It is that time of the year again. The 162 game grind known as the Major League Baseball regular season is behind us. The playoffs are here and the wildcard game is on the clock. On Tuesday the New York Yankees will host the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium. Let’s take a look at the American League Wildcard game.
American League Wildcard Game
Houston Astros at New York Yankees
Date: 6 October 2015
Time: 8:08 PM EST
Houston Astros – Dallas Keuchel
Season: 20-8, 2.48 ERA
New York Yankees – Masahiro Tanaka
Season: 12-7, 3.51 ERA
The Houston Astros and New York Yankees are set to face off in a one game battle with the American League Division Series and the Kansas City Royals lying in the balance. The Astros are 13-17 since the beginning of September but are 6-4 over their last 10 games. Meanwhile, the Yankees are 15-16 since the beginning of September but pushed backing into the playoffs to new levels coming home in 3-7 over their last 10 games. Overall then Astros were 4-3 against the Yankees with season outscoring them an impressive 36-17.
This game is going to come down to pitching. Whichever starting pitcher is hot will most likely drive their team to the American League Division Series. Let’s take a look at both starters and their recent form to better decide where the edge in the single game series lies.
Dallas Keuchel will be starting for the Astros and this game could be the icing on the top of a pretty sweet cake. The ground ball pitcher had a Cy Young worthy campaign in 2015 and was even the starter for the American League in the mid-summer classic.
In his last three starts, he is 3-0 and only allowed four earned runs in 20.2 innings pitched including a solid outing against the Diamondbacks. In two starts against the Yankees in 2015, he is 2-0 and did not allow a single run in either game but struck out 21 Yankees.
Meanwhile, Masahiro Tanaka had a season that did not live up to the billing. Over his last three starts, Tanaka has given up six runs in 18 innings pitched but threw a four run, five inning clunker last start against Boston. In his one start against the Astros this year, Tanaka gave up six runs in five innings of work.
When looking at the position players for each team in a single game series it is hard to pick a decided advantage. I am going to focus on two players from each side. For the Astros it is all about the team table setter in Jose Altuve. He hit .313 this year and led the AL in stolen bases with 38. He was also caught more often than teams would like but the aggressive nature suites him and the Astros. He will have to get on base and start things off.
The other player is one many might not mention since his is not slated to hit in the three or four hole, that is Chris Carter. He struggled mightily this year but when he got his chance in September he has been clutch. Over the last couple of weeks, Carter has hit six homers will batting .326 (well above his .199 on the year). To have that type of pop and production in the back half of the lineup just gives the boys from Houston a real chance.
For the Yankees, it starts with Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. Why? One of them needs to sit. Both have struggled down the stretch and they need to make room in the lineup for Chris Young. While not an everyday player, he has served quite nicely against lefties. He is hitting .327 this year against southpaws and that bat needs to replace one of the others in the outfield.
The other player to watch is Greg Bird. He has been a pleasant surprise this season in limited at-bats (157 of them). He will most likely hit sixth or seventh and couple be in place to drive in runs above him. While the Yankees slumped in September and especially over the seasons last four games, Bird managed to hit .333. They Yankees will need that and the pop that he brings to the plate. The big question is how he will deal with his first post-season game under the lights of Yankee Stadium.
If you forget about name recognition and franchise notoriety, this game just appears to be the Astros game to lose despite the fact that the game is in New York. The question is whether or not the youngsters in Houston will realize where they are and freeze under the lights. The other issue is how Dallas Keuchel will deal with three days’ rest. Even with that, the Yankees are just flat out playing bad and Tanaka was handled in his last start. In a one game series I will back the boys in Houston since the numbers tell me so. But it is the playoffs and it is one game so anything can happen.
Predicted Winner: Houston Astros