Part of what makes sports great is the impact that a rivalry can have on a fanbase. For the New York Yankees, familiar rivals include the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles, and Toronto Blue Jays. But over the past few years, a new rival has worked their way into the mix of teams that Yankee fans absolutely hate: the Houston Astros.
Since the Astros moved to the American League in 2013, the Yankees have not fared particularly well against the Stros. Despite a 5-1 record in 2013, the Yankees have only gone 9-13 against their South Texan foes since, including a Wild Card playoff loss in 2015.
And with both teams getting stronger as the years go by, it is looking inevitable that the Yankees and Astros will face off in the postseason once again. They may be new to the American League, but the Astros will soon become the Yankees’ biggest rivals.
The Houston Astros came to the American League in 2013 in order to balance out the conferences. Now, the American and National League each had 15 teams spread out evenly over 3 divisions. The Astros may have only switched sides to accommodate a realignment, but they quickly made enemies with a few of their new league-mates. An intra-state rivalry was created with the Texas Rangers and fans in Toronto are never glad to see the Astros these days, but no team has been frustrated more by the Astros than the Yankees.
The Astros came into the American League with a whimper in 2013, posting their worst season ever, but they roared back big time in 2015, winning 86 games and appearing in their first playoffs since 2005, the year they were swept in their only World Series appearance. Their opponent as one of two AL Wild Card teams? The New York Yankees.
The Yankees had made the playoffs in 2015 for the first time in 2 years, and did it without their longtime captain, Derek Jeter. However, the new-look Yankees didn’t fare so well against Houston in the regular season, as aces Dallas Keuchel (who would win the Cy Young that year) and Collin McHugh rendered the Yankees’ attack useless. The Yankees felt good about their club that year, but there was no team the Yankees wanted to see less than the Astros in a winner-take-all, one-game playoff.
Despite having Masahiro Tanaka on the bump, the Yankees lost the game 3-0, as Keuchel once again stifled the Yankee bats. He struck out seven batters and allowed only three hits over six shutout innings, as the Yankees failed to score even one run in front of 50,000 home fans. Yankee fans took the Astro losses lightly during the regular season, but there was no more doubting now: the Astros were for real, and they had a definite edge over the Yankees. This was the first chapter in the Yankee-Astro rivalry.
Interestingly, both clubs missed the playoffs last year, but the series remained intense. The Yankees actually won 4 out of 6 games played last year, but it was all for nought in a playoff-less season. The Yankees began to resemble the Astros on the field, creating a team made largely out of young players and sticking with them over more established veterans. It was an approach new to Yankee fans, but one that paid off big time for the Astros.
But as Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, and Luis Severino took over New York, resembling the rise of Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Keuchel, the Astros took a page from the Yankees’ book and added veterans to the roster. In addition to Yankee killer Josh Reddick, Houston also acquired ex-Yankees Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. The stage was set for a great season series, which would begin in May 2017.
The first game of this series was an instant reminder of how special series are between these two teams. Michael Pineda pitched well for the Yankees, but he was of course outdueled by Dallas Keuchel, who improved to 5-2 against the Yankees, only allowing 7 runs over those 7 starts. The Yankees were pressing, and began to come back against the Houston bullpen, before losing the game at the last second as Jake Marisnick’s perfect throw nailed Jacoby Ellsbury (the tying run) at the plate to end the game with Houston on top. This game had it all: a pitching duel, a late comeback, an outstanding finish, and a playoff vibe from start to finish. And it was only the first game of a regular season series in May.
But what makes Yankees vs Astros games so special? Both teams are young, have devoted fanbases, play an exciting, passionate game of baseball, and are facing long World Series droughts. This is the recipe for baseball games that viewers cannot afford to miss. As Correa, Altuve, and Keuchel are square in their prime, the Yankees can counter with Sanchez, Judge, and hopefully Gleyber Torres down the line. The makeup of these teams will ensure that they will remain relevant for years to come.
The Yankees and Astros have been the two best teams in the American League so far this year. The stage is set for an October showdown in the ALCS, with a trip to the World Series on the line. In fact, the road to the AL Pennant looks like it will have to run through either Houston or the Bronx in the future. Much like the rivalry between the Yankees and Orioles in the 1990s, the Yankees-Astros rivalry of tomorrow will be forged by memorable playoff series and a boatload of young talent squaring off.
It is hard to explain what makes Yankees-Astros games feel like playoff games, but just watch one and any baseball fan will be hooked. Move over, Red Sox Nation, and take the Subway, Mets faithful, because there’s a new sheriff in town, and it’s none other than the Houston Astros, the Yankees’ newest rival.