2015 AL Wildcard Game Thread: Astros at Yankees

AL Wildcard Game logoFor the first time franchise history, the Yankees are a wildcard team under the current system. They’ve been the wildcard team before, but not since this new two wildcard team plan was put in place. This is great and terrible at the same time. I’ve got the usual postseason butterflies, except cranked up to about ten. I guess that’s the point of the wildcard game.

If you’re trying to come up with a prediction for tonight’s game, just stop. It’s not worth the headache. Anything can happen in any game. I know it’s the oldest cliche in the book, but that’s because it’s true. Sometimes Aaron Boone comes off the bench to hit a pennant winning home run. Sometimes the other team decides to pitch to your best hitter even though Freddy Guzman is on deck. Sometimes lifting the best reliever in the history of the universe for Graeme Lloyd works. Baseball, man. You can’t predict it. It would be boring if you could. Just enjoy the ride.

Here are the starting lineups, which you’ve seen already. My guess is the lineups at the end of the game will look much different, especially for the Yankees. The starting lineups ain’t the ending lineups.

Houston Astros
1. 2B Jose Altuve (101 wRC+ vs. RHP)
2. RF George Springer (113 wRC+ vs. RHP)
3. SS Carlos Correa (128 wRC+ vs. RHP)
4. LF Colby Rasmus (108 wRC+ vs. RHP)
5. DH Evan Gattis (108 wRC+ vs. RHP)
6. CF Carlos Gomez (102 wRC+ vs. RHP)
7. 3B Luis Valbuena (121 wRC+ vs. RHP)
8. 1B Chris Carter (100 wRC+ vs. RHP)
9. C Jason Castro (92 wRC+ vs. RHP)

LHP Dallas Keuchel

New York Yankees
1. CF Brett Gardner (112 wRC+ vs. LHP)
2. LF Chris Young (162 wRC+ vs. LHP)
3. RF Carlos Beltran (99 wRC+ vs. LHP)
4. DH Alex Rodriguez (148 wRC+ vs. LHP)
5. C Brian McCann (108 wRC+ vs. LHP)
6. 3B Chase Headley (104 wRC+ vs. LHP)
7. 1B Greg Bird (110 wRC+ vs. LHP in a small sample)
8. 2B Rob Refsnyder (77 wRC+ vs. LHP in a small sample)
9. SS Didi Gregorius (73 wRC+ vs. LHP)

RHP Masahiro Tanaka

The weather is New York this evening is damn near perfect. Not a single cloud in the sky or any threat of rain. Just a perfect night to puke over a baseball game. The baseline introductions are scheduled to begin at 7:44pm ET and the game itself will begin at 8:08pm ET. You’ll be able to watch on ESPN. Win it for CC.

Guest Post: American League Wild Card Umpires Preview

The following is a guest post previewing tonight’s wildcard game umpires from Adam Moss, who you know as Roadgeek Adam in the comments. He’s previously written guest posts on Tim McClelland, Frankie Crosetti, the No. 26, Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher, and Miller Huggins.

Eric Cooper was behind the plate for that stupid little incident with Carlos Gomez earlier this year. (Presswire)
Eric Cooper was behind the plate for that stupid little incident with Carlos Gomez earlier this year. (Presswire)

Well, here we go. The first postseason since I started these umpire reviews in the comments of River Ave. Blues. Major League Baseball Communications tweeted out the roster of umpires for the Wild Card games and the American/National League Division Series last night. Generally, in the postseason, we have six umpires, including one in left and right fields. Famously the right field umpire in 1996 came into play with the Derek Jeter/Tony Tarasco fly ball-home run incident in the 1996 American League Championship Series with Jeffrey Maier. The right field umpire that day was Richie Garcia (American League – No. 19) who called it a home run and dealt with Tarasco, Davey Johnson and Armando Benitez at the same time.

The Wild Card game and outfield umpires also reared their ugly heads in the 2012 National League Wild Card game when Andrelton Simmons popped up to left field and the infield fly rule was called by Sam Holbrook (No. 34), which caused poor behavior by the fans of the Atlanta Braves. The left field umpire, Holbrook, decided the IFR was needed despite Pete Kozma being out 75 feet into left field. The call, before the days of review, basically was upheld.

