Monday, October 5, 2015

Wild Card Preview: Astros @ Yankees

This is strange. Usually when I would do series previews on Astros County it was early in the season, and the enjoyment of doing so petered out by, say, the third week of April. This is the first postseason series preview in Astros County's seven year history, and it's a one-game playoff, so this should all be qualified by saying "This is a freaking crapshoot." Still, in the interest of page views (I should probably set up something #OnHere that makes us money for page views) here is your tale of the tape heading into the Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium.

Season Series: 

Houston leads the season series 4-3, outscoring the Yankees 36-17, assisted by the 15-1 romp at Yankee Stadium on August 25. Other, closer games went as follows in 2015:

June 25: Dallas Keuchel threw a complete game shutout with 6H/0ER, 12K:1BB in a 4-0 win. Astros got four doubles, two from Altuve, and 2RBI from Evan Gattis.

June 26: The Astros had a 2-0 lead before a 3-run 7th from the Yankees provided the final margin. Vince Velasquez threw 6.1IP, 5H/2ER, 2K:1BB. Then Will Harris allowed a 3-run homer - two runners of which were inherited from Velasquez.

June 27: The Oberholtzer Game! The Yankees had a 6-0 lead on McCann's 1st inning grand slam and Chris Young's 2nd inning two-run shot. Next batter up was Alex Rodriguez, whom Brett Oberholtzer tried - and failed - to hit. This got him ejected and sent down later that afternoon. Hinch apologized to the Yankees, it was an ordeal. But the Astros fought back and after back-to-back jacks in the 5th by Correa and Altuve, tied the game up at 6-6, all runs off Masahiro Tanaka. Then in a horrible bout of foreshadowing, Neshek walked the first batter he faced in the 8th, the 2nd batter reached on an error, he got A-Rod, and then gave up a 2-run double to Mark Teixeira. Sipp gave up a solo homer to Chase Headley in the top of the 9th, and that was that. 9-6 Yankees.

June 28: Collin McHugh dominated the Jankees after they took a 1-0 lead in the 2nd, ending up throwing 8IP, 2H/1ER, 8K:2BB, 71 of his 106 pitches for strikes. Luke Gregerson got his 18th save. Correa tied the game when he hit a double, advanced on an error by Ellsbury, and made it around the bases to score a not-little-league homer. Correa later scored the go-ahead run on Evan Gattis' 64th triple of the season. Astros split the series.

August 24: Yankees win 1-0 on a walk-off sac fly after Scott Feldman goes 8IP, 6H/0ER, 6K:0BB and Oliver Perez walks the first three batters he sees in the 9th to load the bases for Chad Qualls, who gave up a deep flyball to Carlos Beltran.

August 25: Blowout! Also known as The Game Where Carlos Gomez Remembered How To Hit, Until He Hurt His Ribs (I'm working on the title). Gomez, despite going 8x18 in his first four games as an Astro, was hitting .192/.232/.256 up until the August 25th game. Then he smacked a double, homer, and 4RBI and from that game until the Intercostal strain hit .306/.362/.565.

August 26: A four-run 4th and a solid start from Collin McHugh gives the Astros the series with a 6-2 win. Gattis hit two homers.

Playoff Experience:

The Yankees everyday lineup has played in a combined 237 postseason games with 924 plate appearances.

The Astros' entire offensive corps has played in a combined 35 postseason games with 117 plate appearances.

Advantage: Could go either way! The Yankees could be so bored and jaded, and feel so entitled to a playoff spot that they forget there's not a Game 2. The Astros could be more jacked up and talented that they destroy the Yankees. Or the Yankees' faceless machine doesn't know how to do anything but roll, and they win. Or there isn't an advantage based on playoff experience, because it's a 9-inning crapshoot, anyway.

Experience in Single-Game Situations

The Astros are 86-76 in single games this season. The Yankees are 87-75 in single games this season.

Advantage: YANQUIS.

Recent Form

This is where it gets interesting. The Yankees went 3-7 in their last ten games, and the only reason that this game isn't in Houston is because of a balk and a two-run homer to Paul Goldschmidt. Still, they went 9-11 in their last 20, and 13-17 in their last 30 games. They're depleted. Weak.

But hey it's not like the Astros set it on fire and pissed on the ashes in the last month. Yeah, the Astros were 6-4 in their last ten, getting a crucial 4-2 road trip to end the season, but they were 10-10 in their last 20, and 13-17 in their last 30. Basically the Astros are a game better than the Yankees in their last 20, and dead even in their last 30. Of course, of the five AL playoff teams, only the Blue Jays and Rangers are over .500 in their last 30 games (both at 18-12). So whatever.

