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Brett Borzelli

The Houston Astros Just Won the Pennant, Here’s How They Got it Done

The Yankees outperformed the Astros in every statistical category during the ALCS. But the Astros won the series. So how did they pull it off?

The New York Yankees outperformed the Houston Astros in every statistical category during the American League Championship Series. They outhomered them six to four and outhit them .205 to .187. The Yankees had a better on-base percentage (.274 to .271) and higher slugging average (.347 to .294).

New York was more productive with runners in scoring position, going 11-for-43 (.256) compared with Houston’s 9-for-43 (.209). Yankee pitchers also posted better numbers, with a 2.73 ERA and .565 OPS against. Astros pitchers had a 3.30 ERA and .621 OPS against.

Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge put up the best offensive numbers on either team. He hit three homers, drove in seven runs, and finished the series with a 1.065 OPS.

Despite losing the battle of the stat sheet, the Astros won the series. So how did they pull that off?

Justin Verlander Comes Up Aces

In a series that featured outstanding pitching, Houston had the one guy who stood head and shoulders above the rest. That would be Justin Verlander, who was voted ALCS MVP for his efforts.

Verlander’s complete game five-hitter in Game Two gave the Astros a 2-0 lead in the series and prevented the Yankees from having the opportunity to clinch the pennant at home. The former Cy Young and AL MVP Award winner bent, but didn’t break. Although he allowed some hard contact throughout the game, he limited the Yankees to just one run, striking out 13 in the process.

With his team facing elimination, Verlander came through again in Game Six. He threw seven shutout innings this time, while limiting the Bombers to five hits and striking out eight to earn his second win of the series.

The teams split the two matchups between Masahiro Tanaka and Dallas Keuchel. Ditto for the two confrontations between CC Sabathia and Charlie Morton, while the Yankees took the lone face off between Sonny Gray and Lance McCullers. It was Verlander’s performance in his starts versus Luis Severino that was the real difference in this series.

Jose Altuve is Clutch

Of course, as the Yankees discovered, you don’t win if you don’t score. Another reason the Astros won this series is their second baseman, Jose Altuve. The American League batting champion scored two of Houston’s four runs in the first two games of the series, including the game-winner in the bottom of the ninth in Game Two.

Altuve got what turned out to be the game-winning RBI with his two-run single in the fifth inning of Game Six to give the Astros a 3-0 lead. He also homered in the fifth inning of Game Seven to give the Astros a 2-0 lead. Although the team scored a pair later in the inning, that initial extra run courtesy of Altuve’s blast came at a critical point of the game and could have loomed large.

The All-Star showed us time and time again during this series why he is a serious MVP contender. He arguably could have been named co-MVP of the ALCS along with Verlander.

Key Contributions from Correa, Gurriel, and Gattis

In contrast to their regular season production, the Astros’ stats for this series don’t exactly jump off the page. But players executed in key situations and the team came out on top as a result.

Carlos Correa drove in three of Houston’s four runs in Games One and Two, while Yulieski Gurriel knocked the other RBI. So Altuve, Correa, and Gurriel were responsible for the entire run production for two of the four wins the Astros needed to advance to the World Series. The rest of Houston’s lineup was completely shut down by Yankee pitching in those two games, but it didn’t matter. Those three players came up big to help Keuchel and Verlander win their respective pitching duels. Both games were 2-1 finals.

Even role players stepped up for Houston. Backup catcher Evan Gattis was 1-for-10 in this series, but his lone hit was a solo shot off CC Sabathia in the fourth inning of Game Seven. This proved to be the pennant clinching knock, as the Yankees were shut out in the final game 4-0.

Home Field Advantage

One final thought, the Astros earned home field advantage for this series by winning more regular season games than the Yankees. This proved to be critical, as neither team came away with a single ALCS victory on the road. In fact, this is only the fifth time in history that each game in a best-of-seven series was won by the home team.

Give the Astros credit. They struggled at Yankee Stadium, but won all four games at Minute Maid Park over a tough opponent. They have clinched their first pennant since moving to the American League and will face the Dodgers in the World Series beginning on Tuesday.

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Brett Borzelli writes about the New York Yankees on Pinstripe Alley and Baseknock MLB. He is a member of the IBWAA. You may peruse his Baseknock MLB articles by clicking here.

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