Many factors, some foreseeable than others, go into deciding a seven-game baseball series. Here are six players who likely will have significant influence on the outcome of the American League Championship Series.
Key Astros pitcher: RHP Gerrit Cole
There are no sure things in baseball, especially in October, but Cole on the mound is as close as it gets these days. He hasn’t lost a decision since May 22, has given up one or fewer earned runs in seven of his past eight starts and has struck out 10-plus batters in a record 11 straight starts. The Yankees might have caught a break when the Astros needed Cole in Game 5 of the ALDS, pushing back his first ALCS start until Game 3. But that also means he likely would be on the mound for a decisive Game 7, if it gets to that point. Trust us: The Yankees will want to avoid that.
Key Yankees pitcher: RHP Chad Green
The Yankees have much bigger names on their pitching staff, both at the front and back ends of games. But no one has been more important, or effective, than Green — who, after some early stumbles, rediscovered his shutdown stuff in September. He struck out 26 of the 49 batters he faced that month, holding them to an unfathomable .111/.184/.178 slash line — effectively, he turned every hitter he faced into a pitcher at the plate. He will see high-leverage duty against the Astros, and is more than capable of going multiple innings, having gone two-plus four times in September alone, and could even start Game 4 as an opener.
Key Astros hitter: CF George Springer
Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez may be the engines of the Astros’ offense, but Springer is the driver. At his best, he changes its entire dynamic. Witness the ALDS: As Springer struggled through the first four games, going 2 for 17 with no runs or extra-base hits and three strikeouts, the Astros’ offense all but shut down, scoring just 13 runs in those four games. But Springer jump-started them in Game 5, lacing a leadoff single, then going first to third on a single to left, before scoring their first run. The Yankees will find it much easier to navigate the heart of Houston’s order if they keep Springer off base.
Key Yankees hitter: 2B Gleyber Torres
Who hit the most home runs for the team that hit the second-most home runs in history? It wasn’t Aaron Judge (27). It wasn’t Giancarlo Stanton (three). It wasn’t Gary Sanchez (34). It was Torres, their 22-year-old rising superstar, with 38 — the most of any middle infielder in baseball this year. Torres and double-play partner Didi Gregorius carried the Yankees’ offense in the ALDS, going a combined 9 for 22 with two homers, three doubles, seven runs and 10 RBI against the Twins. Having this guy hitting sixth in your lineup (and Gregorius eighth) is borderline unfair.
Astros X-factor: RHP Roberto Osuna
The Astros’ closer had an uh-oh moment in Game 2 of the ALDS, when he nearly coughed up a three-run lead in the ninth, forcing the Astros to bring in set-up man Will Harris to clean it up — and raising the specter of 2017, when closer Ken Giles melted down and the Astros needed starters Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton to finish off games. The Astros have the personnel to cover for Osuna, but they’re much better off if he is right — as he appeared to be in Game 5, with a 1-2-3 inning to finish off the Rays.
Yankees X-factor: RHP Luis Severino
The Yankees still aren’t sure exactly what they have in Severino, their one-time ace who missed 5½ months of the season because of injuries, then had just three tune-up starts in September. He has yet to throw more than five innings since returning, and his ALDS Game 3 start was effective (four shutout innings), if not dominant (four hits, two walks). The Yankees will be careful with him, and he likely won’t go much more than five in any start. But his pedigree and stuff at least holds out the hope for a dominant performance (or two) against the Astros.
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