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2019 ALCS provides rare chance to bet on the Yankees as underdogs

The ALCS features the two heavy favorites in the American League. Steve Buchanan comes into the numbers to try and work out who will win these series

Houston Astros left fielder Michael Brantley celebrates with shortstop Alex Bregman after hitting a home run during the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in game five of the 2019 ALDS playoff baseball series at Minute Maid Park. Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

While the NLCS is sporting a surprising matchup between the Nationals and Cardinals, the ALCS features what many felt would come to fruition with the Yankees and Astros. These heavy hitters are set to embark in a classic ALCS showdown but who will prevail? Let’s take a look.

New York Yankees

With the Yankees polishing off the Twins in three games, they have the benefit of resting for the past four days. This has allowed them to reset their rotation and start who they like with everyone getting nearly their regular rest. While they have yet to name a starter, James Paxton is the likely choice after he pitched in Game 1 of the ALDS. After a rough summer, Paxton went on to post some fantastic numbers in the month of September, tossing 25 2/3 innings allowing just four runs (three earned) on 14 hits while striking out 30, good for a K rate of 30.6 percent. After Paxton, it would be smart to go with Luis Severino to hide the road struggles exhibited by Masahiro Tanaka.

On the road, Tanaka was pounded through 83 1⁄3 innings, posting a 6.05 ERA and 15 of his 28 home runs allowed. If the Yankees hope to come out with a series win, they need some big performance from the rotation. Between Paxton and Tanaka, they combined for 21 innings allowing nine runs on 24 hits and 16 strikeouts during the regular season.

Hitting, as you imagine, is going to be the biggest obstacle to overcome in this series for the Yankees. Getting out to an early series lead is so crucial, as Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole will be pushed back in the series due to starting Game 4 & 5 in the ALDS. Because of that, Zack Greinke will start Game 1 while Verlander has the potential to start Game 2. Either way, Greinke is the weakest link of the first three games. When these teams met during the regular season, the Yankees hit .243/.302/.457 with 13 home runs and struck out 29.6% of the time.

On paper, the biggest advantage for the Yankees would be their bullpen, right? Even with names like Adam Ottavino, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton and Tommy Kahnle, what’s not to like? Well, according to the numbers, apparently a lot. The Yankees relievers threw 30 innings against the Astros during the regular season and allowed 20 runs on 38 hits, including seven home runs. The bullpen’s FIP against the Astros? 6.48.

The Yankees come into this series as underdogs, which is not something they were many times during the season. According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, you can bet the Yankees to win the series at odds of +145. In fact, they were only underdogs 29 times this season, which accounts for only 17% of the season. In those games, they weren’t a profitable team to bet on, coming away with a record of just 12-17, giving them a 41% win rate in those situations.

Houston Astros

The odds on favorites to make it to the World Series and why not? Boasting one of the best rotations in all of baseball, this Astros team could shut this series down early if they can get a couple of early wins and then throw out their aces later in the series. Having someone like Gerrit Cole ready to go in Game 3 is usually not a situation you’d imagine running into, no matter what team you are. The DraftKings Sportsbook has the Astros at -175 odds to win the series. The juice is high on this one but we have a lot like about their chances.

The combination of Greinke, Verlander and Cole has five starts against the Yankees this season, although both of Greinke’s came while he was with the Diamondbacks. Altogether, they went 32 2⁄3 innings, allowing 12 runs on 22 hits with 35 strikeouts. Getting through this combination is going to be quite the tall task, especially when you note how the Yankees hit against this team earlier this season, which is noted above.

Another huge difference in the two teams was the hitting. Sure, the Yankees offense is fantastic, no one can dispute that. But as you’d expect and we’ve mentioned, they struggled against this pitching staff. That did not occur for the Astros in the two series these teams met. The Astros hit .317/.393/.569 with 15 home runs and only an 19.3 K%. The Astros were one of the toughest teams in the league to strikeout and that carried over into their series against the Yankees. While lines for Game 1 have yet to be revealed, the Astros have a fantastic opportunity against James Paxton, as the Astros were one of the best offenses in the league against lefties during the regular season.

Like the Yankees, the Astros were regularly favored during the regular season. The Astros were favorites in 160 of their 162 games, a spot they came away with a 108-52 record, good for a 67.5% win rate. If they end up being favored in Game 1, which I imagine they will, the Astros were 62-21 as home favorites for a 74.7% win rate, which was the highest in the league.

Final Thoughts

With the odds so heavily favored toward the Astros, it’s hard to ignore the likelihood that they could move onto the World Series. It’s a rare occurrence that we get the Yankees in an underdog situation and I imagine that will draw a lot of people into the plus money and rightfully so. I simply can’t get past some of the numbers we went over in this piece and think the Yankees can win four games before the Astros can. In conclusion, I’m paying up for the heavy odds and taking the Astros to win this series. For my prediction? Astros in six.