The MLB season is a notoriously long 162 games, but on Tuesday night the Yankees’ season could end after just one playoff game when the Houston Astros visit the Bronx to play the Yankees in a winner-take-all wild card game for the right to face the Kansas City Royals in the ALDS.
Both teams have their ace going for this crucial contest; Dallas Keuchel (20-8, 2.48) starts for the Astros while Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51) represents the Bombers. After rising to prominence on a bad team last year (12-9 with a 2.93 ERA while Houston finished 70-92), Keuchel logged a Cy Young-worthy campaign this season, pitching 232 innings, striking out 216 batters and recording a WHIP just over 1.000, all personal bests.
The Yankees saw just how good Keuchel is when they faced him two times this year and failed to plate a run against him in 16 total innings, including a complete-game shutout on June 25. In those two starts, the lefty surrendered just nine hits, one walk and struck out an astonishing 21 batters. Yankees with experience against Keuchel outside of this season include Carlos Beltran (four hits with one homer in nine ABs) and Chase Headley (three hits with a homer in 13 ABs). Alex Rodriguez, infamous for his playoff struggles, is 1-for-7 with four strikeouts against the southpaw. The Bombers hope that Keuchel will be less than 100% on Tuesday as he makes a start on three days’ rest for the first time.
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Tanaka followed an electrifying rookie season with a solid but not exceptional 2015. Tanaka regressed in nearly every statistical category, including ERA (2.77 in 2014 to 3.51 this year) and K/9inn (9.3 to 8.1). Tanaka’s only start against Houston came on June 27 of this season, and he was shelled for six runs on seven hits, including three home runs, in five innings. The Astros responsible for some of the damage include Carlos Correa, the phenom shortstop who hit .279 with 22 homers in just 99 games, and AL hits leader Jose Altuve. George Springer, who has been on fire since returning last month after missing 53 games due to an injured wrist, singled and recorded two walks in that game that the Yankees won 9-6 thanks largely to a terrible start by Brett Oberholtzer, who lasted less than two innings.
That 9-6 contest offers a decent idea of what to expect on Tuesday in the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium; the Bombers were second in runs scored and fourth in home runs this season, while the Astros were sixth in runs scored and second in homers.
Having the lead after seven innings will be vital if the Yankees want to win, otherwise they’ll have to deal with the better part of the Astros’ sixth-ranked bullpen. Pat Neshek, who the Bombers are hitting just .194 against in 31 total ABs, will likely pitch the eighth inning before closer Luke Gregerson (31 saves in 2015) takes the mound in the ninth. However, should the Yankees have the lead after seven frames, the Astros will have their work cut out for them against the formidable duo of Dellin Betances (29 holds, 9 saves) and Andrew Miller (36 saves), both of whom have K/9inn ratios of over 14.00. That spells doom for a club that struck out 1392 times, the second-worst mark in the majors this season.
Prediction: Yankees 4 – Astros 3