The 2015 MLB regular season is over and the postseason is about to begin. The first game of the postseason is the American League Wild Card game, taking place Tuesday at Yankee Stadium between the Houston Astros I86-76) and the New York Yankees (87-75), who finished in second place in the AL West and AL East, respectively. Twenty-game winner Dallas Keuchel (20-8, 2.48 ERA) is scheduled to start the game for the Astros, on three-days rest, while Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51 ERA) is set to take the mound for the home team.
The Astros are at a disadvantage on the road, where they were 33-47 this year, compared to 53-28 at home, but they do have one of the leading AL Cy Young candidates pitching for them in Keuchel. Although he is going to have to pitch in the game on short rest, Keuchel pitched well against the Yankees this season, throwing 16 shutout innings in the two contests and giving up 9 hits while striking out 21 and walking just 1. If those numbers are any indication, the Yankee hitters have yet to figure out how to hit against him.
Tanaka will look to pitch the Yankees into the ALDS against a lineup that finished the year with the second-most home runs in the majors (230) but also struck out more times (1392) than any team but the Cubs. When he went against the Astros in Houston on June 27, he gave up 7 hits and 6 earned runs in 5 innings of work. He struck out 5 and walked 2 in the no-decision. The 6 earned runs he allowed was the most he has given up in any of his 44 starts in his major league career.
If you give much credence to the pitchers’ performances against the opponents during the regular season, Keuchel would clearly get the advantage, but there is a question about how he will handle pitching on short rest for the first time this season.
Looking at the offense, the Astros are one of the biggest all-or-nothing offenses in the league, as evidenced by the home run and strikeout numbers referenced above. When they’re going strong, they can launch home run after home run, but when they’re in a cold spell, they’re susceptible to being shut out. Overall, though, their team average was roughly even with the Yankees’ at .250 for the Astros and .251 for the Yankees. The Yankees’ offense slowed down in the second half of the season, as you might expect from a team that has a lot of older hitters, like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran; after the all-star break, the Yankees hit .248 and the Astros batted .263. The Yankees’ drop-off is even more noticeable when you look at the numbers for September and October. Last month, the Astros’ average was .272 (fourth in MLB) and the Yankees’ was just .233 (28th in MLB). In the few games played this month, the Astros led the majors with a .347 average in the small sample size, and the Yankees ranked 16th at .233.
I may be biased as an Astros fan, but I think they have the advantage in the Wild Card game. Looking at Keuchel’s numbers against New York and the way the Yankees’ team average has trailed off of late, I don’t think they’ll be able to win the game. Home-field advantage doesn’t mean as much in baseball as it does in other sports so I don’t think that will benefit the Yankees much. In the end, I just think the Astros are the better team right now going into the playoffs and they have one of the American League’s best pitchers leading them into the game.
The winning team moves on to play the AL Central champion Kansas City Royals in an ALDS on Thursday; the AL West champion Rangers play the AL East champion Blue Jays in the other ALDS, which also begins Thursday.