The Houston Astros are two wins away from their fourth American League medal in the last six years. On Thursday night, the Astros defeated the New York Yankees in Game 2 of the ALCS (HOU 3, NYY 2) Alex Bregman delivered the game-winning swing, and for the second straight night, the Yankees struggled to make contact in key at-bats.
Historically, teams that take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series have won the series 84 percent of the time. The streak isn’t over, but the Astros are sitting pretty. They have five chances to win two matches. The last team to erase a 2-0 series deficit in the 2020 NLCS was the Dodgers over the Braves. The Yankees last did it in the 1996 World Series against the Braves.
Here are four takeaways from Game 2 and a look at what’s next.
1. Bregman opened the scoring
For the second time in 2022, the Minute Maid Park rooftop opened Thursday night. Over the past three years, the home run rate to left field has been 13 percentage points higher with the roof open than with the roof closed, and a little extra motivation might have helped Alex Bregman and the Astros take an early 3-0 lead. In game 2.
In the bottom of the third, Bregman struck out Luis Severino in his spot and stopped a fastball in the Crawford box for a three-run home run. At 91.8 mph, it’s the fifth weakest postseason home run hit in the Statcast era (since 2015), and similar batted balls hit just 4 percent of the time. But, it landed on the seats, and that was it. Suddenly it was 3-0 Astros.
It was Bregman’s 14th career postseason home run, breaking a tie with Justin Turner for third basemen. Only 15 players have hit the streak with more postseason homers. Obviously it’s a function of the era — there are more postseason games now than ever before — but you still have to go out and hit those dingers. It’s not easy.
2. The Yankees responded again
Based on New York’s offensive struggles, it felt like the Astros would clinch Game 2 after Bregman’s homer. Instead, the Yankees responded in the next half-inning. Inning-changer: Framper Valdez made two errors in one game, muffling a returner and then throwing the ball by the seat of his pants. That put runners on second and third with no outs.
The Yankees got two runs, which was important, if not glamorous. Anthony Rizzo laced a two-strike grounder to first base to score the first run and advance the runner to third, then Kleyber Torres beat out a two-strike infield single to score the second run. Bregman made it 3-0 after 11 pitches, and the Yankees cut it to 3-2.
Heading into Game 2, the Yankees had hit 18 of their 22 postseason runs on home runs, or 82 percent (the Astros went 17 of 13, or 76 percent, in Game 2). In that fourth inning, the contact peaked. Good two-strike hitting — good 0-2 count hitting — by Rizzo and Torres to bring home those crucial runs.
3. Valdez settled
After Torres’ infield single scored New York’s second run, Valdez retired 11 of the last 12 batters he faced, including seven by strikeout. Justin Verlander retired the final 11 batters he faced in Game 1, including nine strikeouts. Both Astros starters labored a bit early, then found it in the middle innings and rolled to the end.
Overall, Valdez struck out nine in seven innings, and his 25 swings and misses were a new career high (regular season or postseason). He has 16 swings and misses on his curveball alone since pitch tracking first became available in 2008, when pitch tracking first became available.
The Astros pulled Brian Abreu in the top of the lineup in the eighth inning, and he almost gave up the lead. AL MVP Aaron Judge hit a line drive shot to right field that Kyle Tucker caught over the top of the wall. Replays showed it wasn’t going to be a home run, but it was very close. Check it out:
Sports Information Solutions notes that Tucker led the MLB regular season with three home runs. Again, it wasn’t going to be a homer, but it was close enough for Tucker’s home-stealing skills to come into play. And, Statcast says, Judge’s rocket would have had a home run in only one MLB ballpark: Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch.
Abreu recovered to get through the eighth inning and Ryan Pressley finished it off in the ninth. The Yankees had just three baserunners following Torres’ infield single to score the second run in the fourth inning. After striking 17 times in Game 1, they conceded 13 runs in Game 2.
4. Altuve’s streak continues
After going 0 for 4 in Game 2, Jose Altuve is now 0 for 23 on the season. It was his longest hitless streak of 2022 and the longest hitless streak to start a postseason in history. The previous hitless streak in 22 at-bats in the World Series was set by Tall Maxwell in 1968 with the Cardinals. It’s hard to believe a hitter this good will be bad in the postseason.
To be fair,. This is interesting:
This game is brutal. When you are stuck on the longest hitless streak of the year, That It will happen to you. The Astros will play at least four games this postseason. I can’t imagine Altuve going winless in all four.
Friday is an off day — the only off day of the series — before the ALCS resumes Saturday evening at Yankee Stadium. Former Astro Gerrit Cole (13-8, 3.50 ERA) will start for the Yankees. He will work an extra day of rest following his start in Game 4 of the ALDS last Sunday, though he was hot in the bullpen in Game 5 on Tuesday. Astros manager Dusty Baker said pregame they were “undecided” on their Game 3 starter. Righties Lance McCullers Jr. (4-2, 2.27 ERA) and Christian Javier (11-9, 2.54 ERA), are the leading candidates.