Astros’ Keuchel excited, jittery, confident for Game 1
HOUSTON — Dallas Keuchel knows the New York Yankees.
He knows the history. He knows the fame of the franchise. And he knows how to have success against the vaunted pinstripers.
And you can bet your ticket to the World Series that the Houston Astros starting pitcher relishes the opportunity to get the ALCS started off on the right foot when he takes to the mound for Friday’s Game 1 here at Minute Maid Park.
Keuchel has dominated the Yankees in the past, most notably in the 2015 AL wild-card game when the bearded lefty did his part in a 3-0 blanking of the Bronx Bombers.
Rather than shrug it off as meaningless, Keuchel acknowledges the significance of that moment and the juice of facing a team so accustomed to baseball’s October spotlight.
“Now we look back on it and it’s probably one of the most magical times that I’ll have in my career and it’s something I’ll never forget, for sure,” Kuechel said on Thursday as the Astros had a second consecutive day of workouts.
“And just because it’s the Yankees, you kind of get a little more amped and a little more jittery because it’s the pinstripes and such a storied organization.”
Kuechel is well aware that the Astros have an opportunity for back-to-back series wins against “storied” franchises, after doing his part to eliminate the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. Do the same against the Yankees and the Astros will feel ready to validate an exceptional regular season into a franchise-first championship.
The Astros have completed 55 seasons without a World Series title (since their inception in 1962), making it the thirdlongest drought in the majors. But with a 101-61 regularseason record in 2017, they won the AL West in Secretariat-like fashion — 21 games over the Anaheim Angels.
Having the luxury of a 1-2 punch of Kuechel and Saturday’s starter, Jason Verlander, is one of the big reasons the Astros appear to have a massive ‘paper’ edge in this series. That and the fact they scored 43 runs in piling up a 5-2 record versus the Yanks in the regular season.
“We hand him the ball and the entire room knows we have a chance to win,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of Kuechel. “We’re well aware he’s had success against the Yankees and we’ve very confident in this ball park. He’s pitched extraordinarily. So look, having Verlander and Keuchel 1-2, the fact that we have both is a huge advantage for us.
“To be honest with you, when Dallas is right, he’s confident against anybody. I don’t think who the names are on the jersey (matters). He knows he can get out anybody in the league.”
Of course, starting pitching is just part of the Houston advantage heading into the best-of-seven series that is sending the Space City into orbit.
The Astros’ prolific offence is the perfect blend of power and savvy base-hitting, a big reason they were able to dominate so many teams offensively this season. They led the majors in runs (896), hits (1,581) and struck out fewer times than anyone else (1,087.)
In one stretch towards the end of the season, they won four consecutive games by nine runs or more, the first team to do so since 1887. The Blue Jays certainly felt that wrath this season, giving up 12, 19 and 16 runs in three of their seven meetings.
“It’s the way our team is built,” Astros catcher Brian McCann said. “We’ve got 12 guys who can work counts and our lineup flows from top to bottom. The guys at the bottom (of the order) can hurt you as well. There’s no let-up.”
Is that enough to beat the Yankees? It could be (and probably should be) if the Astros can continue to beat up on New York’s starting pitching and keep it going against a bullpen that has been the backbone of the Yankees pitching staff.
“We have to figure out a way to handle their bullpen, to avoid their home-run power and and get some of them to swing and miss,” Hinch said.
Playing with the confidence that got them to this point, nipped at the wire by the Cleveland Indians by one game in the race for the AL’s overall regular-season title, wouldn’t hurt either.
“At this point, we won 101 games, we don’t need to prove anything,” Kuechel said. “I know a lot of guys do like the flash (of the Yankees) and like the primetime games and that’s good for them … whatever gets you up for these types of games, then let it get you up.
“When it comes down to it, we’ll be playing baseball, but it is a little bit more fun to be playing back-to-back with the Red Sox and the Yankees.” @longleysunsport