BRING ON THE YANKEES!
5 key factors that could determine outcome of Astros-Yankees series
After sweeping the Mets in a two-game series at Minute Maid Park, the Astros will head to the Big Apple to square off against the Yankees in what will be the most anticipated matchup of the season thus far.
Both Houston (43-25) and New York (50-18) have been the top two teams in the American League since May 11 and will play the first of a four-game series starting on Thursday.
If the Astros want to prove they are the best team in baseball, their elite players need to showcase their skills and win on the biggest stage in the biggest city.
1. Altuve must silence the crowd again
Last season, the Astros only managed to win one game in The Bronx thanks to some late inning heroics from New York “fan favorite” Jose Altuve who powered a game-winning home run to silence the relentless crowd.
It’s not a stretch to say Altuve might be the most hated baseball player in New York, but that doesn’t seem to affect him.
Although Yankee elites will continue to spew their venom towards the 2017 A.L. MVP, his ability to shut out the noise and perform at the plate under these circumstances will be one of the Astros' best assets during the series.
Throughout his career, Altuve has consistently been able to drive a stake into the heart of Yankee fans time after time.
The All-Star second baseman is currently hitting .269 and has no fear of taking on the Yankees in New York.
2. Bregman’s bat stays hot
Similarly to Altuve, Alex Bregman is no stranger to the boo birds, and doesn’t seem too affected by the harassment. So playing in front of the relentless crowd at Yankee Stadium won’t be a problem for him either.
Sure, it’s no secret that the former All-Star isn’t having a great season so far, but things seem to be turning around as Bregman has a .292 batting average with two home runs and four RBI over his last seven games.
It was only a matter of time before the former 1st round pick would start to figure things out at the plate.
This Astros' lineup is already potent as it stands, but when Bregman returns to form, more than the Yankees should be concerned when facing Houston.
3. Air Yordan takes flight in the Big Apple
Yordan Alvarez is having a tremendous season, and has been on a tear as of late.
Since signing his six-year extension on June 6, the 24-year-old is hitting .429 with five home runs, 17 RBI and a 1.347 OPS.
Alvarez is on pace to earn the American League Player of the Month for June and doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.
The last time the Cuban native went to Yankee Stadium, he hit two homers off of former Astros’ pitcher Gerrit Cole, and looks forward to returning to the Big Apple.
"Whenever a player goes to New York and plays there, it's just really exciting with the history of that team and the ballpark," Álvarez said through a translator. "We know they're a really good team so we're just going to compete and try to win."
Alvarez will certainly be looking forward to hitting bombs towards the infamously short right field porch at Yankee Stadium.
4. The pitching staff stays strong
The Astros are scheduled to have Framber Valdez, Justin Verlander, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy take the mound this series and all of them have some varying degree of previous success against the Yankees.
Justin Verlander (albeit more in the postseason) has had multiple dominating performances against the Bronx Bombers and will take the mound on Friday against Luis Severio in what should be an elite pitcher's duel.
The other three aforementioned starters will look to continue their impressive season thus far as well.
If the Astros' starting pitchers can continue to keep them in games like they have all season, there is no reason Houston won’t be ready to face whatever the Yankees throw at them.
5. One bonus note
Astros’ shortstop Jeremy Pena has been on the injured list since June 15 with left thumb discomfort but will be eligible to come off the IL as early as this Friday.
Pena took swings in the batting cage and was spotted fielding ground balls Tuesday and assuming all goes well these next few days, he could rejoin the Astros sometime during the Yankee series
If the 24-year-old rookie does return, it will give Houston one more deadly weapon that the Yankees would rather not face.
Jake Meyers could also make his 2022 season debut as his minor league rehab assignment runs out this week. Other moves would have to be made, but the potential for Meyers to return could bolster this already lethal lineup.
Pena and Meyers may not come back in time for the Yankee series, but if they do, the Astros may have the best lineup in the league.
Watch out New York, Houston is coming.