You’ve tried the rest, now try the best. The Yankees travel to Houston to face arguably the best team in baseball for an early-season showdown.
Their Story So Far
At 5-5, the Astros are off to an uneven start mirroring the Yankees. They dropped three of four in Tampa Bay and two of three to the Rangers before sweeping the Athletics.
On the position player side, Houston has a 114 wRC+ as a team, good for ninth in baseball after finishing right near the top a year ago. The Astros’ pitchers have been as advertised with a 2.49 ERA and MLB-best 23.7 percent K-BB rate before allowing eight runs in a thriller Sunday.
While their rotation has undergone significant upheaval, the team remains largely the same, albeit with the additions of OF Michael Brantley and SP Wade Miley.
The Astros are remarkably healthy. Lance McCullers (Tommy John) and Joe Smith (Achilles) went under the knife this offseason, and they’re the only injured players on the 40-man roster.
Sometimes, you get lucky and you face a team’s worst starters: The Yankees had no such luck. The Astros are bringing their top pitchers into this series.
Locked up for another two years before the season, the 36-year-old Verlander faces the Bombers in his third start of the season. He worked around a solo homer on Opening Day for a win but allowed 10 baserunners in four-plus innings of work in Texas.
The former Cy Young award winner averaged 94.5 mph on his fastball, down from 95.1 a year ago, and turned to his changeup more often in these early starts. However, he’s still a fastball-slider pitcher with the slow curve and only occasional change. The spin rates on his pitches remain close to last season’s pitches.
The Yankees can’t seem to get in good hacks against Verlander, who shut them down to the tune of one run, 19 strikeouts and no walks in 14 2/3 innings in two starts last May. Aaron Judge is 0-for-13 against the right-hander with seven strikeouts while Greg Bird and Brett Gardner each have a homer off him.
Tuesday (8:10 PM ET): Jonathan Loaisiga (yet to face ‘Stros) vs. Gerrit Cole (vs. Yankees)
While the Yankees are plenty familiar with Verlander, Cole is a different animal. The former New York first-round pick hasn’t faced the Yankees since 2014 and has a limited history against everyone but D.J. LeMahieu.
Cole is coming off a career year in Houston and has continued despite taking tough luck losses in his first two starts. His 19:3 K:BB ratio tells a different story as the right-hander can rack up strikeouts as much as any pitcher. He primarily works off an upper-90s fastball with a high-80s slider, reflecting Verlander with an occasional curve and changeup.
The spin rate on Cole’s four-seamer has been significantly higher this season (2542 rpm in 2019 vs. 2379 rpm in 2018) and he’s had a higher swing-and-miss rate in the small sample. Meanwhile, he’s yet to give up an extra-base hit on his slider after allowing just 12 a year ago.
Not only did McHugh start a podcast this winter, but he also moved back into the Astros’ rotation. He was All-Star worthy — although not elected — in a one-year stint in Houston’s bullpen, sporting a 1.99 ERA and striking out 94 batters in 72 1/3 innings. He became a relief ace for the Astros, who needed him fully stretched out after letting Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton leave.
The 31-year-old Georgia native has put together two strong starts to begin the season with 13 strikeouts, four walks and six hits in 11 innings. His fastball velocity has gone back down to right around 90 mph (averaged 92.1 in the bullpen) and he’s responded by utilizing his slider nearly as much as his four-seamer and cutter combined.
His slider and curveball generally work as McHugh’s out-pitches, which has led to his career-low usage of his fastball. He also works in a changeup but primarily goes with the slider, curve, four-seamer and cutter.
McHugh is also just a good dude who grows peppers in his garden back home. That isn’t relevant to his pitching, but he is a good follow on social media.
Safe to say, this is going to be a step up from the Orioles’ lineup.
- George Springer, CF (.300/.356/.550, 159 wRC+ in 45 PAs)
- Jose Altuve, 2B (.282/.349/.410, 124 wRC+ in 43 PAs)
- Alex Bregman, 3B (.343/.415/.486, 165 wRC+ in 41 PAs)
- Michael Brantley, LF (.250/.308/.455, 110 wRC+ in 39 PAs)
- Carlos Correa, SS (.259/.310/.481, 127 wRC+ in 29 PAs)
- Yuli Gurriel, 1B (.303/.361/.455, 138 wRC+ in 36 PAs)
- Josh Reddick, RF (.296/.367/.296, 102 wRC+ in 30 PAs)
- Robinson Chirinos, C (.190/.320/429, 119 wRC+ in 26 PAs)
- Tony Kemp, DH (.211/.318/.368, 105 wRC+ in 22 PAs)
On the bench, they have RHH Tyler White (94 wRC+), who plays first and DHs along with INF Aledmys Diaz (67 wRC+), OF Jake Marisnick (157 wRC+) and C Max Stassi (-76 wRC+).
Houston used closer Roberto Osuna and setup man Hector Rondon for an inning each Sunday while getting two innings from Josh James. James is likely unavailable Monday now having pitched consecutive days.
Osuna’s main setup man is usually the recently-extended Ryan Pressly while Will Harris and Chris Devenski work in middle relief. Framber Valdez and James can give Houston some length after working as starters up until this season.
Matchups to watch
Right-handed aces vs. Yankees’ righty-heavy lineup
The Yankees’ righty-laden nine was felled by the likes of Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello last October and with Houston the overwhelming favorite to win the AL West, the Bombers likely have to go through the trio facing them this weekend. Can they finally catch up to Verlander? It remains to be seen, while their matchup with Cole will be a newer test.
Loaisiga against Houston’s gauntlet
Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton have each proven they can handle this Houston lineup. In fact, Paxton went 4-0 with a 2.05 ERA against a similar lineup a year ago. Loaisiga, however, has never had a start against an offense this potent. He surely won’t be facing them for that long, but whether he can even go two turns through is a question mark.