That being said, let’s take a look at who will be umpiring tonight’s game at Yankee Stadium.

Eric “Car Wreck” Cooper (No. 56 – HP)

The Des Moines, Iowa native, Eric Cooper, is our home plate umpire for tonight’s game. Cooper, who was with the crew run by Gary Cederstrom (Crew Q), called home plate for 17 games in the 2015 season, logging a 3.79 umpire’s ERA and a 1.20 umpire’s WHIP. The former is good enough for 46th of the 89 umpires in Major League Baseball this year. Hitters with Cooper behind the plate have had 8.1 hits per 9 innings, a 2.7 walk per 9 innings, and 7.8 strikeouts per 9 innings rate, numbers that would lead you to believe he is a hitter’s umpire. However, his tendency is to have a large strike zone and it shows. Cooper has called three no-hitters, including Hideo Nomo’s 2001 over the Orioles and both of Mark Buerhle’s in 2007 and 2009. Hitters are hitting a mere .241/.296/.401 with Cooper behind the plate and only a 1.04 HR per 9 innings, which also corresponds well to the size of the zone.

As for his ejection tendencies, Cooper is a hothead. His most famous incident comes in 2013, when A.J. Burnett and Russell Martin were arguing with him over a call, and Cooper got out from behind the plate, charged toward Burnett and point at him for warnings about his “behavior,” leading to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle coming in and arguing with Cooper. No one was ejected that day, but that being said, Cooper has a grand total of 61 ejections since he joined MLB on June 17, 1996 as an umpire for the American League. Somehow, in that time period, none have been of the Yankees, but there have been couple for the Mets (Bobby Valentine in 1999 and Mike Piazza in 2005).

Finally, the “Car Wreck” nickname comes from Cooper’s World Series assignment last year, when Joe Torre called from New York to tell Cooper he would be umpiring the Fall Classic. He and his wife were in West Des Moines coming back from a showing of Gone Girl, and he nearly wrecked his car in amazement with his wife in it. They ended up switching positions in the car after the call. He ended up calling one of his fellow veteran umpires, and one of my favorites, the great Tim McClelland about the decision, who told him to “soak it all in.”

Paul Emmel (No. 50 – 1B)

Emmel. (Presswire)

Ergh, we go from a car wreck to another hothead. Paul Emmel also is a massive hothead. However, we will get to that later. Emmel worked on Jerry Meals’ crew in the regular season and had to manage 19 games behind the plate, logging a 4.02 ERA (best for 27th of 89 in the league). Hitters are also hitting at a 1.26 WHIP (higher than Emmel). The 4.02 ERA would open the door to a hitter’s umpire, as well as the rest of the numbers: 8.3 hits per 9, 3.0 walks per 9 and 7.5 strikeouts per 9. Those are all absurdly hitters umpire numbers, but yet, the .244/.309/.386 slash line would care to disagree, as well as the 0.87 home runs per 9 innings. Emmel averages a large strike zone from time to time and sometimes might find a small strike zone.

As for the ejection rate, Emmel, the Midland, Michigan native, has a grand total of 56 ejections since his hiring in July 1999. Most famously for Yankee fans, he threw out Joe Girardi (his 9th as Yankee manager at the time) and Brett Gardner on back to back days in July 2010. That Brett Gardner ejection led to Colin Curtis inheriting the at-bat with an 0-2 count and taking Anaheim’s Scot Shields deep for his first big league home run on a full count. There was much enjoyment out of that home run wasn’t there? Emmel, who started wearing glasses this year, also had the honors of ejecting Brian Matusz in May for illegal substance during a game with the Miami Marlins.

