Phenomenal Astros starting pitching toyed with Yankees lineup in ALCS


The New York Yankees are officially into offseason mode, as the team was gruesomely defeated in a four-game sweep in the American League Championship Series by the Houston Astros. The Astros move on to the Fall Classic.

As the Yankees clear out their lockers, questions linger in the minds of team members and the front office regarding 2023, potential offseason moves, trades, signings, firings, and management shuffles.

Needless to say, this season was a failure, as not even a World Series appearance has been accomplished in the Bronx … since 2009.

Before we can dive into all that, we must dissect the way this series went down. How did the Astros dominate the Yankees? Pitching. The Houston starters were on point and the bullpen was above satisfactory, with assistance from a struggling Yankees lineup.

Yankees bats were muzzled by the Houston Astros pitching staff

Going into this ALCS, the Yankees and Astros were not far apart in pitching depth and reliability.

In the regular season, the Astros ranked second to the Dodgers in ERA with a 2.90 team mark. The Yankees ranked third with a 3.30 ERA.

The Yankees were outscored 18-9 in this series while being completely shut out in Game 3. Here’s how the Houston starting pitching marked up their outings:

Game 1 – RHP Justin Verlander

The Astros started veteran ace right-hander Justin Verlander in Game 1, who looks like a Cy Young Award winner this year. Verlander finished his year with an 18-4 record, 1.75 ERA, 185 strikeouts and 29 walks over 175 innings.

What did Verlander look like in Game 1 against New York? Absolutely dominant. Each weapon Verlander has was on point; the slider, curveball, and fastball were all as effective as they could be. Despite the Yankees getting to him early in the game, Justin settled in after the third inning, found his command, and worked the zone with all of his magic.

His curveball and slider were deployed well against left-handed hitters, biting inside, in, and out of the zone with late break. The hook worked a 12-6 route, with the slider starting in and working outward. The four-seam fastball was located well, but the two-seamer was sparky and ran with a ton of movement up and inside to right-handed bats, while also moving out and into the zone.

Verlander went a strong six innings with 11 strikeouts, only allowing three hits.

Game 2 – LHP Framber Valdez

The Dominican southpaw was another gem for Houston this season. Framber Valdez went 17-6 on the year with a 2.82 ERA. He struck out 194 hitters, only walked 67, and posted a 1.16 WHIP over 201.1 innings pitched. This alone should illustrate the type of game he had against the Yankees, even without his very best command.

Valdez was “Picasso” on the mound, displaying his repertoire and testing his offerings while turning being slightly scattered into a masterpiece. He threw 101 pitches while going deep into vulnerable counts, and served Yankees hitters mistakes that they did not capitalize on. Valdez was able to make the right pitches in the right scenarios to find success.

Regardless of his repertoire, his composure, tempo, and consistency in delivery were key to a victorious outing. He was calm and collected, with clear visible confidence in his abilities. We saw a sinker, curveball, changeup, and four-seamer from the 28-year-old. The hook is what we saw the most; his spinning pitches got him through this game, gaining nine groundouts, three flyouts, and striking out nine Yankees hitters in seven innings pitched.

Game 3 – RHP Cristian Javier

Game 3 saw the Dominican arm from the other side of the mound, Cristian Javier. This right-hander carved up the New York lineup in 5.1 innings, not allowing a run and only letting up one hit.

In Game 2, the Yankees saw their fair share of curveballs. In Game 3, Javier relied primarily on his fastball. His tempo was set to keep hitters antsy in the box, while attacking in and around the zone with the heater.  He challenged the Yankees with an excellent biting four-seam/two-seam combo, and later mixed in a slider and changeup, keeping the offense silent before the bullpen took charge.

Game 4 – RHP Lance McCullers Jr.

The only sign of life the Yankees had was in five innings against Lance McCullers Jr. New York put up a four-spot on eight hits, with three of those runs earned against McCullers Jr. in 5 innings of work.

McCullers Jr. has long been known for his outing back in 2017 to punch a World Series ticket against the Yankees. This time around, things didn’t go as well as the “Consecutive Curveballs Game,” but the awakening Yankee lineup was still not awake enough to avoid elimination, as the Astros bullpen eventually took over.

The struggling Yankees lineup is a topic in itself, and the success of a collective bullpen effort from the Astros is another. These two topics were contributing factors to the outcome of this series, but the Houston starting rotation was electric and at its finest, capturing the clear No. 1 narrative spot.

New York’s pitching was satisfactory, but backed by a weak offensive performance. You can bet that Yankees management will have their work cut out this offseason to address multiple issues regarding the mishaps this postseason.