While measuring up to last year's game will be a tall order for these two teams to fill, the Houston Astros travel to fake Yankee Stadium to face the New York Highlanders in a tilt from which only one team can emerge. In other words, there can be only one.
The Astros send Dallas Keuchel to the mound on short rest to face the Yankees. On Friday, Keuchel threw 99 pitches in six innings in the high desert of Arizona.
More than anyone else, Keuchel's emergence as a legitimate ace has vindicated General Manager Jeff Luhnow's controversial methods that have drawn a lot of criticism from baseball traditionalists. This isn't to say that Keuchel's success owes to something that Luhnow put in place, but when a pitcher materializes seemingly from the ether to produce 12.2 rWAR and 9.9 fWAR over the last two seasons and 7.2 rWAR and 6.1 fWAR in 2015, conservative estimates for being competitive turn into an unexpected playoff team. That Keuchel is the other horse in a two-horse race for the American League Cy Young Award alongside David Price is probably even more surprising than the emergence of Jake Arrieta over the past two years in the National League.
For Keuchel, these aren't the Yankees of yore. A quick perusal of their roster could lead one to wonder how their wins materialized. Amongst position players, the most valuable player was either Didi Gregorius at 3.1 fWAR or Mark Teixeira at 3.8 rWAR, depending on how acceptable Teixeira's defense actually was. Of the teams in the playoffs, the Yankees' position players accounted for the fewest wins (20.4 fWAR) of any of the ten teams still standing, ranking 15th in baseball. Their pitching was slightly better, relatively, accounting for 18.1 fWAR, good for 10th in MLB.
Comparatively, the Astros' position players racked up 23.3 fWAR (8th in MLB), and their pitchers added 21.3 fWAR (5th in MLB). On paper, the Astros have been better than not only the Yankees, but also the Royals and Rangers.
The Yankees start Masahiro Tanaka tonight. With a ticking time bomb in his elbow, Tanaka was limited to 154.0 innings of work, worth 2.2 fWAR and 3.1 rWAR in his time. Unlike Keuchel, however, Tanaka has had since September 30th to rest up for his start.
Tanaka will have to take care of a feast-or-famine powerful lineup headlined by super rookie Carlos Correa and his diminutive double-playmate Jose Altuve. Correa is a clear-cut superstar in the making, his rapid ascent through the minors and preternatural ability to crush balls. The kid can rake. Tonight could be his coming out party on the national stage.
Tonight these two teams duke it out, fighting for the right to fly to Kansas City to face the top seed in the American League, your Kansas City Royals.
Moreso than ever this song is appropriate.