on George Springer‘s two out single. New York got that run back in the bottom of the inning, thanks to a Houston error and a catcher’s interference call, with the 3-1 score holding until the 9th inning. With two out and Aaron Hicks at first in the home 9th, Jacoby Ellsbury singled and then stole second to put the tying run in scoring position. Gary Sanchez followed with a single to cash Hicks but Ellsbury was gunned down at the plate by defensive replacement Jake Marisnick in left, preserving a league-leading 6th win for Keuchel and league-leading 10th save for Astro closer Ken Giles. Final score: Astros 3, Yankees 2
Keuchel’s 6-0 record matches his start to the 2015 season, and makes him the 21st starting pitcher and first Astro with a pair of 6-0 starts for the same franchise. Keuchel’s first 6 starts going at least 7 innings and allowing 2 runs or less is also a first for an Astro; only 6 pitchers since 1913 have a longer such streak to begin a season, led by Johnny Cueto‘s run of 9 starts in 2014. At the conclusion of this game, 7 Astros had reached 30 hits for the year, a franchise record for the first 35 games of a season. The Yankees tied a franchise record with 7 starters striking out and recording exactly one hit; it was their second such game this season and third since last July, one more than their total for the 103 seasons from 1913 to 2015.
Game 2 saw Houston follow Keuchel with Lance McCullers, the right-handed half of the daunting 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. New York countered with their no. 5 starter, rookie Jordan Montgomery. Returning from injury that cut short his 2016 campaign, McCullers is again averaging better than one strikeout per inning and thus far has cut his walk rate from last year almost in half. He continued his fine form in this game, holding the Yankees scoreless through 6 innings while allowing no walks and only 4 hits. Brian McCann was the Astro hero this night with an upper deck 3 run homer in the 5th that provided all the scoring Houston would need. Final score: Astros 5, Yankees 1
Yankee batters struck out 13 times in this game, one time less than the night before. It was the first time in franchise history with consecutive 13+ strikeout games at home (New York had such back-to-back games on the road in 1964 and 1992). For the Astros, it was their fourth time with consecutive 13+ strikeout games on the road; they have twice recorded three consecutive home games with 13+ strikeouts, both streaks occurring last season.
After rains postponed action on Saturday, the teams played two on a soggy Sunday, starting with Game 3 that saw Astro journeyman Mike Fiers oppose Yankee youngster Luis Severino. After a promising debut in 2015, Severino regressed last year but seems to have regained his form starting this season with a respectable 3.40 ERA starting this game on higher strikeout and lower walk rates than 2016. He also has his GB/FB ratio up and BABIP down, both now about where they were in 2015; last year, despite similar strikeout and walk rates as the season before, Severino’s ERA more than doubled as his BABIP shot up from .265 to .324, likely because his GB/FB ratio dropped from 1.06 to 0.81. One constant in all three of Severino’s seasons is a susceptibility to the long ball, something he’ll need to improve on to assure his long term success. No home runs allowed on this day, but Severino still struggled, needing 77 pitches to record just 7 outs, as Houston nibbled away at him with 5 singles and a hit batter in a 3-run 3rd inning. New York got those runs back and took a 4-3 lead in the fourth on back-to-back jacks by Starlin Castro and the majors’ home run leader Aaron Judge. That score held until a wild 7th inning that saw the Astros again play small ball, manufacturing three runs from a walk, two singles, a sac fly and one critical error by Castro. But, in the bottom of the frame, the Yankees pounded three Houston relievers with two singles, three doubles and a triple to plate six Bronxmen and put the game away. Final score: Yankees 11, Astros 6
While attention has focused, rightly, on Aaron Judge, Starlin Castro has made a great start on what could turn out to be easily his best season in the majors, with projected totals of 120 runs, 226 hits, 32 doubles, 32 home runs and 115 RBI. But, he’s also made large strides in the less noticeable aspects of his offensive game, advancing runners to 3B with less than two outs 67% of the time (previous best is 53%), and advancing runners to 2B with no outs 80% of the time (previous best is 60%).
The Yankees went to their ace, Masahiro Tanaka, for Game 4 to sweep the twin bill and split the series. Opposing him was veteran Charlie Morton, trying for a comeback with the Astros after a torn hamstring sidelined him for most of 2016. Alas, Tanaka just didn’t have it this day, bombarded by Houston from the “play ball” call as George Springer and Josh Reddick took Tanaka deep on consecutive pitches leading off the game, and Alex Bregman added a third round-tripper as nine Astros came to bat in a 6 run first frame. That lead was extended to 9-0 after four innings to seal the deal, with a 3 run ninth by the Yankees serving only to make the score respectable. Final score: Astros 10, Yankees 7.
New York got less than 3 innings from its starter in both ends of this double-header, something that hadn’t happened to the Yankees since Bob Turley and Duke Maas took it on the chin from the Tigers on May 3, 1959. The Yankees are 12-0 so far this season when Aaron Judge homers, but only 10-13 when he doesn’t. Since reaching his high-water mark statistically 10 days ago, Judge has just one home run and a .240/.367/.480 slash; hardly a slump, but cooling off just a bit nonetheless.
At the conclusion of this series, Houston has none of its regular starting nine batting .300, but also none hitting below .250. Without a soft spot in the batting order, it’s proving to be a potent offensive machine with the Astros currently ranking first in the AL in hits and BA, and second in runs, OBP, SLG and OPS.
This series saw the Yankees strike out 54 times, including eleven or more in each game. It’s the first time for New York to reach double-digits in strikeouts in each game of a 4-game series at home and extends their home game streak of 10+ strikeouts to 6 games, twice as long as any previous occasion. Another double-digit strikeout game against the Royals on Tuesday will tie the franchise’s longest streak of 5 such games, home or away. Similar story for the Astros who had not previously recorded double-digit strikeouts in four consecutive road games against the same opponent.