Ted Barrett (No. 65 – 2B/CC)

Did anyone hear a buzz behind plate? Oh, so no one is shaving behind home plate. It is just Ted Barrett’s strike call. Ted Barrett is our second base umpire and crew chief for this series. He was the crew chief for Crew C (Angel Hernandez, Scott Barry and Chris Conroy) and is one of the tallest umpires in MLB at 6ft 4in. A general rule to keep in mind with taller umpires is that they tend to have a hard time with lower strike calls, but Barrett is definitely not that type, as he’s a pitcher’s umpire true and true. He has a 3.22 ERA (best for 81st of 89!) and a 1.21 WHIP (pretty average actually). However, also weird is the 8.1 hits per 9, 2.9 walks per 9 and 7.8 strikeouts per 9, the latter of which support the idea of tall umpire issues. Here’s the kicker however, hitters are slashing a pathetic .237/.298/.359 with Barrett behind the plate. To make things even more blatant, Barrett is the only MLB umpire in history to call two perfect games (Matt Cain’s in 2012 & David Cone’s in 1999). He also has the Ervin Santana no-hitter in 2011 to his credit.

As for his temper, Barrett is one of the best umpires in baseball when giving players, coaches and managers time to vent. Since hired by the American League on May 27, 1994, the Pasco, Washington native has only 58 ejections and one of the few this season with none! This marks the 4th season Barrett has not thrown anyone out (1995, 2009, 2010 and 2012 being the others). He has only ejected one Yankee in 21 years, and that was Ivan Rodriguez on September 8, 2008 for fighting with Torii Hunter when the latter played for Anaheim. The Umpire Ejection Fantasy League, which I am a member of, rated Barrett the best umpire in the league in 2014, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s up again in 2015 for the same award. He’s that good.

Bill Miller (No. 26 – 3B)

If you see a ball from Bill Miller, you best take it, because you probably won’t see it again before the at bat is over. Miller is notorious for possibly having a strike zone and a half, and I mean a half. There’s almost 2 strike zones when Miller is behind the plate and it’s not unknown that he’ll call ANYTHING a strike. Just ask Brett Lawrie in 2012 about that one. Miller worked 19 games behind the plate as a crew chief for Crew P (Doug Eddings, Jim Wolf, & Adrian Johnson) and somehow managed a 3.55 ERA and 1.23 WHIP (both very average numbers). That said, he has an 8.5 hits per 9 rate, a 2.5 walks per 9 rate and a 8.2 strikeouts per 9, the latter two are pitcher’s umpire. Hitters are slashing a pure .249/.304/.375 with him behind the plate and not hitting home runs at all (0.67 per 9). If you’re going to enjoy 0-0 games, enjoy Bill Miller, if not, yuck.

As for his temper, he’s definitely not the worst out there, and you can see how he got to crew chief status. That said, lord does he have ejections around everywhere for balls and strikes and called third strikes. Since being hired by the AL on July 28, 1997, Miller has 45 ejections, most of which are for the strike zone. His only one with the Yankees is Johnny Damon on September 18, 2006 against the Toronto Blue Jays, in which Damon was ejected for balls and strikes from the on deck circle. It is absurdly rare that the on deck player gets ejected, so Damon accomplished quite a feat. But those who know Miller well know the escapade in Toronto with Brett Lawrie, in which Miller called 2 strikes in the 1.5 strike zone and Lawrie threw his helmet at Miller. A fan got revenge later by throwing a beer at him.

Conroy. (Presswire)
Conroy. (Presswire)

Chris Conroy (No. 98 – LF)

Now that the veteran umpires have been tackled, we get to deal with the two who will be working the left field and right field positions, and honestly, I wish we had veteran umpires here, because the newbies for postseason work are doing them. The first is the North Adams, Massachusetts native Chris Conroy, who was promoted to the full-time staff in June 2013 after Brian Runge failed a drug test. (Yes, umpires get tested too!) Conroy has only been in the league since 2010 and I don’t have much to say. This season, as part of Ted Barrett’s crew, Conroy worked 18 games behind the plate, and came to a 3.70 ERA (52nd of 89 in the league) and a 1.31 WHIP (higher end). The rest of the numbers scream hitter’s umpire however, with a 9.1 hits/2.7 walks/7.2 strikeouts per 9 innings this season, as well as a .263/.318/.387 slash line. He is basically a hitter’s umpire.

Conroy, having only been in the majors since September 29, 2010, has a low ejection total, with a grand total of 9, including 3 this season. He has not ejected anyone in the city of New York and only one in the NL East (DeMarlo Hale) for bench jockeying on April 28, 2013. Not much to see here, move on.

