For much of the 2019 regular season, the Houston Astros and New York Yankees looked like the class of the American League. Now that the postseason has begun, and two games deep into both AL Division Series, that sentiment looks as true as it ever has, as both teams have stormed to commanding 2-0 leads.
Houston won the first two games of its division series with the Tampa Bay Rays, riding the arms of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole to easy victories. The series moves to Tampa Bay for Game 3 on Monday, as well as Game 4, if necessary, on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, New York has stormed to a commanding 2-0 lead in its series with the Minnesota Twins behind its big bats, scoring a total of 18 runs in the first two games in New York. The Twins will host the next two games, which will be played Monday and Tuesday, if necessary.
Houston knew it had some of the most feared starters in the postseason, and that came to fruition in the first two games against Tampa Bay.
In the opener, Verlander took the mound and threw seven scoreless innings, striking out eight and allowing just one hit as the Astros won 6-2. It was the 36-year-old’s eighth career Division Series win, surpassing John Smoltz and Andy Pettitte for the most in league history.
“You can define aces in a lot of different ways,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s a star. Like, he’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. So we’re going to look back and be very proud that we crossed paths with him.”
Verlander moved into sole possession of third place on the all-time postseason strikeout list with 175, passing Roger Clemens. He trails only Pettitte (183) and Smoltz (199).
The game was scoreless until Houston erupted for four runs in the bottom of the fifth, as Jose Altuve hit a two-run homer to power the Astros’ breakout inning.
One day later, it was Cole’s turn, striking out an Astros team playoff record 15 batters — the most in a playoff game since 2000 — to lead Houston to a 3-1 victory. Cole gave up just four hits and walked just one.
Cole became the seventh pitcher in history to strike out as many as 15 in a playoff game. He’s the first to do it since Roger Clemens accomplished the feat in Game 4 of the 2000 AL Championship Series.
“It’s hard to put into words exactly what his performance meant to us tonight, but, man, he was good,” Hinch said. “What a game.”
Alex Bregman had a solo home run in the fourth, followed by an RBI single by Martin Maldonado in the same frame. Carlos Correa added an insurance run with an RBI single in the eighth.
Tampa Bay threatened in the ninth, scoring a run and loading the bases before Will Harris got the final two outs of the contest.
Swinging For The Fences
The Yankees have been using their offense to take the advantage in their series against Minnesota, pushing their playoff winning streak against the Twins to 12 with their two victories.
In the opener on Friday, DJ LeMaheiu led the charge, homering and driving in four runs in a 10-4 victory at Yankee Stadium. Brett Gardner also had a home run, and the New York bullpen combined for 4 1/3 innings to hold off the Minnesota charge.
“I feel like we had a lot of opportunities to score with a lot of guys on base,” LeMaheiu said. “We did a really good job against their pitchers. To come through there in a couple of situations felt good.”
New York followed up that offensive explosion with yet another one in Game 2, including a seven-run third inning that was highlighted by Didi Gregorius’ grand slam. It was Gregorius’ fourth career postseason homer and blew open the game as the Yankees were never threatened from that point.
“Everybody goes through ups and downs, but the confidence level has always got to stay up,” Gregorius said. “For me, I just focus on my job and try to get better. That’s all I can do.”
Masahiro Tanaka was solid on the mound, limiting Minnesota to one run over five innings, allowing just three hits while walking one and striking out seven. Tanaka improved to 6-0 with a 2.21 ERA in six career starts against the Twins.