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  • Associated Press Astros manager AJ Hinch, center, talks with pitcher Gerrit Cole, left, and third baseman Alex Bregman during a workout Friday. Houston meets the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series beginning tonight.

Saturday, October 12, 2019 1:00 am

AL Championship Series

Astros vs. Yankees: Dream series

KRISTIE RIEKEN | Associated Press

HOUSTON – It's the AL Championship Series matchup most everyone expected entering the season.

But the paths the Houston Astros and New York Yankees took to get here weren't exactly what either team envisioned.

“It's definitely been brewing,” Houston ace Justin Verlander said. “We heard from the first series we played each other: 'Here's an ALCS preview' (and) it worked out.”

Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and the Astros led the majors with a franchise-record 107 wins but needed five games to dispose of the wild-card Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Division Series. Aaron Judge, Gary Sánchez and New York overcame a laundry list of injuries to win 103 games and its first AL East title since 2012, then flattened the Twins.

“Both teams got here and they earned their way here maybe not as easily as people want to think,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “I think both teams had injuries. Both teams played well in the face of expectations, and it's just not a simple plug-and-play season. One-hundred and sixty two games will expose you to a lot of different challenges.”

Game 1 is tonight in Houston after the Astros secured home-field advantage throughout the postseason by posting MLB's best record.

“That's huge for us that we get to start the ALCS here,” Altuve said. “We like it here. The stadium gets so loud that sometimes that helps us as players.”

While the Astros have home-field advantage, the Yankees could have some other edges. Since they swept their series they'll have had four days of rest by today's game and will have their entire pitching staff available for the opener.

The quick turnaround for the Astros means that they won't be able to start Gerrit Cole or Verlander in Game 1 and will instead go with trade-deadline acquisition and 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke, who struggled in a Game 3 loss in the division series.

Verlander will start Game 2 on Sunday night in Houston, and Cole will get the nod in the third game Tuesday in the Bronx.

“Three exceptional starting pitchers, and happy to line them up that way,” Hinch said.

The Yankees will counter with Masahiro Tanaka in Game 1, James Paxton in the second game and Luis Severino on Tuesday.

“Tough one to be made but similar to the division series, where I was going back and forth a lot,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Just felt like Masa here in Game 1 is the way I wanted to go in the end.”

These two AL Goliaths have matched up in the playoffs often in recent history. Houston beat the Yankees in a seven-game ALCS on the way to its first championship in 2017. The Astros also won the 2015 AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

The Astros are in the ALCS for a third straight year and the Yankees return for the second time in three seasons after falling to eventual champion Boston in the division series last year.

Houston swept a three-game series against the Yankees at home in April and the Yankees won three of four at home in their second matchup in June.