Houston Astros (86-76) @ New York Yankees (87-75)
Tuesday, October 6, 2015 (8:00 PM EDT)
The American League Wild Card Game will feature AL Cy Young Award candidate Dallas Keuchel going up against Yankees import Masahiro Tanaka. Keuchel led the league in wins (20), shutouts (two), innings pitched (232), adjusted ERA (162), and WHIP (1.017) during the 2015 regular season. He broke out last season and managed to get even better this year, boosting his strikeout rate from 18 percent to nearly 24 percent while maintaining a walk rate below six percent. Just as important to Keuchel’s success is his tendency to induce ground balls, as his 61.7 rate was best in the AL and second only to Brett Anderson of the Dodgers.
Tanaka turned in a solid season after rehabbing a partially torn UCL last year. He did miss about a month between late April and early June due to a strained right forearm and right wrist tendinitis, but he managed to otherwise stay healthy and cobble together a 3.51 ERA with a 0.994 WHIP and a 139/27 K/BB ratio in 154 innings spanning 24 starts. Compared to last season, Tanaka’s strikeout rate dipped slightly, from 26 to 23 percent, but he still averaged better than five strikeouts for every one walk.
The AL Wild Card Game will feature two of the AL’s top five offenses. The Yankees ranked second, averaging 4.72 runs per game while the Astros were fifth at 4.50. Most of the Yankees’ offense has come from veterans Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran, but rookie Greg Bird isn’t to be forgotten about. Since taking over for the injured Mark Teixeira at first base, Bird hit .261/.343/.529 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI in 178 plate appearances.
Meanwhile, the Astros had five different players register 20-plus homers. Only one of them posted better than a .246 average – Carlos Correa (.279). As a team, the Astros ranked second in the AL in home runs while leading the league in strikeouts and posting a team-wide .250 average. While they have AL hits leader Jose Altuve at the top of the lineup, they are a team that can be dominated throughout a game only to change things with one swing of the bat.
Rotoworld Staff Predictions
Bill Baer (@Baer_Bill): Astros 3, Yankees 1
Drew Silva (@drewsilv): Astros 5, Yankees 4
David Shovein (@DaveShovein): Astros 8, Yankees 3
Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot): Astros 6, Yankees 4
Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): Astros 4, Yankees 3
Ryan Boyer (@RyanPBoyer): Astros 4, Yankees 2
D.J. Short (@djshort): Astros 5, Yankees 2
Chicago Cubs (97-65) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (98-64)
Wednesday, October 7, 2015 (8:00 PM EDT)
Wednesday’s pitching match-up between the Cubs and Pirates is a must-watch event, as Jake Arrieta will toe the rubber opposite Gerrit Cole, two of the best the NL has to offer. Arrieta showed that his breakout last year was no fluke, leading the league in wins (22), complete games (four), and shutouts (three) while finishing with a 1.77 ERA, a 0.865 WHIP, and a 236/48 K/BB ratio in 229 innings. It was his final two months in particular that wowed the nation: over his final 12 starts, he posted a 0.41 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 14 walks in 88 1/3 innings. In only one of those starts did he allow more than one earned run.
For as good as Arrieta has been, Cole is capable of out-pitching him. His 2015 starts weren’t as good, but aren’t to be sneezed at – he finished with a 19-8 record, a 2.60 ERA, a 1.091 WHIP, and a 202/44 K/BB ratio in 208 innings. In most seasons, that would be good enough to merit Cy Young Award consideration, but both Arrieta and Zack Greinke had historically good seasons. Only two pitchers averaged more velocity on their fastballs than Cole’s 95.5 MPH: Garrett Richards (95.7) and Yordano Ventura (95.6). With the nighttime temperature in Pittsburgh expected to be in the low to mid-50’s on Wednesday night, the hands of Cubs batters could be in for some pain.
On offense, the Cubs are led by youth, as 23-year-old rookie Kris Bryant is the favorite for the NL Rookie of the Year Award after batting .275/.369/.488 with 26 home runs and 99 RBI. 25-year-old Anthony Rizzo posted an .899 OPS with 31 homers and 101 ribbies, and last year’s first-round draft pick Kyle Schwarber blasted 16 homers with 43 RBI and a .246/.355/.487 batting line. The Cubs are also a rather nimble team, with four players registering double-digits in stolen bases, including Rizzo and Bryant with 17 and 13, respectively.
The Pirates are led on offense by five-time All-Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who started off the 2015 season slow but corrected course expertly. He hit .292/.401/.488 with 23 homers and 96 RBI on the year. The rest of the lineup features solidly above-average hitters, such as Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez, but McCutchen will be the Cubs’ primary target to shut down. It’s rather easy to see as McCutchen’s 144 adjusted OPS was best on the team, more than 20 points better than the injured Jung Ho Kang’s 123. Behind Kang are Francisco Cervelli, Pedro Alvarez, and Marte at 113.
Rotoworld Staff Predictions
Bill Baer (@Baer_Bill): Cubs 1, Pirates 0
Drew Silva (@drewsilv): Cubs 3, Pirates 1
David Shovein (@DaveShovein): Cubs 4, Pirates 0
Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot): Pirates 2, Cubs 1
Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): Cubs 3, Pirates 2
Ryan Boyer (@RyanPBoyer): Cubs 1, Pirates 0
D.J. Short (@djshort): Cubs 3, Pirates 1