The Astros have been a great story this season and they have the AL Cy Young favorite on the bump for the Wild Card Game, but the Yankees may still hold value as home dogs.
It has been a Cinderella story for a longtime American League doormat this season, but the clock may strike midnight as a small road favorite Tuesday night when southpaw Dallas Keuchel and those Houston Astros (86-76, 33-48 away) pay a visit to right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and the New York Yankees (87-75, 45-36 home) in the American League Wild Card Playoff Game from Yankees Stadium in the Bronx, NY at 8:05 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.
The posted money line at Pinnacle Sports has New York as a tiny home underdog for this contest at current odds of +102.
Doormats No Longer
The Astros had been one of the worst teams in baseball for quite a while, losing over 100 games every season from 2011 to 2013 before “improving” to 70-92 last year. However, it was obvious last year that Houston did have some good young talent and the youngsters seemingly all gelled together this year with the Astros actually leading the American League West for a huge chunk of this season before faltering a bit in the second half.
In fact, the Astros were actually out of a playoff position for a few days before re-rallying late to claim their first playoff spot since reaching the 2005 World Series, and they came very close to gaining the first wild card spot, which would have put them home for this game, but they blew that chance by losing the regular season finale to the Diamondbacks in Arizona.
The Yankees are obviously the team with both more experience overall and more playoff experience, but they do not exactly enter this Wild Card Game with good momentum having been the losing MLB picks in six of their last seven games. Then again, Manager Joe Girardi rested several regulars per game during that final week of the season, seemingly indifferent to getting home field for this game, and this is enough of a veteran team to now feel recharged.
All-Star Game Starter
Keuchel was the starting pitcher for the American League in the All-Star Game and he appears to be the frontrunner for the Cy Young Award as he was the only 20-game winner in the league at 20-8 and one of just two 20-game winners in the entire Major Leagues along with Jake Arrieta of the Cubs. Keuchel finished with a 2.48 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and a fine ratio of 216 strikeouts vs. 51 walks in 232 innings.
One issue for the young southpaw here however could be pitching on three days rest for the first time in his career, and he is doing so in the most pressurized game of his life on Hallowed Grounds in Yankee Stadium following a season where those 232 innings were a career professional high for him.
Plus, Keuchel wishes the Astros would have won their final game as he finished a perfect 15-0 with a 1.46 ERA back home in Minute Maid Park. Instead, his first ever playoff start comes on the road where he went 5-8 with a 3.77 ERA.
All Hands on Deck
Tanaka is the ace of the Yankees’ staff but he has not received much work as of late due to a hamstring injury, making his first appearance since September 18th last Wednesday and allowing four runs on five hits including a home run in five innings in a very mediocre outing vs. the Boston Red Sox. If Tanaka shows any sign that the hamstring is bothering him, the Yankees will take an “All hands on deck” approach here with the entire staff available in the bullpen.
But if Tanaka is relatively fit and can pitch up to his normal abilities, he can be a very tough customer given Wednesday marked just the fifth time in his last 23 starts that he allowed more than three earned runs and he finished the regular season with a fine 0.99 WHIP and 139 strikeouts vs. only 27 walks in 154 innings.
Furthermore, the young Houston lineup is very strikeout prone averaging 8.6 strikeouts per game offensively, making the Astros vulnerable to Tanaka’s often devastating splitter.
Troubles on the Road
Finally, the Astros may rue losing their season finale in Arizona as they would have been home for this contest had they won that contest with the Yankees also losing their finale. That could become crucial because Houston is a dismal 18-41 in its last 59 road games! Meanwhile, the Yankees are 13-3 in Tanaka’s last 16 starts vs. teams with winning records.
The Astros have been great story, but being small favorites on the road where they have struggled as well as Keuchel pitching on three days rest for the first time and the natural butterflies that com with a young team playing its first ever playoff game could all combine to give New York value at Yankee Stadium hosting Houston in the Wild Card Game on Tuesday.
MLB Pick: Yankees +102