The Yankees will play their wild card playoff game tonight at 8:00 p.m. against the Astros at Yankee Stadium. If the Yankees win then they will play the Kansas City Royals (95-67) in the American League Division Series since the Royals had the best record in the American League.
Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51 ERA, 0.99 WHIP), who allowed four runs in five innings against the Red Sox in his last start on September 30, will take the mound for the Yankees to begin tonight’s crucial game. Tanaka’s sub-par performance during his previous start might have been because he was rusty after not having pitched in the previous 12 days. Tanaka will have to keep the ball down in the zone and have his plus splitter tonight against the Astros.
Tanaka is the team’s ace and in his three starts before September 30, he allowed three runs combined while striking out 21 and only walking one batter. On September 13 against the powerful Toronto Blue Jays lineup, who scored the most runs in all of baseball, he threw a shutout in seven innings while recording seven strikeouts and no walks. The Yankees will need Tanaka to pitch with that kind of effectiveness tonight and not pitch like he did during his previous start against the Astros when Houston scored six runs (three homers) off of him in five innings.
The Yankees need a solid start from Tanaka because the Astros starter, Dallas Keuchel, has had a Cy Young caliber campaign. Keuchel, who finished the regular season with 20 wins and an outstanding 2.48 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and 216 strikeouts, dominated the Yankees in his two starts against them during the season. In two starts against the Bronx Bombers, he did not allow a run in 16 innings while striking out 19 batters.
Keuchel throws a sinker (90 mph), slider (80 mph), change (80 mph), cutter (87 mph) and a four-seam fastball (90 mph). He can command all of his pitches for strikes, which makes him hard to hit. Keuchel is coming into tonight’s start with momentum as he gave up four runs combined in his previous three starts and on September 27 he allowed one run in seven innings while recording 10 strikeouts. That was the fifth time this season that he struck out 10 or more batters.
However, one advantage that the Yankees could have against Keuchel is that he will be pitching on short rest for the first time in tonight’s game. Also, Keuchel and all of the Astros position players except Carlos Gomez, Jed Lowrie and Colby Rasmus will be playing in the postseason for the first time.
“I play with a chip on my shoulder,” Keuchel said Monday at Yankee Stadium. “I think a lot of the guys do in there as well. And we’ll always carry that.”
The Yankees will need the same kind of offensive production from rookies Rob Refnsyder and Greg Bird that they received during the last few weeks of the season. In Bird’s last 13 games of the season, he had 14 hits in 48 at-bats (.292) with three doubles, four homers, eight runs scored and 10 RBIs. That is very good production from a rookie who is playing in place of the injured Mark Teixeira.
In Refsnyder’s eight starts at second base in the last 11 games of the season, he had 11 hits in 28 at-bats (.393) with three doubles, one homer and three RBIs. He has had the majority of his starts against lefties and has hit them very well.
The Astros, who were 53-28 at home this season, were only 33-48 in away games. That has to do with Houston being a young team. Keuchel has also been much better at Minute Maid Park than in away games this season since he had a 1.46 ERA at home and a much higher 3.77 ERA away from Houston. Keuchel pitching on short rest and the game being at Yankee Stadium could be factors in this wild card game.
Here is the roster that the Yankees will use for tonight’s game against Houston:
John Ryan Murphy