With a six-game lead in the AL East, the New York Yankees remained subdued at the July 31st trade deadline. They refused to mortgage their future while the Toronto Blue Jays loaded up for a long fall. As a result, they were disposed of in the divisional race, and nearly lost home-field advantage in the wild-card game.
The Houston Astros entered their final game of the season with a chance to not only hold off the Angels to claim the last postseason spot, but to hop the Yankees in the standings and relocate Tuesday’s game to south Texas. A 5-3 loss to the Diamondbacks prevented them from accomplishing the latter, but they managed to sneak into the playoffs after the Rangers punished the Halos 9-2.
In our comprehensive Wild Card preview, we'll try to determine which team will advance to face the Royals for admission to the ALCS. (Note: Neither team's Wild Card roster is set, so we'll update the article when the names are officially announced.)
1. CF-L Brett Gardner (.259/.343/.399/.742/.264)
2. LF-R Chris Young (.252/.320/.453/.272)
3. DH-R Alex Rodriguez (.250/.356/.486/.292)
4. RF-S Carlos Beltran (.276/.337/.471/.280)
5. C-L Brian McCann (.232/.320/.437/.270)
6. 3B-S Chase Headley (.259/.324/.369/.245)
7. 1B-L Greg Bird (.261/.343/.529/.312)
8. 2B-R Rob Refsnyder (.302/.348/.512/.268)
9. SS-L Didi Gregorius (.265/.318/.370/.251)
The Yankees finished the season with the second-most runs per game, playing in the cozy Yankee Stadium and tailoring their lineup accordingly with lefties and switch hitters. It paid dividends; the Yankees finished with the third-highest Guillen #, with 47.5 percent of their runs coming via the longball. An injury to switch-hitting All-Star Mark Teixeira seemed to derail all that, though, as rookie Greg Bird slid into the lineup and saw less-than-ideal platoon splits against southpaws. Chris Young is the team’s go-to bat against lefties and sends nine-figure center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to the bench for the day.
The season began with a heavy dose of Ellsbury and Gardner, but it was high-mileage veteran Carlos Beltran who kept the lineup glued together down the stretch. Without him, the Yankees would be more lost than my father at an Usher concert.
Beltran hit a blistering hot .353 in May with a 1.067 OPS, and ended the season with an impressive .280 TAv, given his age. Outside of Beltran, Dustin Ackley and Didi Gregorius, most Yankees have been trending in the wrong direction entering postseason play. Beltran enters six for his last 19 and could be the most important hitter in this game for New York, given his switch-hitting ability and .306 AVG in high-leverage spots.
1. 2B-R Jose Altuve (.313/.353/.459/.285)
2. RF-R George Springer (.276/.367/.459/.299)
3. SS-R Carlos Correa (.279/.345/.512/.295)
4. LF-L Colby Rasmus (.238/.314/.475/.283)
5. DH-R Evan Gattis (.246/.285/.463/.262)
7. 3B-L Luis Valbuena (.223/.310/.438/.267)
8. 1B-R Chris Carter (.199/.307/.427/.266)
9. C-L Jason Castro (.211/.283/.365/.231)
The Astros will enjoy playing this game at Yankee Stadium—they’re one of just two teams to score a higher percentage of their runs via the home run (47.6 percent) and, much like the Yankees, they have potential landmines littered throughout the order. Luis Valbuena, Chris Carter, and Jason Castro combined for 60 home runs and sit in the bottom third of the lineup. They scored the sixth-most runs per game in the league this year and finished with a .187 ISO, just one point lower than the menacing Blue Jays.
The Astros have stolen the third-most bases in the bigs this year, swiping 121 at a 78 percent rate, but could be thwarted by Yankees catcher Brian McCann and his 36-percent success rate catching runners. Only two things differentiate the Astros from the Yankees in a large way: Houston’s aggressive nature on the basepaths and abundance of righties. Outside of that, both sides can hit for power.
- CF-L Jacoby Ellsbury (.257/.318/.370/.248)
- C-R John Ryan Murphy (.277/.327/.406/.258)
- IF-R Brendan Ryan (.229/.275/.333/.218)
- 2B-L Dustin Ackley (.288/.333/.654/.358 – 57 PA)
- OF-L Slade Heathcott (.400/.429/.720/.386)
- OF-R Rico Noel (.500/.500/.500/.304)
The Yankees have some interesting bats and runners off the bench; Dustin Ackley has a 1.046 OPS since returning from his lumbar strain, and likely only finds himself on the bench because Keuchel throws with his left hand, while Rico Noel was an absolute blur on the basepaths late in games. Then, of course, there's Ellsbury. He has found himself on the bench against some left-handers down the stretch, and while it's now confirmed that he'll be out of the lineup, he is likely still get into the game late to face one of the Astros' end-game right-handers in a big spot.
