Do or Die: Who Wins the AL and NL Wild Card Games?

Matchup: Astros vs Yankees

Date/Time: Tuesday, October 6th 8PM

Venue: Yankee Stadium

Network: ESPN

How they got here:

The Yankees are back in the postseason for the first time in three years after compiling a record of 87-75 in the regular season, finishing second in the American League East to the Toronto Blue Jays.  After leading the Jays by eight games in late July, Toronto went on an incredible run, winning 32 of its final 50 games to stake claim to the AL East.  The Yankees are also limping into the postseason, losing six of its final seven games to divisional foes Boston and Baltimore in the final week.  Houston, on the other hand, is making its first appearance in the playoffs in a decade after achieving a record of 86-76 in the regular season.  Despite leading their division for most of the year, Houston was swept four games by Texas in September and eventually succumbed to them in the AL West race.  In fact, Houston had to win six out of their last eight games just to get into the playoffs and edge out the Angels for the final wild card spot.  Houston’s loss in the final game of the regular season to Arizona gave the Yankees home field advantage in their matchup on Tuesday.

Dallas Keuchel has dominated the Yankees in two starts this season.
Dallas Keuchel has dominated the Yankees in two starts this season.

Key Matchup: Dallas Keuchel vs Yankees heavy left-handed hitting lineup.

There is no secret that the Yankees have mightily struggled against left-handed pitching down the stretch of the season.  Since losing first baseman Mark Teixeira for the season, manager Joe Girardi’s options vs left handers have become limited.  Greg Bird has done a more than adequate job of filling in for the injured Teixeira, however, even he has begun to struggle against lefties in the past few weeks.  The performance by the Yankees against left-handed starters in the last 3 weeks of the regular season was abysmal.  First it was Steven Matz, who held the Yankees to just one run over six innings in a 5-1 victory.  Next it was Cy Young candidate David Price, who dominated the Yankees in a 4-2 victory while allowing just 2 hits and no earned runs over seven innings pitched.  Finally, it was Eduardo Rodriguez, who scattered seven hits and allowed only one run over six innings pitched in a 5-1 victory.  Hence, Dallas Keuchel, a 20 game winner with a 2.48 ERA, will be a very tall task for this Yankee lineup.  The Cy Young front-runner has already dominated the Yankees in two starts against them this season, compiling a staggering combined stat line of: 2-0, 16 innings pitched, 0 Earned Runs, 9 hits, 21 strikeouts, and 1 walk.  To make those numbers seem even more imposing, switch hitter Mark Teixeira was in the Yankees lineup in both of Keuchel’s starts vs the bombers this season.  Yikes.  For the Yankees to have any chance at advancing to the divisional round, they will have to get to Keuchel.  They do not have to put up a five-spot, but they will need more than one or two.  Even if Chris Young gets the starting nod tomorrow sending a left-handed hitter, presumably Brett Gardner, to the pine, the Yankees will still be starting 5 lefties.  If the Yankee left-handed bats fail to put together good at bats against Keuchel he will have a very easy time navigating the Yankees lineup.

Alex Rodriguez will be looking to make a major difference Tuesday night.
Alex Rodriguez will be looking to make a major difference Tuesday night.

X Factor: Alex Rodriguez

As I looked up and down the projected lineups for tonight’s game, the name that continuously caught my eye was Yankees DH Alex Rodriguez.  Despite Houston leading the entire league in homers, Rodriguez has at least six more home runs than any single player on the Astros team.  His excellent power to all parts of the park coupled with the forgiving short porch in right gives A-Rod the ability to completely change a game at Yankee Stadium.  With that said, the forty-year old slugger has been very streaky in the final two months of the season.  There have been times when he has saved the Yankees with a clutch home run, and there have also been times where he has looked completely overmatched.  It is extremely hard to predict how A-Rod will perform on Tuesday night due to his inconsistency throughout the month of September.  However, if he can muster up any energy remaining in his forty-year old tank, he has the ability to single-handedly send the Yankees to Kansas City.

The prediction:

Even though the Astros will be forced to travel to the Bronx for tonight’s wild card showdown, I’d be lying if I said the Yankees have the edge because of home field advantage.  While Yankee Stadium still has special meaning, it just does not scare an opponent like the old Yankee Stadium once did.  In fact, the Yankees have been one of the worst home teams in baseball during the final two months of the season.  Earlier this year, the Astros walked into Yankee Stadium and took 2 out of 3 from the bombers, including a 15-1 demolition in the second game of the series.  The environment will have little to no impact on Dallas Keuchel and his Houston Astros.  Maybe I am wrong.  But I just don’t see it.  Masahiro Tanaka will be tough for Houston’s strikeout prone lineup and I see him having his way most of the night.  However, a few timely hits and maybe a long ball by the Astros will be enough for the best pitcher in the American League.  Keuchel and Houston will move on and play in Kansas City, ending the Yankees season on their home field.

