Yan­kees re­built in hurry

Los Angeles Times - - NLCS - By Pe­dro Moura

HOUS­TON — Two years ago, Hous­ton Astros left-han­der Dal­las Keuchel dom­i­nated the New York Yan­kees.

He faced them twice dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son and van­quished them each time. In the Amer­i­can League wild-card game at Yan­kee Sta­dium, he did the same, send­ing them spi­ral­ing to­ward a rare re­build.

Be­cause they have more money and are bet­ter man­aged than many teams, the Yan­kees’ re­build re­sem­bled more of a re­tool. It lasted less than two years and never reached sub-.500 depths. Now, they are back in the AL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries, again tak­ing on Keuchel and the Astros be­gin­ning Fri­day at Minute Maid Park.

This a se­ries not lack­ing for story lines. Aaron Judge and Jose Al­tuve, each team’s star, are sep­a­rated by a foot in height. Al­ready, th­ese play­offs have pro­vided im­me­di­ate and glo­ri­ous re­demp­tion for Yan­kees man­ager Joe Gi­rardi. And Hous­ton hopes this se­ries will be a tes­ta­ment to the proven post­sea­son lead­er­ship of vet­eran exYan­kees Car­los Bel­tran and Brian McCann.

There’s also the mat­ter of the Yan­kees even be­ing here.

In the two years since Keuchel sen­tenced them to ir­rel­e­vance, they have traded for, traded away, and re-signed the same player: closer Aroldis Chap­man. They have watched two prospects, Judge and Gary Sanchez, flour­ish at the high­est level to de­grees some scouts doubted pos­si­ble. They have wit­nessed a resur­gence from one of the game’s most revered start­ing pitch­ers, CC Sa­bathia, who was long ago de­ter­mined to be done.

So, th­ese are not the same Yan­kees thrice rav­aged by Keuchel dur­ing a Cy Young-win­ning sea­son. Gi­rardi has with­stood change, and his own oc­ca­sional mis­steps — in­clud­ing fa­mously de­cid­ing not chal­lenge a call in the di­vi­sion se­ries against the Cleve­land In­di­ans. Of the five Yan­kees who played in the 2015 AL wild-card game and are likely to be in Fri­day’s line­ups, two are Astros.

“No­body ex­pected us to make the play­offs,” said Brett Gard­ner, in his 10th sea­son the long­est-tenured Yan­kee. “No­body ex­pected us to knock off the In­di­ans.”

Gard­ner ad­mit­ted that he also was skep­ti­cal, even though he said he be­gan to re­al­ize the Yan­kees’ po­ten­tial af­ter they won 15 games in April with­out Sanchez and Didi Gre­go­rius, two of their young stars.

Keuchel watched the Yan­kees’ win Wed­nes­day’s ALDS clincher. He said he was only ob­serv­ing to see where he’d be pitch­ing Fri­day. If the In­di­ans won, the Astros would have left for Cleve­land at 10 a.m Thurs­day, but he de­cided to de­lay pack­ing his bags un­til the game fin­ished.

The Yan­kees will match Masahiro Tanaka against Keuchel on Fri­day. Luis Sev­erino will start in Game 2, Sa­bathia in Mon­day’s Game 3, and Sonny Gray in Tues­day’s Game 4.

The Astros will fol­low Keuchel with Justin Ver­lan­der. The rest of their ro­ta­tion is un­cer­tain, like the Yan­kees’ fu­ture was for a year or so.

Now, the Yan­kees will be con­sid­ered play­off con­tenders for the next sev­eral years, their pay­roll bound to as­cend, other prospects cer­tain to es­tab­lish them­selves. This was their one gift sea­son, one played with­out ex­pec­ta­tions.

Hous­ton’s fu­ture seems sim­i­lar. The teams will now fight to de­ter­mine their present.

pe­dro.moura@la­times.com Twit­ter: @pe­dro­moura

Ron­ald Martinez Getty Im­ages

ASTROS ACE Dal­las Keuchel will open the AL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries tonight in Hous­ton against the Yan­kees, whom he dom­i­nated two sea­sons ago when he won the Cy Young Award.

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