Series Preview: Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees (6/20-6/23)


It's been a good run the past week for the first-place Yankees.  They are entering a series against the also first-place Houston Astros, fresh off a sweep of their division rivals, the second-place Tampa Bay Rays.  Meanwhile, the Astros come to the Bronx limping after getting swept by the now 34-38 Reds.

While we at the BBB tend to focus on pitching matchups in our series previews, this series is going to be a notable one for reasons that relate to the Yankees’ offense.  Why?  More and more of the ‘A-Team’ is returning from the Injured List.  Giancarlo Stanton returned to the active roster this past Tuesday.  With his rehab assignment now completed, Aaron Judge is slated to return by the end of the current week.  Didi Gregorius hasn’t been back for too long.  So, the spotlight in the press will be on the question of… who is going to be in the starting lineup?

Does Aaron Boone sit Cameron Maybin to make room for Judge?  With Maybin's current home run hot streak, that would be a difficult decision for any manager to make.  Many questions will be answered in this series by Boone in how he will construct the lineup going forward. 

Photo Credit: AP

Game One, Thursday, June 20, 7:05 PM
Framber Valdez (3-2, 2.77 ERA) vs. Chad Green (1-2, 7.54 ERA)
Beginning the season as a relief pitcher, Valdez just came into the starting rotation as of June 14th to replace Corbin Martin, who was sent back to the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate.  So, for the purposes of clarification, he’s not being used as an opener.  He’s had experience in the starting rotation at the minor league level, and as such, having a role in the success of the rotation is not new for him.  Valdez has overall enjoyed success at the big-league level this season, going 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA across 39 innings. He hasn’t faced the Yankees yet this season, so it’s difficult to predict how they’ll fare.  However, the fact that Valdez is a new starter, as well as the fact that he isn’t used to the Yankees, are both facts that make him an easier target in the rotation than, say, Justin Verlander.

The Yanks will once again be using this spot in the rotation as a "bullpen day" with reliever Chad Green being the opener. Each of the last two bullpen days have resulted in victories for the Yanks and Green has played a major role in that. He's pitched four innings across his last two starts, allowing just two hits, no runs, and striking out nine. As it seems to have worked lately, the Yanks will continue using this every fifth day until Luis Severino returns if Green continues to excel. 

Game Two, Friday, June 21, 7:05 PM
Brad Peacock (6-4, 3.67 ERA) vs. James Paxton (4-3, 3.93 ERA)
On the 2019 season, Brad Peacock has already logged 71.0 IP and a coincidental 71 strikeouts.  His ERA has stayed steady the past few years, hovering around 3.00 and not going any higher than 3.69 in 2016.  So, he’s not an ace by any means, but he’s a very solid pitcher for the Astros.  His numbers versus the Yankees in 2019 lend more truth to that statement; the Yankees offense is 12-for-48 against Peacock, with a combined average of .250. He was on an absolute tear from his May 7th start until the end of the month, giving up a combined three runs across five starts in 29 innings (0.93 ERA).  Since then, Peacock has cooled off in the month of June, going 1-2 with a 5.51 ERA.

Big Maple is coming into this series with a win, and that couldn’t come at a better time.  Prior to his June 16th win against the Chicago White Sox, he hadn’t earned a win since April 26th.  While a large part of this dry spell can be attributed to Paxton’s injury, some of it can also be attributed to Paxton's struggles on the mound following his return from injury last month.  Paxton was on the losing side of his start against Houston back in April, but one of the bright spots here is that the Astros are a lifetime 56-for-208 against Paxton, with a combined average of .269.  The other bright spot?  Paxton's latest start gives him some momentum coming into perhaps his biggest outing of the year against a potential playoff opponent.

Photo Credit: Brad Penner/USA Today Sports

Game Three, Saturday, June 22, 7:15 PM
Wade Miley (6-4, 3.30 ERA) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (5-5, 3.23 ERA)
In the case of the Yankees versus Wade Miley, it’s once again difficult to predict the outcome -- as the 2019 Yankees have not faced Miley yet this season.  So, any analysis has to be based off previous years, as well as Miley’s numbers against other teams.  That said, he's enjoyed a very nice season in his first year with the team.  It could be safe to say that Miley’s luck could run out against the still-in-first-place Yankees’ offense -- especially considering that the offense holds a lifetime .330 average against him.  Newcomer Edwin Encarnacion has enjoyed great success against Miley, going 7-for-19 in his career. 

Tanaka is coming off a remarkable performance on June 17th.  That’s not to say he’ll be perfect; historically, Tanaka is known for putting up stellar games and then following them up with more mediocre starts, failing to meet high expectations.  In his lone start against the Astros this season, he was granted with a no-decision.  That said, the Yankees lost that game on April 8th through no fault of Tanaka; that game was another one of those stellar Tanaka performances.  He went six IP, allowing just one run and three hits.  The Yankees’ offense couldn’t hold its own following Tanaka’s exit from this game, and back in April, that offense became a legitimate concern.  In June, not so much -- in fact, the offense is packed with too much power.  The Astros have historically hit Tanaka relatively well, as they're a lifetime 32-for-103 against him (.311).  So… Tanaka needs to not let his guard down, not give into his inconsistency, and the offense needs to hold its own if Tanaka deserves to win after he’s pulled from the game. 

Game Four, Sunday, June 23, 2:05PM
Justin Verlander (9-3, 2.59 ERA) vs. JA Happ (7-3, 4.59 ERA)
The 2019 Yankees have faced Verlander once on the season, and while he was not awarded a decision, the Yankees didn’t win the game.  Verlander still went six innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and two walks.  The Yankees’ offense is a lifetime 52-for-248 against Verlander, which totals out to an average of only .210.  It’s not just the stuff of legends, or postseasons past, that should keep the offense on its collective guard on Sunday; the numbers versus Verlander speak for themselves, and the sooner he’s out of the game, the better, although the Astros bullpen has been quite stellar this season as well.  But, like everything else where Verlander is concerned, removing him won’t be an easy task. 

While the Yankees may not be able to match Verlander from a pitching matchup standpoint JA Happ has shown great improvement from the beginning of the season in his most recent starts.  The fact that he’s up against Verlander shouldn’t take away from his improvement going into this series.  He logged four wins in the month of May, and two already in June.  He defeated the Rays on June 18th, going five IP allowing seven hits, but just two runs.  Happ has not faced the Astros yet this season, but in looking at the lifetime numbers, there is more good news.  The Astros are 31-for-113, with a .274 average.  The Yanks need a big performance from Happ to stay in this game against a guy like Verlander. 

In order for the Yankees to keep their first place standing, it’s important for them to win this series.  However, it won’t be an easy series to win, especially considering an appearance from Verlander as well as an overall weaker starting rotation.  If the Yankees’ offense keeps up, they’ll have a far better shot at winning.  The other bit of good news?  The Astros were just swept by the fourth-place Cincinnati Reds. 

Article by: Mary Grace Donaldson                                                

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