Manny Gonzalez (No. 79 – RF)

Finally, we get the other youngin’ for this crew and that is Manny Gonzalez. The Caracas, Venezuela native is our right field umpire and is quite possibly one of the biggest hitter’s umpire in the game, with an insane 4.51 ERA (8th of 89) and a 1.48 WHIP (highest in the league for anyone worked at least 10 games). These numbers speak for themselves in his 22 games behind home plate as a member of Crew O (Fieldin Culbreth’s). Hitters have a 9.9 hits/3.4 walks/7.7 strikeouts per 9 innings slash line and that alone screams tight zone with the propensity to hit. Hitters average 1.05 home runs per 9 and a .280/.347/.438 slash line. If you want a slugfest, this is your man, because he’ll produce one real quick with those numbers.

As for Gonzalez’s temper, there’s not much detail to work with. He only has four ejections since his hiring on May 17, 2010. His very first ejection was of Ike Davis on September 26, 2012 on a call at first (which I remember quite clearly); the others are of Jhonny Peralta, Jeff Banister and Ian Kinsler, the latter two of which were this year. He’s had ejection free seasons three times now (2010, 2011 and 2014) and this season will be his first with two ejections.


I mean, the hitting stats are pointless in the fact that only Eric Cooper’s is whose matters, but the ejection rates matter, and while the Commish usually asks umpires to be more reasonable in the playoffs, it’s not like they don’t eject people in the playoffs either. We have the tale of two crews (3 hitter’s umps and 3 pitcher’s umps, including Lord deStrike, Bill Miller) and hopefully there’s no blasphemous calls that requires Barrett, Torre and [insert umpire here] to hold a press conference after the game, which has been in the case in recent years.

2015 Wild Card Game Lineup: Ellsbury sits against Keuchel

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

The starting lineups for tonight’s winner-take-all wildcard game have been posted. As expected, Chris Young is in the starting lineup. Brett Gardner is not sitting, however. Jacoby Ellsbury finds himself on the bench.

Here’s the lineup board (via me at @CBSSportsMLB):

2015 Wild Card Game LineupsEllsbury has not been good this year, hitting .257/.318/.345 (83 wRC+) overall and .253/.327/.325 (83 wRC+) against lefties. Gardner has slumped in the second half as well, but he was better than Ellsbury this year, both overall (105 wRC+) and against lefties (112 wRC+). It’s a ballsy move by Joe Girardi but the right one.

The rest of the lineup is pretty self-explanatory. Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran flipped spots, but no big deal. I assume Ellsbury and Dustin Ackley will come off the bench at some point in the later innings.

Attacking Altuve: Tanaka has to get the ball down and in

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Only the Blue Jays hit more home runs than the Astros this season, yet Houston’s most important offensive player is a 5-foot-6 contact machine who never hit more than seven homers in a season prior to 2015. Second baseman Jose Altuve is a catalyst from the leadoff spot, so, needless to say, Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees will focus on keeping him off base in the wildcard game tonight.

Altuve, 25, hit .313/.353/.459 (120 wRC+) this season and broke out as a power threat with 15 homers, though it’s his insane bat-to-ball skills that make him so dangerous. Altuve struck out in only 9.7% of his plate appearances this year, the fifth lowest strikeout rate among 141 qualified hitters this year, and his 89.4% contact rate was the fifth highest. If he swings the bat, chances are he will make contact.

Combined with his speed, that bat-to-ball ability makes Altuve a BABIP machine — he had a .329 BABIP in 2015, which was actually below his career average (.331) — and a straight up pest. He is not a comfortable at-bat for a pitcher or fans watching at home. That said, Altuve does have a weakness, because all hitters have a weakness. Against right-handed pitchers like Tanaka, Altuve’s weakness is down and in (click the image for a larger view):

Jose Altuve Heat Maps

The heat map on the left shows Altuve’s runs above average per 100 pitches, which in English means the brighter the red, the more damage he does on pitches in that location. The brighter the blue, the less success he has. The heat map on the right is his swing rate, so the brighter the red, the more he swings. The brighter the blue, the less he swings.

The RAA/100 heat map shows Altuve had no success against pitches down and in from right-handed batters this year. He could do nothing with those pitches, and, to be fair, not many righty hitters can do damage with a pitch in that location. At the same time, the swing rate heat map shows Altuve can’t lay off those down and away pitches. He swings at them more often than not despite the lack of results.

