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Yankees-Astros is loaded with the stars it should be

After a season of injuries, this quartet is back on the field in a star-studded series.

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The American League Championship Series is one of the best matchups in recent memory. It didn’t need much extra hype considering the Houston Astros won 107 games and the New York Yankees won 103, but the return to health for a quartet of stars adds to the star power of an already fantastic series.

Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton all missed significant time in 2019, which makes the 210 combined wins for Houston and New York — just two shy of the 1998 World Series for the most wins in a postseason matchup — even more incredible.

This is two MVP winners with a combined 10 MLB All-Star nods, plus two former Rookies of the Year who were all-stars themselves.

Stanton hit 59 home runs just two years ago and led baseball in long balls from his 2010 major league debut through 2018. But in a season that saw the Yankees smash 306 home runs, shattering their MLB record from a year ago, only three came from Stanton. The slugger was limited first by a left biceps strain then by a right knee contusion, and played in just 18 games.

He homered in Game 1 in Houston, and naturally was out of the lineup in Game 2 with a quad strain. That’s just how Stanton’s season has gone, but even so he already made an impact.

Judge missed two months with an oblique strain, limiting him to just 102 games. But he still managed to blast 27 home runs, including a scorching 15 home runs in his final 33 games, tied for the most in the majors over the final six weeks of the season. He hit a go-ahead home run in Game 2 in Houston.

It was defense where Judge made his mark in Game 1, with this fantastic throw from right field to complete a double play:

Stanton and Judge were two of a record 30 different Yankees players who spent time on the injured list this season. Their vaunted “next man up” mantra worked wonders along with New York’s incredible depth. Fourteen different players reached double digits in home runs and 11 position players produced at least 1 WAR, despite only four players getting enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.

But while depth got the Yankees through the season, now that they are back at full strength the lineup is a sight to behold.

The Astros are in the same boat, third in the majors in runs scored despite their all-star middle infield missing so much time. Even with the handicap Houston put up one of the best offenses of all-time, after adjusting for their home park and league. The Astros’ 125 wRC+ as a team — think of it this way: Houston essentially has a lineup with nine Charlies Blackmon — is the second-best ever, trailing only the Murderer’s Row 1927 Yankees.

Correa missed two months midseason with a fractured rib, then another month-plus down the stretch with back discomfort, playing in only three of Houston’s final 36 games. Altuve missed a month with a hamstring strain.

When they played, Correa and Altuve were quite productive, with Correa hitting .279/.358/.568 with 21 home runs in essentially half a season. His 143 wRC+ ranked third among major league shortstops (minimum 300 plate appearances), trailing his Astros teammate Alex Bregman, who started 59 games at shortstop while Correa was out.

Correa was all over Game 2 with two signature plays. First on defense he grabbed a ricochet and followed by a stellar throw home to keep the game tied. Then he smashed the first pitch of the 11th inning for a walk-off home run to tie the series.

Altuve hit a career high 31 home runs despite playing only 124 games. Sure, there was a juiced ball this season but Altuve’s previous career high in a full season was 24 home runs, so this was an impressive feat.

He added three more home runs in Houston’s ALDS against Tampa Bay.

Stars abound in the American League Championship Series, and thanks to good health we have even more of them on the field. This is must-see TV.