The Houston Astros played 81 home games this season — 78 of them at Minute Maid Park — and only four times did the score finish 2–1.
That was the exact final score in each of the first two games in Houston to begin the American League Championship Series. The friendly confines of Minute Maid Park, nor the potent offense on either roster could do much to overcome the dominant pitching of Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino and staunch bullpens on either side.
Things have changed at Yankee Stadium as both teams delve deeper into their pitching staffs. The Yankees broke out for eight runs in a Game 3 win and another six last night to even the series at two. The series remains at Yankee Stadium for one more tonight but we’re back at the top of the rotations with Dallas Keuchel facing Masahiro Tanaka in a Game 1 rematch. Houston is a small road favorite behind Keuchel’s fond history against the Yankees.
In a 2-2-1-1-1 format this Game 5 wouldn’t be a must-win for New York, but it feels like it in the current 2-3-2. If the Yankees lose tonight, they will have to win two consecutive games at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros haven’t lost all postseason. If the Astros win tonight, they will take back the momentum and have Verlander coming back in Game 6 with a chance to clinch.
Of course, Games 3 and 4 were also must-wins, and the Yankees won. They are 5–0 at home in the playoffs and have the Astros a little rattled after their bullpen implosion last night. It will take a big performance to halt New York’s home mojo, either in the form of an offensive assault or another dominant start from Keuchel
In Game 1, Keuchel had the Yankees off-balance, working both sides of the plate with different speeds en route to a career-high 10 strikeouts. It would be surprising if Keuchel strikes out that many again and it will be even more important for him to keep the ball on the ground inside Yankee Stadium, but there is no reason to think he won’t turn in another good outing pitching with the confidence he has.
Tanaka is throwing the ball as confidently as he ever has in his MLB career, though. He’s been dominant in three consecutive starts, including both of his postseason outings, the first a 1–0 win and the second a 2–1 loss.
But the Astros have the type of offense that’s liable to bust out at any time. They’ve now been held in check for all four games in this series and the tone in the clubhouse will be different now that it is they facing some pressure, rather than the opponent. We haven’t seen Houston in this sort of spot in the playoffs yet; the Astros played from ahead the entire way against Boston and ran out to a quick lead in this series. I suspect they will come with just a little extra fire in this game and seize back control.
Free Pick: Houston (-116)