The pick: Houston 4 New York 1

Matchup: Cubs vs Pirates

Date/Time: Wednesday, October 7th 8PM

Venue: PNC Park

Network: TBS

How they got here:

The Pirates success in the Clint Hurdle era continued in 2015 with an outstanding record of 98-64.  This postseason appearance marks the third year in a row the Pirates will play in the NL wild card game.  Despite having the second best record in baseball, the Pirates were still outdone by the St. Louis Cardinals, who led major league baseball with 100 wins this season.  The Cubs, on the other hand, finished with the third best record in baseball at 97-65.  Led by a plethora of young stars, the Cubs certainly exceeded expectations in 2015 by making the postseason after many experts labeled them a team that was a few years away from competing.  Chicago is entering the opening round of the postseason red-hot, winners of their last 8 games.  However, their late season hot streak was not enough to catch Pittsburgh, who has the home field advantage in this matchup.

Gerrit Cole will be looking to outduel Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta.
Gerrit Cole will be looking to out duel Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta.

Key Matchup: Gerrit Cole vs Jake Arrieta

While it is cliché to tab the probable starters of a do-or-die game as the key matchup, this pitching matchup should be one for the ages.  Jake Arrieta is in the midst of by far the best statistical season of his career with a record of 22-6, an incredible 1.77 ERA, and an absolutely dominant no-hitter against the LA Dodgers.  Not to be undone, Gerrit Cole has been remarkable for Pittsburgh as well, racking up 19 victories with a 2.60 ERA on the season.  Although both the Cubs and the Pirates have game-changing offensive players, this one will be an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel.  Arrieta has consistently pitched deep into games the entire season, and trails only Dallas Keuchel and Clayton Kershaw for most innings pitched with 229.0.  I would expect the Cubs to ride Arrieta as long as they can and see if the Cy Yong candidate can carry them to St. Louis.  Cole has not pitched nearly as many innings as Arrieta, however, don’t be surprised if the Pirates ride him as long as possible as well.  It is my belief that both Pittsburgh and Chicago trust their ace pitchers more than any member of their respective bullpens and will give them enough leeway to either win or lose the game.  The last man standing will have at least one more game to pitch, in their home stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Pirates crowd will be looking rattle starting pitcher Jake Arrieta.
The Pirates crowd will be looking rattle starting pitcher Jake Arrieta.

X Factor: The Raucous Crowd at PNC Park

Everyone remembers Johnny Cueto’s infamous gaffe in the 2013 Wild Card game in Pittsburgh when he inexplicable dropped the ball on the mound to the delight of the fans at PNC Park who were chanting “CUEEETO, CUEEETO” and proceeded to give up a towering home run to Russell Martin on the very next pitch.  No matter what Johnny Cueto says, the crowd in Pittsburgh clearly got to the Reds’ ace that night.  Everyone also remembers Madison Bumgarner’s complete game gem and Brandon Crawford’s clutch grand slam in last year’s Wild Card game in Pittsburgh in which the crowd was completely taken out of the game.  It remains to be seen how Jake Arrieta and the Cubs will handle the wild atmosphere awaiting them in Pittsburgh.  While I do believe Arrieta and manager Joe Maddon are the right men to conquer the challenge, if the crowd at any point makes a visible impact on the game, like it did in 2013 to Johnny Cueto, the chances of Pittsburgh winning will skyrocket.

Jake Arrieta is in search of win number 23 Wednesday.
Jake Arrieta is in search of win number 23 Wednesday.

The prediction:

The truth is the sport of baseball should not have to see one of these two teams eliminated on just the second day of the postseason.  The Cubs and Pirates are two of the best teams in baseball and both deserve to play past Wednesday.  Sadly, however, one of them will have to pack their bags.  This game projects to be extremely close with just one or two plays deciding who moves on to the divisional series.  In a one game situation, there is no doubt a manager can make a major impact on the outcome and luckily for the Cubs they have one of the best in the business, Joe Maddon.  I would not be surprised if Maddon makes a few strategic decisions that go a long way in contributing to a Cubs victory.  Since April people have been continuously telling the Chicago Cubs to prepare for the future.  And every step of the way, they have continuously reminded the sport of baseball that they are ready to win now.  In an epic thriller, Chicago will prevail by the slimmest of margins, setting up a very intriguing matchup with the Cardinals.

The Pick: Cubs 3 Pirates 2

Staff Picks:

Jerome: Pirates and Astros

Steven Abramo: Cubs and Astros

Ryan Patti: Cubs and Yankees

Noah Berketo: Pirates and Yankees

Greg VonMatt: Cubs and Astros

Cassidy McMahon: Cubs and Astros

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