Advantage: Push!

Keuchel vs. Tanaka

Of course this comes down to Keuchel vs. Tanaka. Keuchel will be pitching on short rest and while I've made my feelings about his 6th inning last Friday known, there isn't a pitcher I'd rather have on the mound in a one-game series than Dallas Keuchel. I mean, I wouldn't trust Scott Kazmir to start my car right now. I'd give him the keys just to start it, come out five minutes later and he'd be holding the muffler and telling me my game plan sucked.

Tanaka, 2015: 24 starts, 154IP, 126H/60ER, 139K:27BB, 25HR allowed. 3.51 ERA/0.99 WHIP.
Tanaka, Post-ASG: 13 starts, 87IP, 70H/33ER, 72K:14BB, 15HR allowed, 3.41 ERA/0.97 WHIP.
Tanaka, last 5 starts: 32.1IP, 26H/11ER, 29K:3BB, 5HR allowed, 3.06 ERA/0.90 WHIP.
Tanaka, at home, 2015: 14 starts, 87.1IP, 72H/36ER, 78K:15BB, 3.71 ERA/1.00 WHIP.

Tanaka has been pretty great. Just because it's Keuchel doesn't mean this is going to be a walk in the park for the Astros, a formality before the Astros go to Kansas City to exact revenge on Edinson Volquez for breaking Springer's hand. Sure, the second part will likely happen, just not in an organized MLB setting.

If there's anything to feel good about, it's that Tanaka's worst start of the season came against Houston, but at Minute Maid Park. In that June 27 game, he allowed 7H/6ER, 5K:2BB and 3HR. That was actually the second start in a row he had given up 5ER+ and 3HR. Since that start against Houston, he has allowed a 3.31 ERA/0.94 WHIP.

And while we're feeling good about things, or not, we can at least look at his HR/9 (1.46) and see that it's the 9th-highest among pitchers who have thrown at least 150IP. So for a team that likes to hit BOMBZ, that's also, um, good.

Keuchel. We already know Dallas Keuchel. 27 of his 33 starts have resulted in three or fewer earned runs.

Keuchel, 2015: 33 starts, 232IP, 185H/64ER, 216K:51BB, 17HR allowed, 2.48 ERA/1.02 WHIP
Keuchel, Post-ASG: 94.2IP, 81H/30ER, 102K:17BB, 10HR allowed, 2.85 ERA/1.04 WHIP
Keuchel, Last 5 starts: 31.1IP, 30H/13ER, 31K:7BB, 3.73 ERA/1.18 WHIP
Keuchel, on the Road: 102.2IP, 98H/43ER, 77K:23BB, 13HR allowed, 3.77 ERA/1.18 WHIP

The most impressive thing about Keuchel's last five starts is that it includes the 11H/9ER outing at Arlington in 4.2IP. Keuchel's road numbers are skewed for two reasons:

1) Because his home splits are so good. Anything that's not The Greatest Home Record in Major League Baseball history is going to look a little lackluster.
2) 15 of his starts were on the road. In 10 of those starts he allowed three or fewer earned runs. There was the Arlington Disaster on September 16. Three of the other unKeuchel starts were in May and June, and then the only other road start where he allowed 4ER+ was on July 26 at Kansas City. So in six of his last eight road starts, Keuchel has allowed three or fewer earned runs.

Then there's Keuchel against the Yankees: 16IP, 9H/0ER, 21K:1BB.

Advantage: It's one start. Who freaking knows?


Dear God, please let Keuchel throw a Maddux.

The Astros' bullpen issues are well-documented and picked apart.

But the Yankees bullpen has been bad as well. Since arbitrary numbers don't require as much research, we can see that from September 1 to the end of the season the Yankees bullpen has allowed a .270/.363/.458 slash line. The Astros' bullpen in that same time frame? .284/.342/.453.

Advantage: There's no advantage right now.

Astros-Killers vs. Yankee-Killers

Astros-Killer: Chris Young. We have to stop Chris Young. Hit him. Give him syphilis. Do whatever you have to do, Luhnow. Dig deep down into Ground Control's Dark Web and pause the app causing murders and changing the weather to fire a brown note at Chris Young and make him poop himself in the on-deck circle. Chris Young is hitting the Astros to a .333/.391/.619 line.

Yankee-Killer: Evan Gattis. In seven games, Gattis is 11x26 with a .423/483/.885 line, 2K:3BB. Carlos Correa is hitting .333/.385/.583; Jose Altuve is hitting .348/.429/.565.

Advantage: Astros.


There's no use trying to predict this. Let's just hope there's a happy revenge flight to Kansas City on Wednesday morning.