HOUSTON – For the second time in three seasons, the New York Yankees are standing in the Houston Astros way of a trip to the World Series. In 2017, each team won all of their games at home, thus the Astros advanced. The possibility of a repeat of that went out the window after the Yankees took the series opener, 7-0 on Saturday night.
Here are the keys to an Astros win in ALCS game 2 on Sunday.
Bats must wake up
The zero runs scored by the Astros in game one of the ALCS is a guarantee that a victory isn't coming. They can't win if they can't score. They've seen James Paxton twice this season with varying degrees of success. Paxton piled up 12 strikeouts in nine innings over two starts, but also allowed six runs. He allowed 11 baserunners in just four innings when the teams met in April, but got the win in June in Houston by pitching five strong innings, allowed just one run.
Houston managed just three hits, all singles, in the ALCS opener against Masahiro Tanaka. Anything close to a repeat of that and the Astros will be facing a 2-0 deficit in the series as it heads back to New York.
Verlander must return to form
Justin Verlander took the ball on short rest in game four of the ALDS and things did not go well. He hasn't pitched since then and now returns to the mound on regular rest expecting better results. This will be the seventh time Verlander has started against the Yankees in the playoffs. One of those starts was limited to a single inning due to a rain delay and ultimately a postponement. Verlander's team is 5-0 in the other five games, including a pair of Astros wins in the ALCS in 2017.
Both of those games were at Minute Maid Park, in fact in games two and six, the same two Verlander is scheduled to start this series. Verlander allowed just one run in 16 innings, struck out 21 and completely dominated. He'll need to get back to that, especially after the Yankees scored seven runs in game one and hit three home runs.
Astros bullpen must get the job done
The concern regarding Ryan Pressly remains. He allowed four hits and two runs in game one on Saturday. That line matched his opening appearance of the postseason against the Rays. Eight hits allowed while recording just five outs over three appearances is a major issue. Rookie Bryan Abreu was added to the roster for the ALCS and he did not perform well. He gave up a home run to GIo Urshela on the first pitch he threw and couldn't get out of the inning after allowing three more baserunners and another run. Roberto Osuna, Will Harris and Joe Smith are likely candidates to get whatever outs are remaining after Verlander's night ends.