Posted on October 18, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine

Dallas Keuchel Masahiro Tanaka

Image via cbssports.com

Things are all tied up in the ALCS. The New York Yankees continue to be at their best while at home this postseason, overcoming a 4-0 deficit and three errors to win Game 4 and tie the series at two games apiece. After a long layoff, Sonny Gray gave the Yankees just what they needed, putting them in position to take a series lead if they can win Game 5 at home on Wednesday night.

Bullpen Blues

During the regular season, Houston’s bullpen was middle of the pack, and that’s starting to become apparent here in the postseason. Even with some of the team’s starting pitchers moving to the bullpen for the playoffs, it has proven to be a weakness for the Astros in October. Part of the blame must go to manager A.J. Hinch, who has been too quick to give his starters the hook, even going back to the ALDS. Lance McCullers Jr. was outstanding for six innings in Game 4, allowing just two hits, but at the first sign of trouble, Hinch turned things over to the bullpen. It was a move that proved to be Houston’s downfall and a mistake that Hinch would be wise to avoid making again if the Astros are going to win the series.

Pitching Matchup

The good news for the Astros is that they get to turn to Dallas Keuchel in Game 5. Keuchel has been outstanding in the postseason, including seven shutout innings against the Yankees in Game 1. He was in complete control of the game and did so while only using his changeup once, so he didn’t even need his full arsenal to shut down New York’s lineup. Even though the lefty didn’t need his changeup to beat the Yankees the first time, he may choose to unleash it in Game 5, knowing they haven’t seen it. To be fair, the Yankees have been a much different team at home, and Keuchel won’t have the home fans behind him for the first time this postseason, but he figures to have plenty left in the tank.

The Yankees will also bring back Game 1 starter Masahiro Tanaka to start Game 5. Tanaka was nearly as good as Keuchel in Game 1, although he only struck out three over six innings and allowed two runs. Of course, Tanaka didn’t throw his splitter in Game 1 as often as he usually does, so like Keuchel, he has a weapon that went underused when he faced the Astros earlier in the series. Perhaps more importantly, Tanaka was much better when pitching at home this season. In 15 starts at Yankee Stadium, he posted a 3.22 ERA, as opposed to a 6.48 ERA on the road. Remember, he tossed seven shutout innings at home against the Indians in the ALDS, so there’s every chance that he’ll be able to match anything Keuchel does in Game 5.

X-Factor

The Houston bullpen has to be the biggest X-factor in Game 5. Keuchel may pitch a gem, but unless he’s able to pitch nine innings, the Astros will have to go to their bullpen at some point. The Yankees will no doubt be confident against any pitcher who comes out of the Houston bullpen. Yankee hitters may actually look for a way to wear out Keuchel, increase his pitch count, and force Hinch to take him out of the game as soon as possible. The Yankees pounced as soon as McCullers exited Game 4 and that could be New York’s best chance of winning Game 5.

Prediction

Keuchel has had New York’s number in the postseason, but the Bronx Bombers have been too good at home this postseason to pick against them. Tanaka is just as capable of shutting out the opposition as Keuchel, and he has a much better bullpen behind him. This will be another great pitchers duel, but this time it goes in favor of the Yankees. New York wins 2-1.

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