BALTIMORE - The Yankees seem to have at least this going for them Tuesday night as they try to solve Astros ace Dallas Keuchel in the American League wild-card game.
The 27-year-old Cy Young Award candidate will start on three days' rest for the first time in his career (after pitching six innings in a 21-5 win Friday). Even more important, he has eye-popping home/road splits.
Keuchel, 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA this season, was lights-out at Minute Maid Park (15-0, 1.46 ERA, 0.89 WHIP) but was merely respectable on the road (5-8, 3.77 ERA, 1.18 WHIP).
Keuchel's other home-away splits are just as interesting. He has struck out 77 and allowed 13 home runs in 1022/3 innings on the road and struck out 139 and allowed only four homers in 1291/3 innings at home.
Opposing batters have a .186/.232/.242 slash line against Keuchel at Minute Maid Park and a .253/.297/.401 slash line against him at their own ballparks.
"Why wouldn't you go with your best guy?" Astros manager A.J. Hinch told Houston reporters. "He's been here before the whole year, he's been the pitcher of the month in the American League a lot of months. He's the one guy I'd want to hand the ball to with the season on the line in a one-game playoff."
The Astros' loss to Arizona on Sunday, which left Houston with the second wild card, could end up being the difference between the Yankees being one-and-done and moving on. If the Astros had won, they would have faced the Yankees in Houston.
Does Chase Headley feel fortunate to be getting Keuchel in the Bronx? "If you're asking me one or the other, definitely," he said. "No one would be conceding that game [if it were in Houston], but having said that, I'd rather have him at home than at their place."
But the lefthander dominated the Yankees in both ballparks this year. He fired a six-hitter in a 4-0 win on June 25 in Houston, walking one and fanning 12. In the Astros' 15-1 win at the Stadium on Aug. 25, he allowed three hits and no walks in seven shutout innings, striking out nine.
"We have a hell of a pitcher to go up against," Alex Rodriguez said. "He moves the ball all over the strike zone. Not necessarily overpowering, but he has great command of four pitches. Seems like he never gets the ball above the knees. He's a handful. He's going to be ready and so will we."
"Bigger competition brings out the bigger competitor,'' Keuchel told Houston reporters, "and there's not a better stage than Yankee Stadium."
The Yankees will send their own ace to the mound in Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51). The righthander, who suffered a mild hamstring strain on Sept. 18, returned to the rotation Wednesday night against Boston.
Tanakalooked rusty at times and allowed four runs and five hits in five innings.
Most significantly, from the Yankees' perspective, "he came out [of the start] healthy," Joe Girardi said. "He's on his normal schedule. He did his bullpen yesterday, he's ready to go."
After the Yankees'loss Sunday, Tanaka indicated that he welcomes the pressure that comes with a one-game playoff.
"Obviously, I understand how important the game is," Tanaka said through his translator. "I just want to go out there and do my best, be able to contribute to the team's win so that we can advance to our next step."
And of the pressure?
Said Tanaka: "We play in a world full of pressure."