The Yankees already know Altuve struggles against pitches down and in. Look at where they attacked him during their two regular season series this year, via Baseball Savant:

Yankees vs. Jose Altuve

The Yankees really went after Altuve inside. Not so much down and in, but inside in general. They threw him plenty of pitches off the plate away because, well, you have to do that too. If you keep pitching a hitter in the same spot, he’s eventually going to catch up and make an adjustment, especially a hitter as good as Altuve. The outside pitch sets up the inside pitch and vice versa.

Tanaka may be able to exploit Altuve’s down and in weakness thanks to his splitter, which has that natural fade down and in to righties. Again, you can’t throw him nothing but splitters down and in, but that’s the potential out pitch. Altuve can be beat there. He’s been a below average hitter against down and in pitches all season and he has trouble laying off them as well.

Altuve is pretty much the polar opposite of the rest of the Houston offense. He doesn’t have a ton of power but he gets the bat on the ball and puts it in play seemingly at will. The rest of lineup? They’ll swing and miss a lot. Keeping Altuve off the bases will be imperative tonight, and the best way to do that appears to be attacking down and in, under his hands.

Swinging early in the count may be Yankees’ best chance against Dallas Keuchel

(Scott Halleran/Getty)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

Later tonight the Yankees will face Dallas Keuchel in the winner-take-all wildcard game. If I had to hand-pick any pitcher in the big leagues to face the Yankees in an elimination game, I’m pretty sure I’d pick Keuchel. He’s the embodiment of everything the Yankees seem unable to solve, and by that I mean he’s a left-handed finesse guy with a changeup and command. If he were a rookie too, forget it. Game over.

Anyway, the postseason is not easy, and if you’re going to win the World Series, you have to beat pitchers like Keuchel. He’s a legitimate Cy Young candidate, and while he will be working on three days’ rest of the first time in his career tonight, I’m not sure fatigue will be a huge issue. Keuchel will have plenty of adrenaline pumping in his first career postseason start. Solving Keuchel is no easy task. Few teams have done it this year. Here’s a look at how the Yankees may be able to do it.

Head-to-Head Stats

This seems like a convenient place to start. I absolutely believe certain hitters can “own” certain pitchers and vice versa, but head-to-head stats don’t help us identify those matchups well. We’re usually talking about only a handful of at-bats spread across several years. That said, Joe Girardi relies on head-to-head data all the time, and I’m sure it’ll factor into his lineup decision. Here are the numbers, via Baseball Reference:

Chris Young 21 20 6 2 1 0 2 1 2 .300 .333 .500 .833
Chase Headley 13 13 3 1 0 1 3 0 6 .231 .231 .538 .769
Carlos Beltran 10 9 4 1 0 1 2 1 1 .444 .500 .889 1.389
Jacoby Ellsbury 8 7 2 0 0 0 0 1 1 .286 .375 .286 .661
Dustin Ackley 7 7 0 0 0 0 1 0 4 .000 .000 .000 .000
Alex Rodriguez 7 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 .143 .143 .143 .286
Brendan Ryan 6 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
John Ryan Murphy 5 5 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 .400 .400 .400 .800
Stephen Drew 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000
Brett Gardner 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
Didi Gregorius 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
Gregory Bird 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
Total 92 89 18 4 1 2 8 3 25 .202 .228 .337 .565

This is Keuchel’s third full season in the big leagues and only his second as a full-time starter, so it’s no surprise the head-to-head plate appearances are limited. He’s not even in the same division. Keuchel totally dominated the Yankees in two starts this season (16 shutout innings with 21 strikeouts), so it’s no surprise the head-to-head numbers aren’t good. How much does this tell us going into tonight? Not much really. Keuchel is very good. We knew that already.

The Stuff

Keuchel is not a power pitcher. His fastest pitch of the season was 94.9 mph back in May. He hasn’t throw a pitch over 92.0 mph since August, so says PitchFX. Keuchel is a four-pitch pitcher with a sinker right around 90 mph, a cutter in the upper-80s, and both a slider and changeup right around 80 mph. He’ll occasionally throw an upper-80s/low-90s four-seamer as a get me over pitch. Words don’t do much, so here’s some video of Keuchel in action this season.

