HOUSTON — The Yankees conquered one nemesis in their surprising American League Division Series victory over the Indians, twice beating up Corey Kluber. They’ll see another when the American League Championship Series begins Friday night at Minute Maid Park.
Masahiro Tanaka will take on lefthander Dallas Keuchel, who consistently has made the Yankees look helpless. It’s a rematch of the pitching matchup in the 2015 wild-card game, won by the Astros, 3-0.
The 2015 season best synopsizes Keuchel’s output against the Yankees. He won the AL Cy Young Award that year, going 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA, including 2-0 in two starts against the Yankees in which he allowed zero runs in 16 innings. That served as an appetizer to the wild-card game, in which he allowed three hits in six innings.
“He was really good that year and he was really good that game,” said Greg Bird, who started at first base that night and had one of the three hits off Keuchel. “Moved the ball both ways, had good command and pitched a great game.”
Keuchel, 29, is 4-2 with a 1.41 ERA in six regular-season starts against the Yankees. But they had a similar regular-season record of futility against Kluber, because going into the ALDS, the righthander was 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA in seven starts against them.
Joe Girardi was asked if his team might be more confident in Game 1 against Keuchel after having success twice against Kluber.
“I sure hope so,” Girardi said. “He just locates extremely well with late movement to both sides of the plate, and you hope that he makes some mistakes and our guys take advantage of it.”
Bird said the Yankees will come in confident Friday night, and not just because of finally getting over the hump against Kluber.
“I think we’re confident right now in general,” Bird said. “And I think we should be. You have to be confident. Like I said yesterday, you have to beat great teams, you have to beat great pitchers, if you want to get to where you want to be. So you have to maintain that confidence the whole time.”
Brett Gardner has faced Keuchel only once, going 0-for-4 in the wild-card game. He gave an answer that was similar to Bird’s.
“I think we just have confidence with the way we’ve been playing,” Gardner said. “Corey Kluber is probably the Cy Young winner in the American League this year and we had two pretty good games against him, so I like the way we’ve been grinding out at-bats, guys coming through in big spots.
“I feel good about our chances against the Astros or against anybody. We moved on for a reason, because we played better than [the Indians] did.”
The Yankees’ series victory over the defending American League champion Indians, who went an AL-best 102-60 and won 22 straight games late in the season, didn’t surprise Astros manager A.J. Hinch. Not, he said, with “the strengths of their bullpen and their home run power.’’
“A couple of big home runs and a lockdown bullpen got them a few wins, and a couple high-end starting pitching outings won them the series, and that should be no surprise to anybody,” Hinch said.
“I haven’t been following the Yankees every [series] all year, but when the [ALDS] started, if you would have told me we were playing the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, that wouldn’t have really shocked me.”