Who is your choice to win the American League Wild Card game?
This year’s American League wild card game is, in my opinion, just too hard to predict. There are so many variables. My instinct is to go with the Houston Astros and my main reasoning is that if the Astros can get to New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka at all, new Yankee Stadium is a hitter’s park. The Astros main strategy all year to win games has been to hit home runs.
However there are a number of factors once I thought about the game a bit more that go against Houston in this game.
During the first half of the season the Astros hit more home runs than any other team. Those numbers dropped in the second half, they lost their AL West lead to the Los Angeles Angels for a short time in July but gained it back. In August the Astros’ numbers were still low in the home run column. They ended up losing their lead to the Texas Rangers for the remainder of the season and ultimately losing the division title by two games.
The Astros may have lost their division but they had a bit of a home run renaissance and hit 21 home runs over a span of 10 games in the end of the season. A good portion of those home runs were hit by Chris Carter, who suddenly showed up to the yard ready to hit, after having a dismal season batting just .196 with a decent 18 home runs. He ended that run of 10 games with 24 home runs. Chris Carter was a large reason the Astros’ were able to beat out both the Angels and the Minnesota Twins for the final AL spot in the playoffs.
If they can keep hitting the long ball I would absolutely go with the Astros but there are factors against them as well. Dallas Keuchel was 15-0 at home at Minute Maid Park in Houston but all of eight of his losses came on the road. The Astros also had a very poor road record as a team 33-48 to their 53-28 record at home.
Keuchel played well on the road in the Astros’ 21-5 win over the Diamondbacks on Saturday, but overall as previously noted his outings on the road have been less than stellar. At home Keuchel, an All-Star and the top candidate for the AL Cy Young Award, put up an ERA of 1.46. On the road? His ERA was 3.77. That is quite a big difference, not to mention the fact that Keuchel is going to be working against the Yankees on short rest.
Keuchel is going to have to pitch deep into the game too as the Astros bullpen has struggled a bit over the last month. That won’t be as easy for him to do on the road and on short rest. Yet, if his teammates can get the ball out of the yard more than once then the Astros may be able to move onto the American League Division Series.
On the side of the Yankees, they’ve got home field advantage. However the Bronx Bombers’ had an almost identical record on the road as they did on at home (45-36 at home, 42-39 away) so there’s no real guarantee that being at home will give the Yankees that much of an edge.
Then there is the case of starter Tanaka. He’s been good this season, going 12-7 in 24 starts with a 3.51 ERA. Tanaka, however, missed time in both May and September with injuries. The first of which was an elbow injury after he’d spent most of last season and the offseason rehabbing a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament instead of opting for Tommy John surgery. Tanaka came back to start the season with a diminished velocity and still missed time in May.
In mid-September he was sidelined with a hamstring strain. Those can be tricky to comeback from. Tanaka returned on September 30 and allowed four runs in five innings against the Boston Red Sox. That was his final start of the season. Tanaka is going to have to be virtually perfect and go deep into the game to be able to give the ball to Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller who would close it out.
Even if that happens, the Yankees have looked like an exhausted team lately. Betances is young but hasn’t been good recently and most of the Yankees team is aging, even Alex Rodriguez though you can hardly tell. Still, the team looks tired and they are going to have to play Tuesday night as if it were Opening Day.
Both teams seem to have obstacles stacked against them. My gut instinct still stands behind the young, home run hitting Astros’ team to be the winner but if Tanaka is pitching at 100% then I’d give the edge to the Yankees. It’s a tough call. Being from Texas I am rooting for Houston but this game could easily go either way. What do you think?