MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Astros' visit to Bronx a big deal, even in May

Series brings out star power, championship aspirations

Astros' visit to Bronx a big deal, even in May

Sure, we tend to overhype a four-game series like the one the Astros and Yankees are about to play in the Bronx beginning Thursday night. Nothing wrong with that.

If you can't get excited about a series featuring two of the best teams in baseball, you probably should find another line of work. These aren't just really good teams. They're really interesting teams, too, both a nice blend of veterans and youngsters.

This is a series of Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel, a series of Aaron Judge and Starlin Castro. It will decide nothing, but with both teams off to a fast start -- Houston at 23-11 and New York at 21-10 -- it's one of the matchups that every fan will pay a bit more attention to, even in May.

• Castrovince: Astros-Yanks has makings of October preview

Let's go to our big board:

Run differential: Yankees +56, tops in the Majors. Astros +38, fourth overall.

Runs per game: Yankees 5.8, second overall. Astros 4.9, 10th overall.

Pitching: Houston leads the American League with a 3.42 ERA, New York is third at 3.58

Know this: Managers and players do not see it the way the rest of us do. They see it as another brick in a very large wall on the way to October.

"It's a four-game series in the second month of the season," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Let's not make it out to be a seven-game World Series."

Well, no.

"We don't need to gauge our team," Hinch said. "We've got a good team. Whatever happens the next four days, we're trying to win every game."

For the Yanks, the series will be more remembered for the retiring of Derek Jeter's No. 2 on Sunday night. Off to their best start since 2010, it could be a celebration of both the past and the present.

For Houston, this past offseason was about applying a finishing touch to a talented, young roster that had already been expertly shaped and smartly managed. At least that's how the Astros hope it'll be remembered.

Houston's front office did not think a massive overhaul was needed. In Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer, the Astros had three of baseball's most electric young performers. They also had a very good bullpen and a competitive rotation. They were entertaining, too, a joy to watch.

"The way we play out there is the way we act inside the locker room," Altuve said.

But after winning 86 games and making the club's first postseason appearance in a decade in 2015, Houston won 84 times and missed the playoffs in 2016.

What general manager Jeff Luhnow believed his team needed was a deeper lineup. He also thought the time had come to add some older players.

So in a flurry of moves, Luhnow acquired five veterans -- catcher Brian McCann (33), pitcher Charlie Morton (33) and outfielders Josh Reddick (30), Norichika Aoki (35) and Carlos Beltran (40).

To put it another way: 66 seasons of experience and 17 playoff appearances.

"I love those guys," Altuve said. "I think this team had a lot of talent in the past. But we were trying to figure it out. The hardest thing in baseball is being consistent. That's both players and teams. To have those guys, they show us what you have to do on a daily basis."

As Correa said: "I think they've brought things we needed -- experience, leadership. We're moving forward with more purpose. We follow those guys. They've been in the World Series. They know how to win. When you've got young talented players, you just need to show them the way. We'll follow."

There are miles and miles to go before the real narrative of this season is written, but the Astros couldn't have hoped for much more in these opening five weeks. They've come from behind to win 15 times, including three games in which they rallied from five-run deficits to win.

"We didn't lack leadership as much as we lacked a little bit of presence from some guys that had been there and done that in this league," Hinch said. "We've had some experience, but not to the extent we have now. What comes with experience is a presence, a calmness, an attention to detail and preparation that is very important player to player and inside the confines of a clubhouse. It's hard to describe. It's hard to capture. But you recognize it when you have it."

Beltran understood his role. Houston needed his production. The club also needed his example.

"My job as a veteran guy is to keep things loose and make sure they go out and play and compete," he said. "It's a process. Altuve has been in the league -- what is it? Five years? When I was five years in, I had no idea what I was going to be able to accomplish."

Special seasons unfold an inning at a time, stacking win upon win along with confidence, resolve and a touch of swagger. Good teams don't look much past the next game, and that's what the Astros are trying to do.

"It's hard to not think about the future when you're winning a lot," Altuve said. "But we have to stay humble and play day by day. I think we have a bright, bright future. Right now, it's just a cool experience playing with these guys." 

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.