Astros 2-0 ALCS stranglehold revives familiar postseason refrains with new questions

Astros 2-0 ALCS stranglehold revives familiar postseason refrains with new questions
Yuli Gurriel has been a difference-maker for Houston. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

With the Minute Maid Park roof open on a cool, gusty Thursday night, the Astros jumped to a 2-0 lead over the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

The Astros took a tight 3-2 win bolstered by a 3-run Breggy Bomb and another quality start by pitcher Framber Valdez – you were expecting something else?

Valdez scattered four hits over seven innings, allowing only two unearned runs courtesy of a bonehead throwing error by Valdez himself in the fourth inning.

Valdez, like Justin Verlander the night before, got stronger as the game wore on, finishing his night striking out the side in the seventh inning.

The performance was typical for Valdez, a quality start machine. The Cy Young contender had 25 consecutive quality starts this year, a single-season record. He also was the winning pitcher for the American League in the All-Star Game.

Yuli Gurriel added to his torrid hit count in the post-season with two singles, Jeremy Pena continued to exorcize the ghost of Correa Past with another hit and slick fielding. But it was Alex Bregman with the decider, a three-run shot over the Crawford Boxes off Yankee starter Luis Severino.

Astros pitchers held Yankee sluggers Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Rizzo in check, allowing only an innocent single by Judge.

The ALCS now heads to New York where the Astros can clinch their ticket to the World Series if they win two of three scheduled games at Yankee Stadium.

The Astros do have their worries despite remaining undefeated in the post-season. Jose Altuve’s hitting woes continued Thursday, stretching his hitless streak to 23 at bats. He stands at 0 for the post-season.

Sports network commentators are pouring over facts and figures, spouting obscure analytics to explain the Astros dominance over the Yankees. Not necessary. Here’s the bottom line on this American League Championship Series.

You got eyes? The Astros simply are better than the Yankees. Better hitting, better pitching, better fielding, certainly better in the clutch.

Despite the name on the front of their jerseys and 27 World Series pennants waving over Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Bombers are not a well rounded ball club. There’s no Murderer’s Row in 2022. After a hot start, the Yankees were under .500 during August, September and October. Heading into Thursday night’s Game 2 of the LCS, Aaron Judge was swatting .167 in the post-season. Gleyber Torres was hitting an anemic .130. Josh Donaldson was at .211, Giancarlo Stanton at .200.

Yankee fan might say, well, Kyle Tucker and Altuve aren’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard, either. And Wednesday night, your top hitters Kyle Tucker, Altuve, Bregman and Alvarez went a collective 0-12.

Note to Yankee fan: you ain’t us. Stop it.

After a sloppy start, Justin Verlander blew away Yankee batters in Game 1. Valdez did the same in Game 2. The Astros bullpen kept the Yankees scoreless, topped off by Ryan Pressly slamming the door both nights. Yankee hitters looked like they were swatting flies at a backyard barbecue. The Yankees struck out 17 times, the Astros only twice in Game 1. It was the biggest K disparity in post-season history.

There was talk both nights that Minute Maid crowds were strangely subdued for close, post-season games against the arch rival Yankees. If true, there are reasons. There were plenty of Yankee fans present and they had nothing to yell about. The roof was open Thursday, which allows noise to escape into the night. But mainly, the LCS commands high ticket prices, and rich folk aren’t built for whoopin’ and hollerin’. One positive result of corporate-funded fans super-glued to their seats: no wave.

The series has provided sports talk radio with a hot topic: should the Astros drop Altuve from the leadoff spot in the batting order? True, Altuve is mired in a historic slump in the post-season. But Altuve could take a collar the rest of the LCS, it wouldn’t matter. Don’t forget who the Astros manager is, and why he was hired. Dusty Baker exudes calm confidence in his players. Altuve could go up to the plate with a Wiffle Ball bat and Dusty wouldn’t demote him.

Prediction: I can’t see the LCS going more than five games. Since the LCS isn’t coming back to Minute Maid Park, here’s a tip for fans attending the World Series at Minute Maid Park. Get there early. I got to the stadium at 5:30 p.m. for the 6:37 start Wednesday and walked in without a wait at the home plate entrance. The concession stands had no lines, either. By first pitch, I was fed, rested and ready for baseball.

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How Astros retribution campaign hinges on solving outfield balancing act

While most of the Astros roster is returning for the 2024 season, there are still some areas of uncertainty for the club. Astros manager Joe Espada will have some tough decisions to make in his first season managing the team.

The Astros infield is set, so we know who will be playing on a nightly basis, assuming health. The outfield is where things get tricky. Espada told the Houston Chronicle last week that he hopes to play Alvarez more in left field this season, which would open up the DH spot for Chas McCormick and players he would like to rest while keeping their bat in the lineup (Yainer Diaz, Jose Altuve, etc).

Astros GM Dana Brown would like to see if Jake Meyers can hit well enough to play regularly in center field. This is a team that stresses defense, which Meyers provides. But if defense is the top priority, wouldn't that mean Chas McCormick should play left field with Yordan Alvarez hitting in the DH spot?

Certainly, there will be nights when that's the case. The reality of the situation is all these guys are going to play, but how much and where is yet to be seen.

Houston plays 20 games in 21 days to start the season, so it's not going to take long to see if Meyers is providing enough offense to play regularly. If we get into the month of May and Meyers is an offensive liability in the lineup, we won't be surprised if his playing time starts to decrease. But by how much?

Don't miss the video as we examine how Joe Espada will deploy his outfielders and get the most out of the DH this season!

Watch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every week on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.

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