American League Wild Card Game Preview: Will the Yankees Fend off the Astros?

Masahiro Tanaka will face a power-hitting Astros squad. Will he be able to suppress the bats?

On Tuesday night, Yankee Stadium will be the ultimate win-or-go-home atmosphere for the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros, who square off the in the American League Wild Card game.

Entering their 52nd playoff appearance in franchise history, the Yankees are fittingly a veteran squad. Conversely, the upstart Astros are in the postseason for just the 10th time. 

The Yankees are shelling out a payroll of roughly $214 million compared to a payroll of about $69 million for Houston. 

The two teams have taken extremely different paths to get here, but all differences aside, their respective seasons rely on just one game.

What matchups will help decide the fate of each squad?

Pitching Matchup

On the hill for the Yankees will be Masahiro Tanaka, who owned a 12-7 record in the regular season. For Houston, Dallas Keuchel (20-8) gets the nod. Those records, though, don't tell the full story.

Dallas Keuchel2322.482.752.848.3823.72.51
Masahiro Tanaka1543.513.293.368.1222.81.63

Keuchel put forth the better record and ERA, and while his xFIP and SIERA were still better than Tanaka's marks, the gap narrows when looking past ERA. Further, both players sport a fairly similar strikeouts per nine innings mark as well as strikeout percentage.

However, according to our nERD metric, which indicates how many runs above or below league average a player performs, Keuchel provides a big edge, saving 2.51 more runs per 27 outs than an average pitcher would.

Keuchel faced the Yankees twice this year. In his two outings, he put up a line of 16 innings pitched, 21 strikeouts, 0 earned runs and a 0.62 WHIP. Tanaka faced the Astros once this year. In his lone outing, Tanaka posted a line of 5 innings pitched, 5 strikeouts, 6 earned runs and a 1.8 WHIP.

It isn't all sunshine and rainbows for the Astros though. Kuechel is pitching on three days rest for the first time in his career. Who knows how he will be able to handle that both physically and mentally?

To add another asterisk next to Kuechel's name for the Wild Card game is that he is just 5-8 with a 3.44 xFIP away from his home, Minute Maid Park. His home xFIP was 2.20. But the Astros have all struggled on the road this year, posting a 33-48 record.

Configuring the Bats

The Yankees are batting .257 against lefties this year while the Astros are batting .251 against righties this year, both of which are right in the middle of the MLB.

But the Yankees rank fifth in the league in wRC+ (107) and boast a .330 wOBA against southpaws. Houston's wRC+ against righties (104) also ranks fifth, and they sport a .324 wOBA against right-handers on the season.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has said that he hasn't decided on a lineup and won't submit one until late Tuesday. The lineup will most likely be righty-filled to battle the dominant lefty, Keuchel. Girardi is considering benching either Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury for Chris Young, who sports a 162 wRC+ and .409 wOBA against left-handers this season.

He is also flirting with starting J.R. Murphy over Brian McCann to get another righty bat in the lineup.

One interesting thing to keep an eye on is the speed of Houston. They led the American League in stolen bases and often lean on their quickness to improve their scoring opportunities. However, teams have tried to steal just three times off of Tanaka all season; two of those guys were thrown out.

Vegas opened with Houston as the favorite, but the line has since shifted toward favor of New York. It is now close to a pick 'em. The total line is bouncing back and forth between 7 and 7.5.

Houston finished the season ranked third in our power rankings with a team nERD of 0.91. New York was 12th with a score of 0.21. That might not matter over a one-game sample, but this game will provide pitching and hitting matchups worthy of the spotlight cast by playoff baseball.