The 2015 MLB season has officially come to a close but the postseason is only just beginning. The first game, and the subject of this preview, is between the New York Yankees and Houston Astros as they head to Yankee Stadium with a spot in the wildcard round on the line (8:05pm ET, Tuesday).
The Yankees spent most of the year at the top of the AL East standings, returning to a position of dominance they had been missing. With Alex Rodriguez back in the line-up every day, the Yankees surged during the first half of the year. It wasn’t until a late push by the Toronto Blue Jays, who finished with 93 wins and as AL East champs, that the Yankees found themselves six games back in the division and barely hanging on to their playoff spot.
The Astros experienced a similar season storyline, doing so in the AL West, the division that finished tied for the closest in baseball. The Astros finished just two games behind the Texas Rangers, who won the division for the third time in the past six years. Houston won 86 games and looked like the team to beat before Texas managed to go on a streak late. Ultimately, the Astros came up just short, putting them in the win or go home game against the Yankees.
Taking the mound for the Yankees is Masahiro Tanaka (pictured). The ace of the New York staff, Tanaka finished the season with a 3.51 ERA, 139 strikeouts, a sub-1.00 WHIP and 12-7 record. Tanaka, who will be making his first start since Sept. 30, is coming off of two straight losses in which he surrendered six total runs and three home runs.
Starting for the Astros is Dallas Keuchel, one of the MLB’s 20 game winners. Keuchel, who finished the year with a 2.48 ERA (2nd in the AL), 216 strikeouts and a 20-8 record, was one of the best pitchers in the American League this year. On Tuesday however, he will be starting on three days rest, doing so for the first time in his career. Keuchel is coming off of three straight wins however and has allowed just four runs in his last 20.2 innings pitched. Not to mention, he is the first pitcher since 1985 to have two complete games in his first two starts against the Yankees.
Keuchel is a real innings eater and has only had enough bad starts to count on one hand. Minus his September 16th outing against the Rangers, Keuchel didn’t allow more than three earned runs in a single game throughout August and September. But he’s never pitched on three days rest and never in such a high pressure situation. He’s still young and inexperienced. That said, Tanaka is younger and more inexperienced. He’s a rookie and as big as the stage is for Keuchel, it may be even bigger for the Yankees righty.
Offensively speaking, both the Yankees and Astros can score runs. New York was the second highest run scoring team in MLB and Houston is sixth. Both teams are led by stars as well. Evan Gattis (27 HR) and Jose Altuve (.313 BA) for the Astros and Alex Rodriguez (33 HR) and Brian McCann (94 RBI) for the Yankees, have all been key contributors and will look to be again. The Yankees especially will be aided from their postseason experience as most of Houston’s roster has never been in this situation.
All that said, Keuchel has owned the Yankees this year and three days rest or not, it’s tough to see that kind of consistent pattern ending.