The Yankees batted .267 with 306 home runs, one shy of the major league record set by the Minnesota Twins this year, and the Astros hit a league-leading .274 with 288 home runs. The Astros also created runs at a rate 25 percent higher than average after adjusting for league and park effects. Only the 1927 Yankees, with their famous “Murderers’ Row” of Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri, performed better (26 percent above average).
“My buddy texted me a while ago and said, ‘Murderers’ Row. Bull. … It’s Murderers’ Mile,'" Astros starter Wade Miley told USA Today in September. “It’s unbelievable every single night."
Houston’s hitters, however, have one slight weakness: above-average fastballs. The Astros, as a team, are hitting just .238 with a .442 slugging percentage against fastballs that reach 95 mph or higher this season, including during the playoffs. That batting average ranks in the bottom half of baseball (19th), notable for such a powerful offensive team, although the slugging percentage ranks ninth. Still, the Astros hit an absurd .277 with a .499 slugging percentage against every other pitch.
To be fair, the Astros crushed the Yankees in their regular season meetings this year, batting .317 with 15 home runs over seven games, and hitting a ridiculous .349 with three home runs off high-velocity fastballs. (The Astros won the regular season series, four games to three.) But you could argue that Houston overachieved on those high-velocity pitches. According to the exit velocity and launch angle of each ball the Astros put in play off a Yankees fastball traveling 95 mph or faster, Houston would have been expected to bat .293 and slug .579 in those seven games rather than the .349 and .698 it recorded.
Plus, New York might have found a better recipe for success in the second game of a four-game series in June. In that matchup, Yankees pitchers, including James Paxton, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman, served up two-thirds of their pitches at 95 mph or more, holding the Astros to seven hits and no home runs while recording 11 strikeouts. (New York won, 4-1.)
New York has three other pitchers capable of producing consistently high-velocity fastballs in Chad Green, Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Severino. The Yankees, in fact, had baseball’s fifth-highest rate of pitches thrown at or above 95 mph this season.
Because the Yankees swept the Twins in the ALDS, they have some flexibility with their rotation. Manager Aaron Boone will go righty-lefty-righty in the first three games of the ALCS, starting Masahiro Tanaka in Game 1, followed by Paxton and Severino. New York’s pitchers will need to attack each of Houston’s batters differently, but there are at least small holes in the strike zones of each of the Astros’ sluggers.
For example, second baseman Jose Altuve was 0 for 8 with two strikeouts on high-velocity fastballs on the outside part of the plate this season. Alex Bregman (0 for 3) and infielder Yuli Gurriel (1 for 8, two strikeouts) have struggled with those pitches, too. Carlos Correa has struggled with all fastballs off the plate this year (5 for 43, 25 strikeouts), perhaps offering a way to neutralize a key component of the Astros’ offense.
“We understand what’s at stake,’’ Astros Manager AJ Hinch said, via USA Today. “We don’t scare off. And now we have one of the toughest teams in the major leagues to have to get to the World Series.
“So buckle up.’’