As you can see, he locates just about everything to both of the plate, and everything seems to break late. I have no idea how to quantify this, but my guess is all of Keuchel’s pitches look the same out of his hand. He must be real tough to pick up.

Like most pitchers, Keuchel attacks early in the count with his fastball (sinker, in his case) then goes to town with his offspeed stuff. The changeup is for righties but he will throw the slider to both righties and lefties. Here’s his pitch usage breakdown by handedness, via Brooks Baseball:

Dallas Keuchel pitch selection

I know we’re all used to the “take pitches, work the count, get the pitch count up” approach and it is pretty successful, by and large. The Yankees tried it against Keuchel in his two starts this season, at least early in the game, but it didn’t work. He fills the strike zone then goes to his offspeed stuff when ahead in the count.

Considering the data shows Keuchel throws a lot of first pitch sinkers, I think it might be worth it to forget the whole “work the count” approach and instead look to ambush some sinkers early in the count. Opponents hit .307 with a .119 ISO on the first pitch against Keuchel and .291 with a .148 ISO when putting one of the first two pitches of the at-bat in play. From the third pitch of the at-bat onward, opponents hit .187 with an .077 ISO against Keuchel this year. Big difference!

Of course, the “swing early in the count” approach could very easily backfire, especially if Keuchel has his sinker working. If those early count swings don’t turn into hits, the Yankees are going to look up in the fourth inning and see Keuchel’s pitch count in the 30s or 40s. That would be a problem. The data suggests Keuchel is going to throw his sinker early in the count. If he’s leaving the pitch up in the first inning, it might be time to swing away early in the at-bat.

The Running Game

As a lefty, Keuchel has an inherent advantage when it comes to shutting down the running game. He’s staring at the base-runner at first base the entire time. Opponents attempted only five stolen bases against Keuchel this year — all five were successful! — and only 31 in his 671 career innings. That’s nothing. Teams don’t run on him.

So Keuchel must have a great pickoff move, right? Well, no. In fact, he very rarely throws over to first base. He made five (!) pickoff throws to first base last season and only 19 this season, according to Sporting Charts. That works out to 0.08 pickoff throws per base-runner, or one every 12.5 base-runners. That’s not even one pickoff throw per start.

This seems like something the Yankees might be able to exploit, right? Specifically Jacoby Ellsbury. (I think Brett Gardner‘s going to sit in favor of Chris Young tonight, but we’ll see.) Ellsbury attempted only eleven stolen bases after coming off the DL, but three of them came in the last two weeks of the season. He was successful all three times. So at least he started to run a little more late in the year.

Ellsbury’s quick and usually an aggressive base-runner, and Keuchel is not going to throw over to first base all that often. Considering opponents never run on him, I’m guessing Keuchel varies his times well and has a quick slide step, but Ellsbury can generally outrun that stuff. He’s an elite base-runner when healthy. Pushing the envelope on the bases, even with something as simple as taking a bigger than usual lead, could be in the cards. That assumes Ellsbury actually gets on base against Keuchel, who dominates lefties.


Keuchel is starting on three days’ rest for the first time … as a big leaguer. He did it in college when Arkansas went to the 2009 College World Series. Doing it in the big leagues is different than doing it in college, sure, but it’s not a completely new experience to him either. The Astros wouldn’t throw him out there if they didn’t believe he was up for it.

(Brandon Wade/Getty)
(Brandon Wade/Getty)

“I can’t really tell you maybe (the adrenaline is) going to help me throw 91 instead of 90. I don’t know,” said Keuchel to reporters yesterday. “It’s a big game. So I’m sure I’ll be up for it no matter what. But at this point in time, the routine is there. I feel comfortable going in. I feel great. There’s no end-of-the-season fatigue, I feel like. So I’m excited.”

How will we be able to tell whether Keuchel is fatigued? Boy, I have no idea. Wildness and reduced velocity would be one way, but that’s about it as far as the eye test goes. We could look at the PitchFX data and compare release points and movement and things like that, but that doesn’t help in real time. The hitters will tell us if Keuchel is fatigued. Are they taking comfortable swings? That’ll be the best indication.

