Yankees & Astros meet now, but the real collision is at the deadline

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Yankees and the Astros, barring some unforeseen calamity, will both make the playoffs in 2017 and they could wind up clashing in the ALCS. But the real drama between the teams may not take place on the field, but instead at the trade deadline.

The Yankees will have no problem maintaining the challenge of being up for every game this weekend when the Western Division-leading Houston Astros arrive in New York for a four-game set beginning tomorrow night.

The series is exciting for a number of reasons. For one, there is a good chance both teams will meet in the 2017 Playoffs, and one of them will then wind up in the World Series if Cleveland doesn’t wake up soon and have something to say about it.

But it’s also a compelling match-up because the teams are so evenly matched. Consider just a few stats that make the point:

Batting Average                     Astros  .275                 Yankees  .273

On-Base Percentage                           .343                                  .357

Home Runs                                                45                                     52

Earned Run Average                            3.46                                  3.58

Base On Balls                                          103                                      97

Strikeouts/Pitching                              319                                   291

But the most interesting of all is that both teams are moving on the same trajectory and fielding teams with a blend of veterans and young talent that is equal to none in the major leagues at the moment. Plus, each team has a stockpile of prospects waiting for their opportunity to make some noise shortly.

What’s missing for both teams though is that one-two punch at the top of the respective starting staffs.

The similarities between the Yankees and Astros extend even to the aces of their starting staffs. Masahiro Tanaka (41- 4.36) and Dallas Keuchel (5-0 1.88) are ground ball machines, inducing batters to either chase or pound their split-finger fastball or sinker, depending on which term you want to use, into the ground. Hitters often describe the feeling as similar to hitting a brick on the occasions when their bat meets the ball.

The rest of the Astros staff balances out evenly with the Yankees as well. Charlie Morton (4-2 3.63) and Lance McCullers Jr (2-1  3.40) equate with Michael Pineda 3-1 3.12) and Luis Severino (2-2 3.40).

Impending collision of Yankees and Astros

What’s missing for both teams though is that one-two punch at the top of the respective starting staffs. If both teams remain at the top of their game, and there’s no reason to expect they won’t, get ready for an all-out blitz by both teams at the trade deadline to land that one guy who’s going to put them over the top.

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In all, there are more than twenty starting pitchers in their team’s regular rotation who have contracts that expire at the end of this season. This makes them prime trade candidates at the deadline in July if their current team doesn’t think they can (or want to) sign them when they become free agents. So, they figure they might as well get something in return for them now.

Among these are recognized names like Jake Arrieta, Bartolo Colon, Jeremy Hellickson, Bob Tillman, Danny Duffy, and, ironically, Michael Pineda. While there’s no Clayton Kershaw listed, any one of these pitchers could conceivably provide the small push either team needs to ride the season home.

Or, either or both teams could reach down into their farm systems to provide for the need. The trouble with that, though, is that by the time August gets here, these young arms are no longer fresh and unlike the time-worn pitchers mentioned above who have been through the stress of a long season and 200 innings, they may not prove to be much help at all.

Nevertheless, the Astros and Yankees have options if they choose to go this route. Francis Martes, who hits the gun regularly at 99 with his other pitches coming in at 94-95, most likely would be the first to get the call for the Astros.

Video Courtesy of the YES Network

For the Yankees, Chance Adams (RHP) or Justus Sheffield (LHP) would be in line for a call-up, and that would most likely be determined by whether a lefty or righthander is being replaced in the rotation.

In sum, both team teams have a tremendous upside, not only this year but at least for the remaining portion of this decade as well. Having said that, both teams have holes in the pitching department that need to be addressed before either team can compete in the short-series playoffs.

For the Yankees, the team I’m more familiar with, it is more likely that Brian Cashman will opt to stick to his master plan which provides a full year in the minors for his top pitching prospects and no call-up until the rosters expand.

In turn, this means that he’ll be active in the trade market at the deadline to land some experienced and reliable help for the starting staff. Which, in turn, means that at least a couple of the Yankees position player prospects will be dealt before the summer is out.

Not to be overlooked either is the roster crunch the Yankees are facing, which could force the need for even more deals than the Yankees might want to make at this time. More on that in the story below.

So while the upcoming series is interesting regarding on-the-field combat between two teams who look like they are playoff bound, the off-field competition between the Yankees and Astros could have at least and equal effect on who ends up where in 2017.