October is finally here and all 162 games of baseball have been played. Our 2015 playoff journey starts with the Houston Astros squaring off against the New York Yankees in the Bronx on October 6th at 8:00. The winner of this game will move on to the ALDS to face the Kansas City Royals, a clubhouse who has every intention of taking the playoffs by storm after a heartbreaking finish last year in the World Series. After edging the Astros by one more win to gain home field advantage, the Yankees look to capitalize on what is a crucial one game playoff for a franchise that has had so much success in the past. For the Astros, however, this is a new scene. After moving into the American League, the Astros were predicted to have some success but no one anticipated the sudden surge that this team has put together this season.
Perhaps the biggest issue for the Yankees heading into this one game duel against the Astros is the superb ace, Dallas Keuchel. Leading the AL with an impressive 20 wins with a 2.48 ERA, Keuchel has helped the Astros to assert their dominance as a young clubhouse. On top of his 20 wins, his two starts against the Yankees have been nothing but perfect. Over 16 scoreless innings, Keuchel managed to strike out 21 batters along with one complete game. The Yankees, despite having scored the second most runs this season next to the Blue Jays, have not been able to even make Keuchel flinch on the mound. His potential Cy Young performance in the regular season has given the Astros life. The 27 year old looks to go into the Bronx and perhaps finish off the Yankees for good.
On the other side, the New York Yankees will send out Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese ace that the Yankees acquired to bring them back to October. Tanaka’s injuries over the season left him on the bench for a good portion of the season. His mediocre season ended with a 12-7 record with an ERA of 3.51. However, Tanaka’s consistency down the stretch has solidified his role as the Yankees ace. In the Bronx, Tanaka has been a very impressive pitcher. He has not given up more than three earned runs in his last 9 of 10 starts at Yankee Stadium. Despite his shaky start against Houston, the Yankees did rally back to beat the Astros. Keuchel, despite his stellar performances, has been struggling on the road. He has a losing record along with a 3.77 ERA, a notable difference than his 1.46 ERA at home. The Yankees are a much better home team than they are on the road and that also plays in their favor. Houston’s 33-48 record should be something that weighs over the coaches’ shoulders as they travel to the Bronx.
When looking at the rosters for the teams, there are stars scattered all over the place. For the Yankees, the consistent production from both Ellsbury and Gardner has put the Yankees in good shape. Losing Mark Teixeria really took a toll, but the emergence of rookie Greg Bird has provided the Yankees lineup with some more firepower. Alex Rodriguez, quite potentially the most controversial player on the roster, has given everything and more for an aging team that chases a 28th championship as a franchise. McCann has been a solid catcher both offensively and defensively. Gregorious, Headley, and Beltran have had their moments but apparently not enough to overcome the Blue Jays in the AL East pennant race.
Now, let’s look at the Astros. A young rising star Jose Altuve takes the field by storm. The second baseman has had an impressive season with 15 HR and 66 RBIs with a respectable .313 average. Carlos Correa has been consistent for the Astros along with Colby Rasmus and Evan Gattis. This young team reminds me of the Royals last year. No one can be considered a superstar yet the Astros are finding ways to win with great pitching and hitting.
The Yankees, despite the questions surrounding their starting pitchers, they have been bailed out by an impressive bullpen. Betances has been one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball and Andrew Miller has done his best to fill the role of the Yankees closer. Warren, Bailey, Wilson, and Martin have contributed in decisive games that were decided either by 1 or 2 runs. The Astros have had their fair share of talent in the bullpen. Luke Gregerson has been a solid closer for the Astros. Pat Neshek and Chad Qualls have been decent throughout the season. Tony Sipp and Vincent Velasquez have also contributed to a bullpen that has managed to seal wins for the Astros throughout the season.
This game is a clash of the old and the new. The Yankees have a history that every fan of baseball either loves or hates, depending on if you’re a Yankees fan or not. Their 27 rings are always put into debate whenever someone attacks a Yankee fan for not being as good despite what money can buy them. This is somewhat true. Money can buy a team like the Yankees a lot of players that can help piece together a championship contending team, but, we have seen a new trend in the recent years. The Houston Astros resemble the new era. Teams such as the Royals, Pirates, Cubs, and Astros have done something that was often shadowed by the big name teams such as the Yankees and Dodgers buying their talent. The new rising teams have slowly but surely built a team with key players coming straight out of their farm system.
I do think that having a veteran on the roster helps with leadership and team chemistry, however, having just a bunch of aging players does not win championships anymore. The Yankees have retired four great players known as the Core Four in a fairly short span of time. Last year, the legendary and well-respected Derek Jeter retired after a magical final game at Yankee Stadium. Filling his shoes cannot be defined as just acquiring a new shortstop; rather the Yankees need to rely on new players to take a leadership role. The Astros are a new shining team of the American League while the Yankees are all but a flicker that hints at a past that was filled with much more celebrations and parades through the Bronx.
As a loyal Yankees fan, I would want nothing more than to truly chase Number 28 and have another ring for the other clubhouses to marvel over. However, the Yankees are just not the team they were. Barely surfacing in the playoffs after a two-year drought have been slight hints that the pinstripes are slowly fading. The 2009 season may have well been the last of the magic for the time being for the New York Yankees. However, this game is between two franchises that have drastically different playoff backgrounds. If the Yankees can capitalize early on Keuchel’s mistakes in the first few innings, their powerhouse of a lineup should be able to clean this mess up and head to Kansas City to battle for the ALDS. But, if the Dallas Keuchel that showed up for the past two starts against the Yankees reemerges for a three-peat of excellence, the Yankees would be in deep trouble. Both teams have fallen on their faces before this playoff showdown and it seems as though both lineups have to get back to their winning ways. Both pitchers are fairly new to the playoff scene, but they cannot shy away from this opportunity.
I believe that the New York Yankees still have a little bit of fight left in them to power through at home and take out the Astros. It will be a close game that will come down to the last out. The final score will be 3-2 New York. As for the ALDS against the Royals, let’s just take it step by step. But, hear me out. If the Astros do lose this game, do not forget about them. Expect another stellar season come next year.
C.C. Sabathia has checked himself into an alcohol rehab facility, and will not be apart of the Yankees playoff run.