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Astros, Yanks seek turnaround in wild-card game
The Houston Astros and New York Yankees, two teams that stumbled into the playoffs, will square off in the American League wild-card game Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.
The Astros held a 5 1/2-game lead in the AL West as late as Aug. 27. However, they went 15-19 the rest of the way, ceding the division title to the Texas Rangers.
After winning three in a row last week to get into position to seal a wild-card berth, the Astros lost 5-3 to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday when a win would have secured home-field advantage for the one-game showdown with the Yankees.
New York, meanwhile, lost six of seven games in the final week of the regular season, including dropping three in a row to the Orioles in Baltimore over the weekend.
Compounding their problems is the fact that their ace and scheduled wild-card starting pitcher, right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, made just one start in the season’s final two weeks because of a right hamstring strain. After a 12-day break, Tanaka returned for an unconvincing five-inning outing against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday. He allowed four runs in a no-decision.
The Astros counter with the AL Cy Young Award front-runner, Dallas Keuchel. The left-hander finished 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA, topping the league in wins, innings pitched (232) and walks-plus-hits-per-inning-pitched ratio (1.02). Keuchel finished second in ERA and fifth in strikeouts (216).
“It’s going to be like any other start,” Keuchel said of the wild-card game. “It’s going to be fun.”
Perhaps the Astros’ lone concern about Keuchel for Tuesday is that he won’t be pitching in Houston, where he went 15-0 with a 1.46 ERA. On the road, he was a mediocre 5-8 with a 3.77 ERA.
The winner of the AL wild-card game advances to meet the AL Central champion Royals in a best-of-five AL Division Series that begins Thursday in Kansas City. Last year, the Royals rallied from a late four-run deficit to beat the Oakland A’s in the AL wild-card game, then advanced all the way to Game 7 of the World Series before falling to the San Francisco Giants.
The Astros are in the postseason for the first time since making the 2005 World Series, while the Yankees are returning to the playoffs after a two-year absence.
“It all starts over (now),” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “It does. Regular season doesn’t matter now. It comes down to Tuesday.”