American League Wild Card Preview: Astros vs. Yankees (with "Gamblin" Matt Mortensen)
It’s that time again! Yes, after 162 days of summer, Major League Baseball’s odyssey of a season has ended. In its place; the playoffs, a beautiful time where drama, heroes, goats and those damn St. Louis Cardinals are waiting to take you to soaring heights and excruciating lows. It all starts this week, beginning tomorrow with the AL Wild Card play in game and Wednesday with the NL Wild Card play in game. Naturally, I thought this would be a good time to break things down and give a preview for these games. Just one problem; my beloved Cubs are playing in the NL Wild Card game against the Pirates Wednesday, and to be honest, a preview of that would be me pretty much slamming Pittsburgh while writing Shakespearian things about Jake Arrieta and the Cubs. Thus, I’ll refrain from previewing that game. However, I still have the AL Wild Card match up to take a look at, which is exactly what I’ve done. So sit back, crack open a cold one and get ready for the return of my buddy “Gamblin” Matt Mortensen a few paragraphs down, this is a preview of the AL Wild Card Game between the young, up and coming Houston Astros and the “are they really here again?” New York Yankees.
Al Wild Card Game
Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees
Major Storyline: The clash of overachievers. Let’s not sugarcoat this here folks; the only people who believed that the Astros and Yankees would be in the playoffs this year were the most diehard fans of each team, ESPN and ESPN a second time. And let’s be honest, they were only thinking the Yankees would get in. Not only did these two teams make it all the way to tomorrow’s game, they actually both led their respective divisions for a good portion of the year, which means there’s some solid talent on both squads. The only reason this isn’t an all around feel good game is because the Yankees are involved. Even when they’re underdogs, they’re about as likable Kate Hudson in any movie after Almost Famous. Why she didn’t just move on from acting after that is a mystery; you just can’t do better than Stillwater and William Miller.
Secondary Storyline: Which one of these teams will get out of their own way first? Remember how I said both of these teams led their divisions for a good portion of the year? Well, both also lost them due to an array of issues in the last month of the season. For the Astros, road woes and a Judgment Night esq bullpen led to them losing the west to the Rangers (though the Astros almost took the division back at the end, thanks to resurgent hitting and the Rangers gagging like Rabbit in 8 Mile). For the Yankees, injuries, the Blue Jays, a substandard rotation and the Blue Jays a second time (what can I say; they were REALLY good in the second half) led to them crumbling out of first and almost out of the wild card. Pretty much, you’re looking at two teams that backed their way into the playoffs, hit the garage door and still somehow made it in unscaved. That’s not going to last much longer for one of these clubs. The question is which one will come alive first?
Astros Player to Watch: Dallas Keuchel. Quietly, Keuchel has been the best pitcher in the American League and one of the best pitchers in baseball. He’s the likely AL Cy Young Winner, started the All Star Game for the AL this year and went 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA (as well as a 1.02 WHIP and an excellent 7.18 WAR. WAR is Wins Above Replacement for those who hated the film Moneyball). He’s really, really good. And he’ll have to be really, really good tomorrow in the biggest game of his life, in a ballpark where the Yankees offense can do some serious damage. Make no mistake; if the Astros want to win this game, Keuchel has to give them at least seven innings. If he can’t last that long, expect the Astros to be playing eighteen holes by the end of the week.
Yankees Player to Watch: Alex Rodriguez; because who the hell else could it be? Sure, the Yankees will need a good outing from starting Masahiro Tanaka tomorrow, but unlike the Astros, the Yanks bullpen is good enough that they can keep the score close in event that Tanaka falls flat. That leaves it to the offense, and unbelievably, the leader of that offense is A-Rod. Yes, everyone’s favorite former steroid abuser turned punching bag has somehow resurrected his career at the age of forty, looking like the guy many people once labeled as the best player in baseball (remember those days? Good times). Of course, you could argue the pressure has been off A-Rod most of the year, as literally, more people expected the new Peter Pan movie to be better than he’s been. Now with the lights of the playoffs shining brightly on him once again, A-Rod will have to prove he’s up for leading. Which is easier said than done, considering that his playoff past (roids or no roids) has been lacking to put it best and downright laughable to say the least. Can he prove people wrong again? Or is he about to add yet another punch line to his now depressing resume?
Gamblin’ Matt and the Odds: So the mighty Yankees are going up against the mighty Astros... wait that doesn't sound right. Anyway, as a diehard Yankee fan it's great to see us back in the playoffs, even if it is potentially only one game.
Keuchel vs. Tanaka; should be a good match up. I haven't been overly impressed with Tanaka this year, especially since the All Star break as he’s been giving up too many home runs. And with Yankee stadium benefitting batters more than the pitchers, that makes me worried that home field advantage will actually be a disadvantage. I’ve always been high on Keuchel as a pitcher and his 20 wins this season seem to back up that he has been pitching well. I'm not big on pitchers backing up on short rest, and he is only on three days’ rest, so I would be shocked if that doesn't play a factor in how far he can go in the game if it's tight come the 6th and 7th innings.
If this was a five game or a seven game series I'd be leaning towards the Yankees experience getting them the win. With this being a do or die winner takes all makes this that much harder for myself to predict. Heart or head. The Astros won the head to head series 4-3 and Keuchel was 2-0 against my mighty Yankees without letting in a run and striking out 21 over 16 innings. That's quite nasty I must admit.
Tanaka I think is a certainty, if not to give up a homer, definitely a few doubles and triples perhaps. What this game comes down to, for me, is what does Keuchel have in the tank and Keuchel vs. our lineup. Tanaka is giving up 2-3 runs minimum. Stating the obvious, but we need to score if we want to win and score a handful of runs. Our lineup produced the fourth highest slugging percentage and produced the second most runs in all of baseball this season. Can we score and can we score enough is what this game bottles down to for me. The odds show that the bookies here themselves are struggling to find a clear favourite. Houston and Keuchel are $1.91 while the mighty Yankees and Tanaka are $1.94. Basically a flip em game.
I don't think too many runs will be scored. Feeling a 5-3 sorta game. As much as it pains me and probably much to Cults surprise I'm tipping against my Yankees... Oh well. Not to be too disappointed. Whoever wins is getting swept by the Royals anyway! Did you really think I'd get through a column without mentioning a sweep Cult?
Winner: I can’t believe Matt’s actually going against the Yankees; mainly because that’s who I’m going to pick! The bottom line for me is that this game will come down to how long Dallas Keuchel can last. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s going past seven, which means this game will come down to the bullpens. And, to be frank, the Yankees have a much, MUCH, better bullpen than the Astros do. That, combined with the Astros road issues lead me to believe that the Yankees will pull this one out 7-5. Note though that this could easily swing the other way if Keuchel delivers a big game performance.
That’ll do it sports fans. Special thanks to “Gamblin” Matt Mortensen for his help; you’ll see him again soon when we do our NHL Preview later this week. I myself will be back later with more Twin Peaks stuff. Till next time, let's get some more of the sweep mouse. That thing creeps me out while making me laugh hysterically at the same time!