The Yankees wrapped up their regular season on Sunday by getting swept in Baltimore, but for the first time since 2012, they have a postseason to look forward to. Of course, that postseason could potentially last all of one night: They’ll play the Houston Astros in the American League Wild Card game tonight, with the winner advancing to the best-of-five ALDS beginning on Thursday. Here, ten things to know about tonight’s do-or-die game.
1. The Yankees will host the game — but they backed into it. The Yanks got swept by Baltimore on the final weekend of the season and lost six of their last seven. It took a Houston loss on the final day of the season for Joe Girardi’s club to clinch the top Wild Card spot and thus win the right to host tonight’s game.
2. Masahiro Tanaka will pitch for the Yankees. He’s the team’s ace, but he’s far from a sure thing. He put up decent numbers this year after returning from an elbow injury, though he battled wrist and hamstring issues, the latter of which caused him to miss a start during a big series with Toronto last month. Tanaka has made one start since, and it didn’t go well: He allowed four runs in five innings against Boston on September 30. He’ll pitch tonight’s game on five days’ rest, rather than the usual four.
3. Dallas Keuchel, one of the best pitchers in the American League, will pitch for Houston. Keuchel just missed out on the A.L. ERA title, but his numbers are still pretty outstanding: He went 20–8 with a 2.48 ERA and led the league in WHIP (the combined number of walks and hits per inning pitched) and ERA+ (which adjusts a pitcher’s ERA to account for differences in ballparks). Like Tanaka, he’ll be making his first Major League playoff start.
4. Keuchel has owned the Yankees this year. He’s 2–0 against them this season, including a complete-game shutout on June 25. He didn’t allow a run in 16 innings over those two starts, striking out 21 batters and walking just one.
5. Keuchel, however, will be starting on three days’ rest. He’s never done that before, so it could affect how sharp he is. (He did start once on two days’ rest, but that came in 2013 after a relief appearance, as he began that season in the bullpen.)
6. The Astros kind of blew their division, too. The Yankees appeared to be headed for a division title before Toronto surged after the trade deadline, and the Astros, too, looked for a while like they’d finish in first in the West*. They spent 139 days in first place this season, from mid-April until just before the All-Star break, and then again from late July until mid-September. But they went 11–16 in September and fell out of first for good on the 15th of that month. Still, for a team that went 70–92 last year and 51–111 the year before, any postseason berth is a major step forward.
7. Overall, the Astros slightly edged the Yankees head-to-head this year. The teams split a four-game series in Houston in June, and Houston took two of three in the Bronx in August to win the season series. (It was that edge that would have given them the tiebreaker for home field in the Wild Card game, had the teams finished with the same record.)
8. Keeping the game out of Houston might have been huge. The Astros played terrific baseball at home this year, finishing with a 53–28 record. But they were just 33–48 away from Minute Maid Park. (The Yankees’ splits were more even: 45–36 at home and 42–39 on the road.) Perhaps more important, Keuchel hasn’t been as dominant away from home: He went 15–0 with a 1.46 ERA at home and 5–8 with a 3.77 on the road.
9. That said, the Astros hit a ton of home runs. As a team, they hit 230 homers during the regular season, two shy of the league-leading Blue Jays. So their hitters will like Yankee Stadium and its short porch just fine.
10. The winner of the Wild Card game will play Kansas City next. The Royals edged out Toronto for the best record in the American League and the right to play the survivor of the Wild Card game. Kansas City’s a fine club and the defending American League champions, but the Yankees are probably better off avoiding the Jays in the ALDS if they can advance, considering their ugly 6–13 record against Toronto in the regular season. For what it’s worth, the Yankees won four of six games against the Royals this year.
* This post has been updated to reflect the fact that the Astros play in the American League West.