I am guilty, as well as many others, of thinking of the Astros as the same Godzilla offense as they were in 2017, whatever means they used to get there. I hear Astros and think whatever batter they’re sending to the plate sends thousands of Tokyo residents scurrying for cover. And the Astros offense is still quite good, and if Yordan Alvarez were ever to come up in a big spot against a team I genuinely cared about, I’d probably shit out my own tongue.
But what really makes the Astros special these days is that they have produced an oppressive pitching staff. And they seem to have done it with an ethos of figuring out whatever pitch that guy throws best, and telling him to go throw it a fucking ton. And against the Yankees, they’re throwing as many breaking pitches as they can. And they’re up 2-0, having given up just four runs in those two games, so it must be working.
In Game 1 Wednesday night, over half of Justin Verlander’s pitches were a slider or curve, up a slight tick from the 44 percent of his offerings in the regular season. The Yankees whiffed on eight of the 13 sliders he threw. Last night in Game 2, Framber Valdez threw only sinkers or curves for the most part. The Yankees swung at 24 of the 40 curves he threw, and whiffed on 16 of them. Brayan Abreu came in, and 15 of his 19 pitches were sliders. Ryan Pressly has thrown 37 pitches in the first two games and only two were fastballs. He’s gotten eight whiffs on the 19 pitches the Yanks have swung at from him.
It makes sense, as the Yankees tend to mash fastballs pretty hard. As a team, New York slashed .252/.357/.482 against fastballs. Against sliders and curves? Those numbers drop to .221/.282/.401. They can still get to you off the breaking stuff, but it’s the surest way to keep them in the park. And they’re not built to string hits together.
But this is kind of the Astros’ thing. Verlander had never thrown more than 20 percent sliders when he was in Detroit. He’s never thrown less than that in Houston. Gerrit Cole threw more curves in Houston by far than he had in Houston. Valdez throws his sinker which acts as a bowling ball that hitters beat into the ground. Lance McCullers can only throw curveballs or he has to write on the chalkboard after class. They’re not really worried about pitch mix. It’s not that different when the bullpen comes in, as Pressly, Cristian Javier, Abreu, and José Urquidy specialize in throwing breaking pitches over a third of the time. That’s dangerous water for the Yanks.
There likely won’t be much of a reprieve for the Yankees when they return to the Boogie Down tomorrow, as McCullers and his curve and slider are likely to be waiting in Game 3. Only Javier has heavy fastball ways, if he starts in Game 4, then the whole cycle will start all over again. McCullers already gave Yankees fans the willies in Game 7 in 2017 when they couldn’t solve his ways.
The Astros’ production line on the mound is unmatched, and why they’ve remained on top even through the “losses” of George Springer and Carlos Correa (it’s not really a loss when you simply let them walk out the door because they want real money). It’s why they’ve been able to surf the playoff 0-fer that Jose Altuve is currently on. It’s why they have a two-game lead when Alvarez has to have a big moment in this series like he did in the last one.
Could they be cheating on the mound, too? Let’s just say it before everyone else does, led by very bitter Yankees fans who are staring down the barrel of a third ALCS loss to them.