Keuchel, Astros ready to blast off
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 the Houston Astros starting pitcher relishes the opportunity to get the American League championship series started off on the right foot when he takes to the mound for Friday’s Game 1 here at MinuteMaid Park.
Keuchel has dominated the Yankees in the past, most notably in the 2015 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 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 Thursday. “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-toback series wins against “storied” franchises, after doing his part to eliminate the Boston Red Sox in the AL division series. Do the same against the Yankees and the Astros will feel ready to validate an exceptional regular season into the franchise’s first championship.
The Astros have completed 55 seasons, since their inception in 1962, making it the third-longest title drought in the majors. But with a 101-61 regular season record in 2017, they won the AL West by 21 games over the Anaheim Angels.
Having the luxury of a one-two 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 ballpark. He’s pitched extraordinarily. So look, having Verlander and Keuchel one-two, 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. The Astros prolific offence is the perfect blend of power and savvy base hitting. They led the majors in runs (896), hits (1,581) and fewest strikeouts (1,087.)
“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 (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 staff.
“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 prime time games and that’s good for them … whatever gets you up for these types of games, then let it get you up for it.
“When it comes down to it, we’ll be playing baseball, but it is a little bit more fun to be playing backto-back with the Red Sox and the Yankees.”