Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Three keys for Yankees in wild card game

The New York Yankees were not expected to be in the postseason according to many pundits, but here they are in a winner-take-all wild card contest against the upstart Houston Astros. What are the keys for the Yankees to advance to the American League Division Series?

Tanaka matching Keuchel

Masahiro Tanaka was signed to be the pitcher for this exact moment. He is paid an ace’s salary to be successful in the big games. There has not been a bigger MLB game for Tanaka. As far as “biggest game of his career” goes, the same should be said about Dallas Keuchel.

Despite pitching on three days’ rest for the first time in his career, Keuchel is believed to be the exact pitcher the Yankees do not want to deal with Tuesday night. Keuchel has not allowed a run to the Yankees across 16 innings this season, while striking out 21 batters.

If Keuchel is remotely as good as his past performances against the Yankees, it will force Tanaka to be at his best. Tanaka cannot afford to let balls sit in the middle of the plate, especially four-seamers that Astros batters will destroy. If Tanaka gets the feel for his splitter early on and keeps the Astros off balance it will go a long way toward keeping the Yankees close (or dare I say ahead) of Keuchel.

Yankees offense working counts and manufacturing runs

The Yankees used to take pride in taking a lot of pitches. Some of the players still do, but toward the end of the season, there seemed to be an exorbitant amount of first-pitch swinging up and down the lineup. The best thing to assist getting Keuchel out of the game is to raise his pitch count. This is beneficial even if he is keeping the Yankees at bay.

If the Yankees table-setters, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner (or Chris Young if he replaces Gardner) are able to reach base, they must press on the bases and the middle of the order bats, especially Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann (assuming he starts) will need to do their best to at first move runners into scoring position and then follow up with a run-scoring at-bat (a sacrifice fly or RBI-groundout is just fine). Keuchel is not going to allow home runs, so the Yankees cannot go in figuring they’ll utilize that effort in getting runs on the board.

Finally, the bottom of the order has to follow suit. Sometimes a guy like Gregory Bird or Didi Gregorius can make the difference in a win or go home game.

Win battle of the bullpens

I fully expect both pitchers to be competent Tuesday night. I do not believe either will be dominating, but expecting each pitcher to last into the sixth inning and the score to be within one-run is entirely conceivable.

That leaves the matter in the hands of the bullpen where the Yankees are a bit deeper than the Astros in my view. As I mentioned in my full wild card game preview at SNY, the Yankees best relievers – Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller can go multiple innings if necessary. More importantly, if the Yankees have the lead late, the final three have shown on most nights to be able to close out wins and often times they’ve been dominate in doing so.

For the Yankees to win this game, they’ll need to play solid, mistake-free baseball from the starter to the offense to the bullpen. All facets of the club have to come together and play well in order to beat a very capable Astros team.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.