HOUSTON — At first blush, the lineups of the Cleveland Guardians and Houston Astros bear little resemblance to one another, but there is one similarity that binds both and is relevant to New York Yankees right-hander Luis Severino.
The Guardians, whom the Yankees eliminated in the American League Division Series, led the majors with an 18.2 percent strikeout rate during the season — a fact that was noted often during that best-of-five series. The lineup second to Cleveland in that category? The Astros at 19.5 percent.
“I think they’re similar but with more power, I would say,” said Severino, the Yankees’ scheduled starter for Game 2 of the AL Championship Series on Thursday. “You know, a team that doesn’t strike out that much. They put the ball in play. Like I say, they have power.”
The Astros clubbed 87 more homers than Cleveland during the season, and their 214 dingers ranked second in the AL only to the Yankees’ 254. That blend of power and discipline has long made Houston formidable on offense, a reality New York has dealt with for years.
The Astros eliminated the Yankees from the postseason in 2015, 2017 and 2019 — with the latter two matchups coming in the ALCS and both concluding in Houston. The recent memories of repeated failures continue to push the Yankees and serve as a thorn in their sides.
“I think about that we (lost) here,” said Severino, who allowed three runs on eight hits with six strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings in Game 3 of the ALDS. “That’s the only thing that came to my mind. I think all the guys that have been here since then, they have to remember that. They have to remember that feeling and try to not feel the same way this year. Try to be better, try to go out there with that mentality and win games.”
Severino is 2-3 with a 3.82 ERA in seven career games (six starts) against the Astros. He lost both of his starts vs. Houston this year, both in late June, when he gave up a combined five runs on eight hits in 12 innings.
In three career postseason starts against the Astros, Severino is 0-2 with a 4.15 ERA.
Left-hander Framber Valdez will start for the Astros, who claimed a 4-2 victory in Game 1 on Wednesday. He pitched effectively in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Seattle Mariners, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks with six strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings during a 4-2 Houston victory.
The performance was a bit of a departure from the regular season, during which Valdez set a major league single-season record by recording 25 consecutive quality starts. If Houston is to secure a 2-0 lead before the series shifts to New York, Valdez likely will need to recapture his earlier form.
“My preparation mentally and physically is the same as the regular season,” Valdez said. “Obviously it is an advantage that we have (the game) here and something that we can’t take for granted. But (use the) same preparation as the regular season. Continue the same work … and the same goal, which is to get batters out.”
Valdez is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in three career starts against the Yankees. He wasn’t involved in the decision in his lone start vs. New York this year, when he allowed three runs on two hits in six innings on June 23 in the Bronx.
In slotting Valdez behind Verlander, Houston could lessen the workload on its bullpen and set the table for its rotation to thrive later in the series. Verlander logged six innings in Game 1 ahead of Valdez, who led the AL with 201 1/3 innings this season.
“Well, Framber’s been throwing well the whole year, so we thought that was the best sequence of pitchers: JV followed by Framber,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “And then if we go deep into this series, Framber has the resiliency to come back, or if we have to bring him back short or if we have to bring him back at all.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of the Astros’ rotation, “They’re obviously really dynamic. Outstanding starting pitching. … (They) can shorten the game with the best of ’em, so we’ve got to find a way to break through against ’em. It’s a challenge, but one we look forward to.”
–MoiseKapenda Bower, Field Level Media