- OF-L-Preston Tucker (.243/.297/.437/.261)
- OF-R Jake Marsinick (.236/.281/.383/.243)
- 3B-R Jed Lowrie (.222/.312/.400/.263)
- C-R Hank Conger (.229/.311/.400/.263)
- IF-S Jonathan Villar (.284/.339/.414/.270)
- DH-L Jon Singleton (.191/.328/.298/.245)
Much like their starting lineup, the Astros’ bench can rake. Tucker possesses the ability to easily park one at the Stadium, while Villar’s switch-hitting ability makes him a great pinch-hitter late in games. Marsinick is also a threat on the bases. Outside of those three, there’s not much to see here.
Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka (154.0, 3.51, 3.10)
Tanaka returned from a 12-day layoff due to a hamstring issue in his last outing and struggled to make it through five innings, allowing four runs and striking out just three. This caused some to doubt the Yankees’ ace, but he’s the only legitimate call for the Wild Card game. This is the reason they brought the Japanese import to the Bronx. Tanaka has dealt with a partial tear in his throwing elbow all season, yet managed a 1.3 PWARP and serviceable 8.12 K/9. Michael Pineda (blowup factor) and Luis Severino (inexperience) don’t really stack up to the 26-year-old.
Astros: Dallas Keuchel (232.0, 2.48, 2.77)
Keuchel is the last guy the Yankees want to see on Tuesday. He struck out nine Yankees and yielded just three hits over seven innings on Aug. 25 en route to a commanding 15–1 Astros win in New York. Keuchel features a fastball in the 89-92 mph range, mixed in with a changeup and slider. His DRA_PWARP is fourth-highest among MLB starters at 6.24. He has struck out a career-high 216 hitters over 232 innings, the most in the American League. The only question surrounding Keuchel in September was whether or not the Astros would be able to line the southpaw up to pitch in the Wild Card game. They have—albeit on short rest.
Bullpen (IP, ERA, FIP)
- LHP Andrew Miller (61.2, 2.04, 2.22)
- RHP Dellin Betances (84.0, 1.50, 2.13)
- LHP Justin Wilson (61.0, 3.10, 2.87)
- RHP Adam Warren (131.1, 3.29, 3.43)
- RHP Andrew Bailey (8.2, 8.31, 5.20)
- LHP James Pazos (5.0, 0.00, 0.15)
- RHP Ivan Nova (94.0, 5.07, 4.50)
- RHP Luis Severino (62.1, 2.89, 3.83)
The Yankees bullpen, believe it or not, was once very solid. The Yankees decided to stay put at the trade deadline after striking out on a trade for Craig Kimbrel, and afterwards the walls came crashing down. Adam Warren left for the rotation after Nathan Eovaldi’s injury, Bryan Mitchell got hit by a line drive, and Chasen Shreve fell off a cliff. Warren is back, and now helps the Yankees deploy four formidable bullpen arms to relieve Tanaka.
- RHP Luke Gregerson (61.0, 3.10, 3.08)
- RHP Chad Qualls (49.1, 4.38, 3.70)
- RHP Pat Neshek (54.2, 3.62, 4.15)
- RHP Will Harris (71.0, 1.90, 2.38)
- LHP Oliver Perez (12.0, 6.75, 4.49)
- LHP Tony Sipp (54.1, 1.99, 3.01)
- RHP Mike Fiers (62.1, 3.32, 2.28)
- RHP Collin McHugh (203.2, 3.89, 4.03)
The Astros have one of the league’s worst bullpens, and it’s not getting better, with an ERA over 6.00 in the month of September. This is the obvious Achilles heel for Houston. The only somewhat-solid option is Luke Gregerson. Anyone else is pretty much a ticking time bomb.
The Astros rank fourth in defensive runs saved with 30, while the Yankees sit 27th at -38. There’s a large dropoff here from Houston to New York, thanks to poor defense at third from the usually sound Chase Headley and a weak spot in right field with the aging Beltran. He’s probably the team’s biggest pitching-and-defense liability outside of the back end of their bullpen.
Joe Girardi has been very conservative on the basepaths this season in New York, choosing not to utilize the speed that Ellsbury and Gardner give him at the top of the lineup. He’s also tended to over-manage at times, making early substitutions that lead to late-inning problems. He won’t hesitate to look to Heathcott and Noel off the bench as early as the sixth or seventh if it means squeaking out an important run. As for the bullpen, he’s tried just about everything over the past few months. He has four options, and it’d be pretty difficult for him to fumble the task of choosing arms.
A.J. Hinch has sent his runners far more often than Girardi, and represents a more new-age managerial style compared to the Yankees’ skipper. He’s relatively inexperienced, coaching parts of two seasons with the Diamondbacks before this gig, and is in his first year as the Astros skipper.
Hinch is 22-for-47 on challenges, whereas Girardi is a more efficient 22-for-30.
While the Yankees have limped into postseason play, losing six of their last seven, and the Astros have surged, winning six of eight, New York has a better bullpen than Houston and the upper hand in experience. It’s not going to be easy against Keuchel, but if the lefty exits before the eighth inning and the game is close, Girardi will have plenty of chess pieces to move around on offense, defense, and in the bullpen. In a game that almost feels like a coin flip, we’ll take the home side.
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