In a winner-take-all game, I can’t imagine Astros skipper A.J. Hinch will leave Keuchel out there long if he thinks he is fatigued and unable to compete at a high level. The Yankees should just forget about the short rest thing as far as I’m concerned. Assume Keuchel is at 100% and won’t lose anything as his pitch count climbs. This is no game to get caught waiting around.

* * *

There’s no denying Keuchel is a tremendous pitcher. He’s a bonafide ace with unconventional methods. Keuchel dominates by keeping the ball on the ground, not by missing bats or blowing the ball by hitter. He has struggled on the road this season — struggled is a relative term, Keuchel had 1.46 ERA (2.04 FIP) at home and a 3.77 ERA (4.01 FIP) on the road in 2015 — and he will be working on short rest, which may or may not come into play.

The Yankees have seen Keuchel twice this year, and while he dominated them both times, getting two looks at him has value. They’ve seen him up close. There’s no mystery. (Or at least there’s less of a mystery.) It appears hunting sinkers early in the count may lead to positive results, and if Ellsbury gets on base he should take an exaggerated lead given Keuchel’s lack of pickoff throws. Other than that, hope Keuchel has an off night. He’s tough.

Refsnyder, Heathcott, Sanchez all make Wildcard Game roster

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Rosters for the 2015 AL wildcard game were due at 10am ET this morning, and shortly thereafter the Yankees officially announced their 25-man squad for their first postseason game in three years. Here is the Astros’ roster and here is the Yankees’ roster for tonight’s winner-take-all game at Yankee Stadium:

RHP Dellin Betances
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Bryan Mitchell
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP James Pazos
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
RHP Adam Warren
LHP Justin Wilson

Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy
Gary Sanchez

2B/OF Dustin Ackley
1B Greg Bird
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
2B Rob Refsnyder
DH Alex Rodriguez
IF Brendan Ryan

RF Carlos Beltran
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
LF Brett Gardner
OF Slade Heathcott
PR Rico Noel
OF Chris Young

I’m glad the Yankees took only nine pitchers. There’s really no need for more than that. Plus it’s not like the Yankees are swimming with options right now. CC Sabathia is unavailable after checking into rehab and next in line is probably Andrew Bailey, who wasn’t too good during his September cameo.

Both Severino and Nova started Saturday, so they aren’t fully available tonight. Today is their usual between-starts throw day, so they can probably give an inning or two, maybe three if they’re really efficient, but I doubt it would be much more than that. Obviously the plan is Tanaka to Wilson to Betances to Miller. Anything other than that is probably bad news.

Sanchez had only two garbage time at-bats at the end of the regular season, and the fact he is on the roster suggests the Yankees may start Murphy against the left-hander Dallas Keuchel. Murphy starts, McCann takes over once Keuchel is out of the game, and Sanchez is the emergency catcher. Sanchez could also be a pinch-hitter or DH option if A-Rod gets lifted for Noel at some point.

The rest of the roster is pretty self-explanatory. As I said this morning, I think Young will start tonight’s game, likely in place of Gardner. Young has good career numbers against Keuchel and Joe Girardi loves his head-to-head matchups. Gardner figures to come off the bench as soon as Keuchel is out of the game though. With any luck, no one outside the starting lineup and big three relievers will be used.

Thoughts prior to the 2015 AL Wildcard Game

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Later tonight the Yankees will host the Astros in the 2015 AL wildcard game. The loser goes home, the winner goes to Kansas City to play the Royals in the ALDS. It’s Game Seven without all the fuss of Games One through Six. I’m excited and I want to puke at the same time. Here are some thoughts.

1. Talking about the baseball implications of CC Sabathia‘s decision to go to rehab is kinda uncomfortable but it is something that needs to be discussed. The Yankees have already had these talks, after all. Sabathia was going to be on the wildcard roster as an extra long reliever tonight — Brian Cashman all but confirmed it during his press conference yesterday — and now they don’t have anyone for that role. At least not anyone besides Adam Warren, who may be needed in middle relief. Michael Pineda just started Sunday and can’t pitch tonight. He won’t even be on the roster. I do expect Luis Severino and Ivan Nova to be on the roster as just in case arms, but a) I doubt Joe Girardi wants to use them, and b) they won’t be able to provide much length. Both started Saturday and today is their usual between-starts bullpen day (I think), so maybe the Yankees can get an inning or two out of them if necessary. In that case, if the game is tight and Girardi needs three outs before going to the usual late-inning relievers, maybe it’s best to let Severino air it out for an inning so Warren is available in extras. The hope was Sabathia wouldn’t have to pitch, but the fact he won’t even be on the roster now may change the bullpen dynamic.

2. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Chris Young will be in the starting lineup tonight. For starters, he has pretty great numbers against Dallas Keuchel — 6-for-20 (.300) with two doubles and a triple, though the two doubles came back in 2012, long before Keuchel broke out as an ace — and Girardi loves that stuff. He uses hitter/pitcher matchups all the time even though they aren’t the most predictive thing in the world. Eno Sarris had a more convincing reason why Young should be in the lineup: fly ball hitters tend to have a lot of success against ground ball pitchers. Young has one of the highest fly ball rates in baseball and Keuchel is the game’s most dominant ground ball pitcher. I think he’ll be in the lineup tonight and I think it’ll be Brett Gardner who finds himself on the bench. I’d rather see Jacoby Ellsbury on the bench — they’ve both been terrible in the second half, but at least Gardner’s at-bats are competitive, Ellsbury anecdotally makes a ton of weak contact early in the count — but there’s no way that happens. Gardner has sat in favor of young more often than Ellsbury this year and that’s what I think will happen tonight.

3. I’m not sure pitching on three days’ rest will be a big deal for Keuchel — I think the adrenaline of pitching in the postseason will more than compensate for any additional fatigue — but with any luck, he’ll tire out in the middle innings and force manager A.J. Hinch to go to the bullpen. A revived relief corps was a huge reason for Houston’s success this season, though that same bullpen struggled in September. They blew a lot of leads and let some winnable games slip away. That said, Hinch’s core relievers were fine in the final month:

Astros bullpen

All small sample sizes, obviously. Pat Neshek’s the only one who seems to have some real problems given his inability to miss bats or get ground balls. The other guys all had strong strikeout and walk rates — except for Will Harris, I guess, his strikeout and walk numbers were closer to average — and they weren’t getting clobbered with hard contact. I don’t want to make too much out of such a tiny number of innings. Houston’s bullpen had a mess September, yes, but the core relievers were mostly fine. Some bounces just didn’t go their way, hence the ugly ERAs.

4. So who’s ready for Postseason Carlos Beltran? By now you all know he has incredible career October numbers — those numbers: .333/.445/.683 (195 wRC+) with 16 homers in 51 games — and there is zero doubt in my mind his postseason success was a reason the Yankees targeted him two years ago. The only reason? Of course not. But definitely a reason. Can Beltran still do that stuff at age 38 — he “only” hit .268/.388/.464 (140 wRC+) in 17 postseason games with the 2013 Cardinals — after running around the outfield all summer? Gosh, I hope so. The offense has looked sluggish for weeks and the arrival of October Beltran would be one heck of a shot in the arm.

5. The Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka to win a game just like this one, and I feel like he’s not getting nearly enough respect heading into tonight. Don’t get me wrong, Keuchel had a tremendous year and probably deserves the Cy Young award, but Tanaka’s no slouch either. He’s shown the ability to step up in big games — Tanaka was the only Yankees starter to put up a fight against the Blue Jays down the stretch, and he flat out dominated that offense (22 IP, 12 H, 3 R, 3 BB 20 K in three starts) — and that’s why the Yankees lined him up to start the wildcard game. The Astros offense had the second highest strikeout rate (22.9%) and the 11th highest chase rate on pitches out of the zone (31.3%) during the regular season. Tanaka, meanwhile, had the second highest chase rate this year at 38.6%. (Carlos Carrasco was first at 38.7%, so he and Tanaka were neck and neck.) He excels at getting hitters to expand the zone. Keuchel might dominate the Yankees because he’s left-handed and has a changeup, sure. But don’t forget that the pitcher who is better than just about anyone at getting hitters to chase out of the zone is about to face a bunch of hitters who tend to hack at pitches off the plate.