Have Astros been caught by Yankees after the Rodón signing?

Perhaps Costas was a bit crass in his depiction following Game 3 of the 2022 ALCS, but it’s hard to quibble with his assessment of the two franchises since 2017. The Astros are 12-5 against New York in playoff contests over the last six postseasons. They ended the Baby Bombers’ magical run in 2017, then dealt a devastating blow in the 2019 ALCS with Jose Altuve’s walk-off home run in Game 6. The 2022 edition of the rivalry lacked such dramatics. Houston dispatched New York in a tidy four-game sweep, then secured its second championship in franchise history shortly thereafter. The Yankees, meanwhile, still await their first title since 2009.

The Astros were a clear tier above the Yankees in 2022, but perhaps the advantage won’t be so clear in 2023. New York retained Aaron Judge as well as first baseman–and Houston free-agent target–Anthony Rizzo this offseason, then made a major splash Thursday night. As Justin Verlander exits Houston’s rotation, Carlos Rodón is now joining New York’s, bringing with him baseball’s eighth-best ERA+ among starters across the last two seasons. The embarrassment at the hands of the Astros may have forced Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner into a spending spree for which his father was more than familiar. We’ll see if it results in the Commissioner’s Trophy next November.

So how do the American League’s preeminent powers stack up as we approach the turn to 2023? Let’s assess the state of the two squads.


The two best infields in the American League likely reside in the Lone Star State with the Rangers’ $500 million double-play duo headlining a Texas squad desperate for a playoff appearance. As for the Astros, this is a deeply balanced group, with free-agent addition José Abreu joining a trio of players that amassed at least 4.5 wins above replacement each in 2022. Abreu is a former MVP. Jose Altuve is a future Hall of Famer. The left side of the infield will likely be even stronger than the right-side duo in 2023, with World Series MVP Jeremy Peña joining the now-healthy and ever-reliable Alex Bregman. Few, if any, teams across the league sport such an impressive quartet of infielders.

New York faces a far muddier infield picture, with first base the lone position totally settled following Rizzo’s return. Gleyber Torres is a consistent trade candidate at second base. Isaiah Kiner-Falefa was benched in the postseason but may be the franchise’s Opening Day shortstop if top prospect Anthony Volpe isn’t quite ready. Third base could be the strangest situation of all for the Yankees. Josh Donaldson was both expensive and unproductive in his age-36 season with New York. DJ LeMahieu faces a recovery from a foot injury he’s concerningly described as “tricky.” There’s no real comparing New York and Houston’s infield at the moment, even after the Yankees’ spending spree.


Both of the following statements can be true: Aaron Judge won’t hit 62 home runs in 2023. He’s also likely to still be the best outfielder between Houston and New York after cashing in on a $360 million contract. Not only is Judge a historic power masher, he’s evolved into one of the game’s most complete hitters, one who led the American League in walks and on-base percentage in 2022. Add in 16 steals and impressive defense in right field–as well as passable performance in center–and Judge is likely the best all-occasion player in baseball outside of Shohei Ohtani.

Yet the outfield picture is a lot closer between the Astros and Yankees than Judge’s excellence suggests. Houston left fielder Yordan Alvarez hit 37 home runs in 135 games last season, and only 11 players since 2000 have registered a season with a better OPS+ than Alvarez’s 187 mark in 2022. Right fielder Kyle Tucker has 60 home runs and 39 steals across the last two seasons. Houston still faces questions in centerfield. Giancarlo Stanton is never a guarantee for a full season in the Bronx. Yet despite any question marks, these are primed to be two of the most star-studded outfields in baseball in 2023.

Starting Rotation

This could be a pivot point in New York’s favor after a 2022 ALCS in which the Astros doubled New York’s strikeout output with 50 Ks across the four-game sweep. The Yankees desperately lacked depth behind Gerrit Cole last season, while for Houston, Cristian Javier and Framber Valdez outshined Justin Verlander with just two earned runs across 18 1/3 innings in the World Series. Such a disparity was perhaps the most notable aspect of Houston’s romp of the Yankees en route to the Fall Classic.

Verlander is now in Queens alongside Max Scherzer, and the Mets’ cross-town rival appears to have added a legitimate co-ace for Cole in Rodón. The sheer depth of Houston’s rotation likely still gives Dusty Baker’s squad a minor edge entering Opening Day, although the Yankees now appear to have the swing-and-miss stuff necessary to make a legitimate championship run in October.


The health of the Yankees’ bullpen fell apart in the 2022 postseason, and the unit was unreliable for manager Aaron Boone in the ALCS. As for Baker, he seemed to press the right button regardless of who came out of the bullpen. Bryan Abreu and closer Ryan Pressly did not allow a single run in 22 1/3 playoff innings. No Houston reliever sported an ERA over 2.00. As the Astros secured another championship last month, their bullpen was an unsung hero.

The state of both bullpens can look a lot different in the late summer of 2023 as injuries and trade-deadline deals shape the playoff race. For now, Baker can rest easy with perhaps the most electric bullpens in the sport.

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