The MLB playoffs are finally upon us. After six months and 162 games per team, it’s time for the real season to begin. We’ve seen historic performances, teams that rose above expectations, and other story lines that have made for an intriguing regular season. All of that essentially becomes irrelevant now. The reset button has been hit, and it’s all about who can survive three series and win 11 games (or 12 for some).
To begin the postseason, we will see two wild card play in games, one in each league. On the AL side of things, the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, two teams who looked like they would win their respective divisions at one point this season, will face off for the right to move on and face the Kansas City Royals in the ALDS. Seeing the success of wild card teams in the past, the winner of this game could have a great shot at making a run at the World Series. So, to say the implications are huge would be an understatement.
With that, let’s preview this matchup and see who will ultimately come out on top.
Offensively, both of these teams can produce some serious pop from their lineup. Each team ranked in the top six in runs scored during the regular campaign and also were two of the top five home run hitting clubs in the majors. Therefore, you could expect to see some fireworks in this one.
For the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez has been possibly their top hitter, having a revival of a season with 33 home runs and 86 RBI. Mark Teixeira was also having a great season for New York, but he’s now battling injury and will be unavailable for the wild card game, as well as any other postseason action. Rodriguez, therefore, really needs to produce for the Yankees to win this game.
On the Astros’ offense, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa have led their productive lineup. Altuve has knocked in 66 runs while hitting 15 home runs to support his .313 average. Correa, the likely rookie of the year winner, powered 22 homers over the wall this season and drove in 68 runs in just 99 games played. These are the two most consistent hitters for Houston, and they will both need to play big in order for the team to knock off the Yankees.
The pitching battle
The projected starter in this game for the Yankees is Masahiro Tanaka. He pitched to the tune of a 3.51 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 2015, winning 12 games in the process. Tanaka has probably been the most consistent starter for New York this season, so it makes sense that he is getting the start here. If he can set the tone early and keep the Astros from hitting the long ball, the Yankees will be in good shape.
For Houston, one of the best pitchers in baseball will be taking the mound in this matchup, that being Dallas Keuchel. The fourth-year pro was electric in the regular season, compiling a 2.48 ERA, 216 strikeouts, and 20 wins (most in the AL). One thing that is a bit of a concern, however, with Keuchel is his home vs. road splits. He’e been significantly better pitching in Houston than he has been on the road in 2015, so with the Astros on the road in this game, that could come into play. Still, they would want nobody else taking the mound in a winner take-all situation. Keuchel gives them a great chance to move on.
Houston has a bunch of hitters who can hit home runs. Luis Valbuena and Evan Gattis are among those guys, and they are two players who can make or break this game for the Astros. Gattis actually led the team in homers with 27. In a DH role, his bat is critical for the Astros cause against the Yankees. As for Valbuena, he was right behind Gattis with 25 long balls. The problem with these two is the fact that if they aren’t hitting home runs, they aren’t doing much at all for their team. Each struck out a bunch this season and had low averages, so they need to hit the ball out in order to play a positive role in this game.
As for New York, you have to look away from the offense to see their true x-factor. Having a great bullpen can carry you far in the postseason and the Yankees have a terrific arm in closer Andrew Miller to rely on late in games. On the season, Miller saved 39 games while only blowing 2 saves. He also has a very low ERA of 1.50 and struck out 100 batters in 61.2 innings pitched. There are also other great arms in the Yankees’ pen as well, so if they bring their A-game, it could be difficult to knock this team off.
Who’s got the edge?
Closely looking at the tale of the tape, you see an intriguing matchup between the Yankees and Astros to begin the American League postseason. Both teams can hit and score runs. Both have the ability to pitch very well. It’s going to be a close game that could very likely come down to the final out.
Thanks to having a better starting pitcher, a lineup that can produce at more positions, and hunger (which was something not mentioned), the Astros appear to have a slight edge in this contest. If they do indeed get by the Yankees, the Royals will certainly have their hands full in the ALDS.
Regardless, this could be one of the best games of the entire postseason, and it will be a treat to see who ultimately comes out victorious.