To the fans of the New York Yankees and Houston Astros:
Your 162 game MLB season is nothing more than an appetizer to the full course meal that begins after these sorry suckers slug it out in a Wild Card playoff game on Tuesday. It's as equally foul as it is great. All of that hard work and your season’s fate is decided by an NFL-playoffs scenario where you must play the most perfect baseball game possible or you’re one and done.
Seems kind of unfair and adverse to the incremental rewards that the unique sport of baseball offers. Baseball contests and standards of superiority aren’t usually measured in one nine-inning game. However, MLB has found a way to create instant excitement for the playoffs (and more doe for the money train) by giving a few solid squads a symbolic offering, a brief feeling of October immortality if you will, before joining the other 20 teams at home; chilling and preparing for their next shot at World Series glory.
The veteran Yankees and the youthful Astros are both limping into this playoff after ratchet September showings. Houston lost 14 of its first 21 September games and the Yankees played brain dead after clinching a playoff spot in September.
The two franchises, however, value their appearances in different ways. While this wild card game is almost shameful for spoiled Yankees fans, Astros fans are lost in a euphoric return to the playoffs for the first time since that World Series squad of ’05. A squad that featured Yankees-on-hiatus, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.
Pettitte left the Yankees and signed as a free agent in 2004. In 2005 "Dandy Andy" helped the Astros make their first trip to the World Series. His 2.39 ERA was a career-best, and second in the NL behind teammate Clemens. They lost to the Chicago White Sox and haven’t come close since. In fact, this is Houston’s first winning season since 2008. It’s the old regime vs. the rising of the stepchild Tuesday night at 8pm EST. The "House That Ruth Built" will be rocking.
Houston's young gunners will lead the way.
And veteran studs such as power bat Chris Carter (Today’s Dave Kingman) and Jose Altuve (The first player in Astros history with back-to-back 200 hit seasons).
Most definitely a reason to celebrate.
Houston was abysmal in its first two years in the American League with a combined record of 121-203, but they clinched their wild-card berth after the Texas Rangers beat the LA Angels on Sunday. It’s been a come up in the making and Houston has a band of fresh, young faces that will inevitably be introduced to the baseball world. Playing the legendary and incomparable Yankees at Yankee Stadium offers a rare international spotlight for any player who chooses to seize the moment.
In a longer series, the Yankees probably win this on experience alone. However, they haven’t really hit consistently all season. A Rod seems to be fizzling out at the wrong time, and the pitching staff has been riddled with injuries all year. This team’s bread and butter had been the bullpen combination of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, but Betances hasn’t been the same pitcher he was before the All-Star break. We know the deal though; in a one game elimination anything can happen. Usually the first team to grab a lead is in solid shape when they have bullpen cats capable of shut down performances.
The Yankees lefty-heavy lineup will have their hands full with AL Cy Young probable Dallas Keuchel who is tossing on three days rest (Who does he think he is, rubber-arm CC with the Brewers?). the bearded-wonder has been a beast this season. Friday night at Chase Field he became the seventh Astros pitcher -- and second lefty -- to win 20 games in a season. He went 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA over 232 innings and carried the Astros staff into these playoffs.
The Astros won two of three regular season games in New York. Keuchel got two of those wins and didn't allow a run. Stats are pretty much irrelevant at this point, but if recent history is any indication, that home-field advantage the Yankees have won’t do much good as they are 5-7 at home in the postseason since winning their last World Series in 2009.
A homer-happy Houston squad and Keuchel is a tough draw for Yankees hurler Masahiro Tanaka who is injury-prone and has given up 25 homers this season. Tanaka is the closest thing the Yankees have to a stopper and he's well paid to say the least...so have at it $175 million man.
Then again, Keuchel evens out the Yankees’ home playoff ineptitude with some shoddy road work of his own. He’s 15-0 with a 1.46 ERA at home this season in Minute Maid Park.
However, he’s just 5-8 with an inflated 3.77 ERA away from Houston, Texas. Road work is obviously his kryptonite and with the veteran bats that the Yankees have, combined with a suspect Astros bullpen, I think the Bronx Bombers will pull this one off and advance to the ALDS against the Kansas City Royals where they will be exposed worse than Donald Sterling spitting the real on secret recordings.
Sure the San Francisco Giants pulled off the improbable last season as a wild card, but Madison Bumgarner is at home this postseason and I don't see either of these teams duplicating that run.