First Astros-Yankees series of the year set to be a barn-burner

The Yankees have done a lot this year, but they haven’t played the Astros yet.

Outside of the Red Sox, the games against the Astros are undoubtedly the most heated ones on the Yankees’ schedule. With the Yankees returning home in the middle of the night after their last series in Tampa, manager Aaron Boone was asked if seeing the Astros could stimulate the team following their late-night travel.

“One of the cool things about Yankee Stadium, especially this year, we’ve had that juice,” Boone said. “I would certainly expect, coming off a road trip, we’ll walk out there tonight and they’ll be pretty energized.”

The Astros have established themselves as the American League’s clear second-best team. In a normal year, their 43-25 record would likely be enough to put them in position for the AL’s top seed. But the Yankees have played a brand of baseball that the Bronx hasn’t seen since the powerhouse 1998 team won 114 games, going 11-2 in the postseason on their way to a World Series championship.

This Yankees-Astros series, especially with the added caveat of it being their first meeting of 2022, stands to be a very competitive one. Riddled with excellent pitching matchups and several deserving All-Stars in both dugouts, Boone and his troops are ready for a war.

“They’re complete,” Boone assessed the Astros. “They have outstanding depth in their bullpen, really good starting pitching, they catch the ball, they’re athletic. They’re probably as complete of a team as we’ve played. You know it’s going to be a challenge.”

Houston’s 43 wins, plus-61 run differential, 114 wRC+ and 3.04 collective ERA all rank second in the American League behind the Yankees. The Astros’ position players have combined for 12.9 Wins Above Replacement (the Yankees’ 14.8 make them the only AL team with more) and their pitching staff checks in at 9.1 WAR, trailing only the Yankees’ 11.4 on the American League leaderboard.

Of course, with the Astros and Yankees, the elephant in the room is always the 2017 and 2019 American League Championship Series. The 2017 one — which was before Boone’s time in the managerial seat — is also tarnished by the Astros’ cheating scandal. Boone was asked if this adds any import to the series, even if it is just four regular season games in June.

“To me, it’s past history,” Boone stated. “I think it’s a shot in the arm series in a tough stretch. The rivalry that certainly exists has something to do with some past things too. I think our guys look forward to that and like playing on the big stages against the best teams.”

Clarke Schmidt was optioned back to Triple-A on Thursday morning.

Albert Abreu, the former Yankee who re-joined the team after being claimed off waivers from Kansas City on Tuesday, is back on the active roster. Fellow right-handed reliever David McKay was traded to Tampa Bay for cash considerations after being designated for assignment on Tuesday. Boone spoke about the decision making process in demoting Schmidt.

“I think there’s a lot of value in home going down and starting,” he began. “Maybe he can go down for three or four weeks and get a handful of starts while also, long term, building some volume moving forward if he’s going to be a starter for us this year or down the road.

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“As far as staying on the [big league] roster, he’s shown that he belongs and deserves to be here,” Boone added. “I think he’s made huge strides from where he was last year. I feel like he’s a way better pitcher.”

Schmidt, who owns a 3.00 ERA in 24 innings this season, made the Yankees’ Opening Day roster but has been back and forth between the minors and majors for most of the year. While the overall numbers look decent, Schmidt still hasn’t kicked his walk habit. An issue that plagued him in his minor league journey as well, Schmidt has issued a free pass to 12.2% of the hitters he’s faced in 2022.

If he can get straightened out, Schmidt’s stuff makes him an intriguing arm, particularly with Chad Green missing the rest of the year with injury. The same can be said for Abreu, who pitched in 28 games for the Bombers in 2021.

“Hopefully we can get him back to what we saw in the back half of last year, which was a guy throwing the ball incredibly well,” Boone said of Abreu. “If you recall, last year down the stretch, we were pitching him in some big time situations and he was doing the job.”

In a world where hitting has become optional for most MLB catchers, Jose Trevino has put together a sly All-Star case.

Over his last 25 games, the unheralded backstop is mashing .353/.408/.662. During that span, eight of his 24 hits have gone for extra bases, including six homers and one of just 12 triples by a catcher this year. For the season, Trevino is second among AL catchers in Wins Above Replacement. He trails only Toronto’s Alejandro Kirk, who has played in 15 more games.

Not bad for someone who replaced Ben Rortvedt on the Yankees’ depth chart.

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