MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Astros-Yanks has makings of October preview

With Houston dominating AL West and New York exceeding expectations, 4-game set primed to excite

Astros-Yanks has makings of October preview

The Astros shook things up at the 2010 Trade Deadline by shipping off Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, initiating the painful-but-necessary rebuilding process that lasted three consecutive 100-loss seasons and four straight losing seasons overall.

The Yankees shook things up at the 2016 Trade Deadline by shipping off Carlos Beltran, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, initiating the painful-but-necessary rebuilding process that lasted … um … two months? Maybe?

The four-game series between these two clubs that begins Thursday night at Yankee Stadium isn't supposed to be as important as it is. If the Yankees had any respect for proper protocol, for the nation of Yanks haters who relished the thought of a long Bronx breather, they'd be plodding their way through their first losing season in a quarter-century, not sitting at 21-10. Per the projections, this weekend -- capped by Sunday's ceremony in which Derek Jeter's No. 2 will be retired -- was supposed to be about looking back at past Octobers, not thinking ahead to this October.

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Instead, much like the Astros, the Yankees have got it all right now: a power lineup getting impact both from young studs and wily vets, a rotation exceeding expectation, a shutdown bullpen and confidence -- plain and simple.

"At the end of the day, it's good to see a young team going out there and competing and playing good baseball," Beltran said of his former club. "That's big for baseball."

This was the kind of baseball prescribed for Houston. Beltran and fellow pinstripes import Brian McCann came aboard as finishing touches on a team that had ability and upside all over the place in Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., Ken Giles, et. al. After a humbling start to 2016 stalled what had been major organizational momentum, the Astros were counted on to come into this season hungrier, wiser, better.

That's exactly what they've done in their march to the top of the American League West.

"They're a really good team," Yanks manager Joe Girardi said. "They swing the bats well, they pitch well, they're very athletic. They're playing extremely well. Lot of power, too, in that lineup."

The Yankees were powerless against Keuchel in their last October entry in the 2015 AL Wild Card Game, and that one had the feel of two ships passing in the night, with the up-and-coming Astros chugging along past a star-laden squad running on fumes.

Keuchel's scoreless start

But now the Yanks, without the benefit of piling up prominent Draft picks (the last time they drafted in the top 10 was when they took Jeter at No. 6 overall in 1992) are stacked with youthful possibility. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are crushing baseballs, Luis Severino has taken a huge step forward and valuable trade acquisitions such as Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield are waiting in the wings.

Of course, the Yankees also have the very sort of veteran presence that the Astros felt the need to go out and acquire to steer them through the inevitable rough patches.

The Yanks might have traded away a lot of established talent in the past year, but they haven't lost that element of their identity. It's there thanks to guys such as CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley and Matt Holliday.

So both of these clubs have achieved better clubhouse balance.

"The great thing about young players is they're hungry and have a ton of energy," Headley said. "You get in the grind, but they're having fun and joking with you about not having enough swag in your shoes. That's healthy, and it's fun. At the same time, we [veterans] have the insights of how to get through the tough times and go about things the right way."

The Yankees don't appear to be following the "right" -- or, at least, the oft-traveled -- path to contention. They sped up their timetable thanks to the youthful precociousness of an early AL MVP Award candidate like Judge and some outlandish (and possibly unsustainable) impact from the likes of Headley, Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks and Holliday, among others.

We have a pretty good idea of how to feel about the Astros, but what are we to make of the Yanks?

"We can play this way," Girardi said. "You go back, and the last four months last year and the first month this year, we've played really well. Now, .700 baseball's a really high clip. I get that. But I said it coming out of Spring Training -- I like this team. And I still like it. Power, speed, the bullpen's really, really good, and the starters have pitched well."

Sounds like a certain team coming to town from Houston.

"It's a huge series," Beltran said. "They're playing well right now, we're playing well right now. They feel good about themselves, we feel good about ourselves. So it's going to be a fun one."

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Brian McTaggart contributed to this story.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.