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
After winning Game 3 of their series against the Astros, 9-6, the Yankees play the Astros at Minute Maid Park at 2:10 p.m. EST in the series finale. In Saturday’s game, the Yankees had a 6-0 lead and then Masahiro Tanaka allowed two runs in the second, one in the fourth and then three in the fourth including a two-run homer by rookie Carlos Correa to tie the game. Tanaka had his second consecutive subpar performance to raise his ERA to 3.88 and is not being consistent enough right now to be considered the No. 1 starter.
The Yankees won the game as a result of Mark Teixeira’s two-run double to deep left center in the eighth to score Brett Gardner and Chris Young. Chase Headley hit a solo homer in the ninth to give the Yankees an insurance run. Teixeira’s two RBIs in the eighth gave him 53 for the season, which puts him in a three-way tie for first in the American League.
In today’s game Michael Pineda will get the start for the Yankees. He will look to rebound from his previous start as he allowed eight runs on 11 hits in only 3.1 innings. He did not have command of his slider during that start against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Carlos Beltran, who has a .320 average with four doubles in his last six games, will get the day off. He needs more rest days than some players because he is 38 years old. With Beltran out of the lineup, Alex Rodriguez will be the DH and Garrett Jones will get the start in right field.
The Yankees will look to win the series 3-1 before going to Anaheim to play the Angels. Here is the lineup against the Astros:
Brett Gardner CF
Chase Headley 3B
Alex Rodriguez DH
Mark Teixeira 1B
Brian McCann C
Garrett Jones LF
Chris Young RF
Didi Gregorius SS
Stephen Drew 2B
With the Yankees losing 2-0 in the seventh inning, Young hit a three-run homer off of Will Harris over the 19-foot wall in left field at Minute Maid Park to give the visitors a 3-2 lead. Young’s game-winning homer, which was his ninth of the season, drove in Carlos Beltran and Garrett Jones.
“That is huge,” Joe Girardi said. “We had not done much up until that point. He (Young) has been really hot and that is why he is playing everyday.”
He is from Houston and always enjoys playing at Minute Park based on how well he plays and that his friends and family can watch him person.
Young said after the game that he left 50 tickets for friends and family to attend the game. He began his career back in 2006 and has been playing games as a visitor in Houston ever since. In 105 at-bats at Minute Maid Park he has hit nine homers with a remarkable .409 average.
“I’m sure it’s something to it,” he said of playing in his home park. “I mean it definitely doesn’t hurt to have some extra support behind your back, a little extra little fire when you to the plate.”
Young, who struggled in May after his hot start to the season, is on a nine-game hitting streak with four consecutive multi-hit games to raise his average to .271. He has been playing very well the previous seven games with Jacoby Ellsbury still on the disabled list and if he continues hitting like this he will deserve to split time with Beltran when Ellsbury returns.
“To be able to do it in front of your family, your home town, and the city you grew up coming to baseball games in and now you’re one of the players on the field, it’s a little special for me,” Young said.
The Yankees were only 1-5 with runners in scoring position, but Young came through when it counted as he hit his third homer in June.
Eovaldi (7-2, 4.81 ERA) is from nearby Alvin, Texas, which is well known as the hometown of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. Eovaldi looked up to Ryan growing up and said that he didn’t know that the all-time leader in strikeouts was sitting behind home plate until the fifth inning.
“Growing up, for me, I connected baseball with him,” Eovaldi said of Ryan.
He allowed two earned runs in six innings and this was his second consecutive start limiting the opposition to two runs scored. This means that he has bounced back very well from allowing nine runs in two thirds of an inning to the Miami Marlins on June 16.
Eovaldi, who had six strikeouts, used his splitter very effectively against the Astros according to Girardi. “I think his curveball was important for him tonight and the command of his fastball,” Giradi said. “He was able to elevate it at times and go down and away at times. I thought they mixed the pitches very well and kept them off balance.”
He has improved his stuff and has kept hitters off balance a lot more in his last two starts since he has allowed five and three hits respectively in his last two starts after allowing a combined 17 hits in his previous two starts.
“Tonight I was just trying to take it pitch by pitch,” Eovaldi said.
According to the Yankees PR Department and Fangraphs, Eovaldi’s fastball has the highest average velocity (95.9) in the Majors this season. He can be an effective starter when he locates his secondary pitches and throws his fastball at the right time, but he just needs to avoid starts when he completely loses his command.
After Eovaldi was taken out of the game after throwing 100 pitches, Chasen Shreve, Justin Wilson and Dellin Betances combined to throw three innings and not allow a hit. Shreve, who has not allowed a run in his last 13 games to lower his ERA to an impressive 1.76, had three strikeouts in his inning pitched, and Betances struck out two of the four batters he faced.
After winning the game on Friday in Houston with big contributions from hometown players, the Yankees will play the Astros at 4:10 EST and will try for their first winning streak since they won straight from June 17-20. Masahiro Tanaka will make his first start against the Astros and will hit for the second game this season.