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Astros at Yankees
By Matt Zylbert

American League Wild Card Game
Houston Astros (86-76) at New York Yankees (87-75)
| 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
ML: Astros -120, Yankees +100
Over/Under: 7

In this year’s win-or-go-home AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser, it’ll be a fascinating matchup between two American League clubs, each with their own wild journey in getting to tonight’s festivities.

You have the storied New York Yankees, arguably the richest franchise in all of professional sports around the globe, making their grand return to the postseason following a two-year absence — the first time the Bronx Bombers had missed out in back-to-back years since the 1992 and 1993 seasons (1994 was a strike year). After tearful goodbyes to two of the most iconic players in team history (Mariano Rivera in 2013, Derek Jeter in 2014), many expected the Yankees to miss out on October baseball once again, but after holding onto first-place in the AL East for much of the 2015 campaign, this is a club that seemed destined to be playoff-bound from the beginning, fueled by renaissance seasons from the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

And then there are the Houston Astros, one of the most improbable teams to advance to the postseason in Major League history. Before winning 70 games last season — which was actually considered a successful campaign at the time — the Astros had endured three consecutive 100-loss seasons, capped off by a brutal 111-loss season in 2013. Houston had been mired in a fierce rebound over the past handful of years, and as a result, just about everyone thought they would top out at finishing in third or fourth place in the AL West. Much like the Yankees, however, the Astros had an unlikely stronghold on first in the division for much of the year, before losing their grip thanks to a rough final month of the season. Fortunately, they were still able to hold onto a Wild Card berth, and thus enter the postseason for the first time since being swept by the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 World Series.

So who will advance from this one-game playoff and move on to face the reigning American League champion Kansas City Royals? It’s anybody’s guess.

At least as it concerns the starting pitching matchup, you have to give the edge to Astros, who will be leaning on their breakout ace Dallas Keuchel (20-8, 2.48 ERA) to get the job done. Keuchel had an outstanding 2015 season, and is regarded as one of the two favorites, along with Toronto Blue Jays left-hander David Price, to win this year’s AL Cy Young award. As it concerns this particular assignment, however, there might be a little concern.

First off, the Houston ace will be pitching on three days’ rest, after hurling six innings en route to his 20th victory of the season this past Friday in Arizona. And if you’ve been handicapping Keuchel starts throughout the campaign, you’re probably familiar with his distinct home-and-road splits that perhaps give the Yankee bats a solid chance of hitting him this evening. At home, Keuchel posted some of the best numbers in Major League history, as he finished a perfect 15-0 with a 1.46 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in 18 starts at Minute Maid Park. He also compiled a terrific 139/28 K/BB ratio across 129.1 innings in those starts, but perhaps most impressive of all, opposing lineups could only muster a .186 batting average against the left-hander in those starts.

On the road, though, it’s been a different story, as Keuchel finished 5-8 with a 3.77 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in his 15 starts away from Houston.

Interestingly, Keuchel did pitch at Yankee Stadium this season, and ended up enjoying one of his best road starts of the campaign. On Aug. 25, Keuchel seven shutout innings, scattering only three hits and struck out nine, as the Astros were victorious, 15-1. In fact, Keuchel has blanked the Yankees all year, as he also faced them in late-June at Minute Maid Park, where he hurled a six-hit complete game shutout, while striking out 12 in the process. In other words, the Yankees have not scored off Keuchel in 16 innings this season, and managed just 10 baserunners over the two meetings.

In any event, the Yankees will counter with Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51 ERA), hoping their ace can bounce back from an inauspicious end to the season. Tanaka had a very nice season for the Yanks, although it was one marked by injury, as the Japanese import was limited to just 24 starts in 2015. That also includes a hamstring strain that prevented Tanaka from making his second-to-last start of the year just a couple of weeks ago, and in his final start, the 26-year-old right-hander wasn’t particularly sharp, yielding four runs in five innings against the Red Sox on Sept. 30.

Tanaka faced the Astros once this season, which came in his final start of June. That assignment came in Houston, where he was hounded for six runs on seven hits in only five innings of work. That game resulted in a win for the Astros, one of their four this year opposite the Yankees in seven total meetings.

And that’s another item to consider when debating which side to take in this game: the head-to-head matchups this season. Not only did Houston win the season series, they also pounded the Yankees when facing them at Yankee Stadium, where they took two of three and outscored the Bronx Bombers, 21-4, this year.

When these two franchises square off tonight, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the heavy lumber get involved, as the Astros and Yankees ranked high amongst the top power-hitting teams in baseball. In fact, Houston finished second in the league in home runs with 230, not to mention second in OPS with a .752 mark. New York, meanwhile, was right behind them in fourth, with 212 homers and a .744 OPS mark.

All things considered, it’s one of the toughest Wild Card Games to ’cap since the concept was first introduced by MLB in 2012. Both teams appear evenly matched, with similar strengths such as in their slugging ability, while the pitching matchup could yield a wide-range of results. Tread careful when placing your bet(s) on this one.

MLB Wild Card History

Betting Trends:

Road Teams have gone 4-2
Favorites and Underdogs have gone 3-3
The ‘over’ has gone 4-2