Its the most wonderful time of the year…
Our first wildcard matchup pits two of 2015s biggest surprises. On Opening Day, only one expert out of 32 polled from ESPN, Grantland, CBS, and SI, had the Yankees making the playoffs (Buster Olney had them in the 2nd Wildcard slot). As for the Astros, not a single expert out of 32 had them headed to the playoffs. The Yanks were simply too old. The Astros were way too young. Now these two preseason dogs are ready to rip each other’s heads off in a 9-inning fight to the death. These do-or-die wildcard games get the playoffs going at 180 mph out of the gate, and this matchup is as good as it gets (Wednesday night’s is, too).
Those who have watched All-Star Starter Dallas Keuchel’s, 20-win, Cy Young season, not to mention his 21 strikeouts over 16 scoreless innings vs. the Yanks this year, have to believe he’s going to make the difference in this matchup. Masahiro Tanaka, who took the MLB by storm in 2014, has not yet regained his dominant form after an injury ended his rookie season. Yet, despite all of the uncertainty about his arm, Tanaka managed to lead the Yankees starting rotation with a 3.51 ERA in 2015. He will start his first MLB postseason game Tuesday, and if his hamstring holds up, he should be a fine counter-punch to Keuchel.
The lineups are both strong. The Yankees have scored the second-most runs in baseball behind that softball squad up in Canada, and the free-swinging Astros were the only team to come anywhere near Toronto’s 232 bombs (Astros finished at 230). As far as game-changing power goes, Houston has it up and down the lineup (and even on the bench) with 14 players swatting at least 9 HR in 2015.
With such a tight matchup, who’s got the edge style-wise?
Tanaka vs Keuchel
The way Tanaka uncoils and explodes towards the plate is an athletic wonder. His pitching style is awe-inspiring.
But how can you beat a beard of such esteem, such majesty as Keuchel’s?
Even the most prodigious beard in the NBA (above) can’t measure up. I respect Keuchel’s beard game so much because even at that length (without a doubt the league leader), he manages to keep it clean, and with a tight fade to boot. Not to say some uptight investment banking squares (or the Yankees) would be cool with it, but Keuchel keeps it reigned in in the right places, and that combined with the Astros’ orange jerseys, and one of the best left-handed repertoires in baseball, Keuchel is the man to beat.
McCann vs Castro
Brian McCann, based on a long and well-chronicled history of tight-assedness, has consistently aligned himself against WPW favorites. Brian McCann doesn’t like show-boating, I get it. That’s very admirable. Respect The Game. Tradition. Class. Honor. All those things. But we all know why you’re really mad, Brian. Because your pitchers were throwing low 80s BP cockshots to Big Leaguers. That’s not a Carlos Gomez problem, or a Jose Fernandez, that’s a you problem. Its like David Price says, “If you don’t like it, pitch better.”
Jason Castro does not help his cause in this matchup with a .211 average and an unsightly 30.7% strikeout rate, no matter how nice his Nike Pro Gold gear looks.
Bird vs Carter
Chris Carter occasionally hits baseballs as hard as they can possibly be hit. Guy hits absolute moonshots, and he’s got a finish that befits those moonshots.
But is that Greg Bird or John Olerud? And don’t take it from me, ask A-Rod:
“What [Bird] is doing is so impressive in the middle of a pennant race,” Alex Rodriguez said. “The way he carries himself, his plate discipline. He reminds me a little bit of John Olerud, when I played with him [with the Mariners and Yankees].’’
A-Rod is talking about his approach, but you can’t tell me that left-handed flip isn’t Olerudian. Overall goonishness and his helmet situation didn’t exactly make Olerud a WPW Classic, but if you hit .363, like the great Yogi Berra says, it doesn’t matter what you look like.
As for Bird, 2014 Arizona Fall League MVP, he is not exactly sneaking up on the scouts. You might see Greg Bird become an instant cult hero in New York City today.
Ackley vs Altuve
This one is a landslide.
Headley vs Lowrie
Both of these guys can play, but Lowrie’s got one of the most beautifully aged gloves these eyes have seen.
Look at that. It looks like it belongs in an art museum. Every little crease and stitch looks like it was done purposefully. The missing tag even looks amazing.
Lowrie’s Easton HS9 BG’s are also pretty sick.
Gregorius vs Correa
For a guy coming in to replace a legend, Sir Mariekson Julius “Didi” Gregorius has had a fine year for the Yankees. He’s got a sick Mizuno GMP400 and mixes in some shoe game where he can, in BP. We saw him with some custom Kyrie 1s.
How can we even front though? Carlos Correa, at 21 years old, is the best player in tonight’s game, and he’ll be the best player in most games he plays for a very long time. A lot of guys come up with a ton of hype, and very few live up to it. Since the day that Correa put on a Big League uniform, he’s been the most hyped, most talented, and best performing shortstop in the game. Its frightening to think what his future holds. Plus, the glove:
Colby Rasmus vs Brett Gardner
Check out that two-tone tape job. And look how high he tapes them. No batting gloves also gets you points in our book. Socks up. Brandon Crawford-style wet look. Rasmus is a dirtbag to the core—you can tell that the only place in the world he wants to be is a ballfield.
Gardner on the other hand, is another socks-up kinda cat and even though he only got to wear them once, had the Yankees’ best-looking cleats since Jeter. Those 4040v3s are sick and they sold out quick!
Gardner is a gazelle in left with his Ichiro-style Mizuno GMP700.
This one is too close to call.
Gomez vs Ellsbury
The most evocative man in baseball, Carlos Gomez finds himself in more brawls than anyone in the game. In fact, he’s scuffled with guys on both the Yankees AND the Astros for his theatrics. If you can get past that, though, you will see a guy who plays baseball like a Baltimore Ravens linebacker. He will run through a brick wall for his team. Though I’m not too impressed with his adidas repertoire to this point, I am hoping that tonight he’ll be bringing it, maybe with these?
These are the new adidas “Uncaged” which are set for a release later this month. There are more versions and we’ll post something on them today.
As for Ellsbury, the Yankee stiffs have really stifled his swag appeal. With Boston, he had some of my favorite cleats, the Nike Air Show Elite 2 (below).
Now he’s just basically standard issue black/white, and there’s just no fun in that.
Beltran vs Springer
The best match-up of the day. George Springer, freak athlete, scary pop, and a WPW guy. Then you have Carlos Beltran, postseason boss, potential Hall of Famer, and that quiet, unwavering confidence that can ignite teammates without saying a word.
That flame-tempered Rawlings lumber is a classic, just like Beltran.
Despite Springer’s WPW ties, Nike fit, and eye-popping talent, Beltran’s 1.128 postseason OPS is impossible to argue against.
Alex Rodriguez vs Evan Gattis
You couldn’t have picked two guys at more distant ends of the spectrum for me. I am just so exhausted of Alex Rodriguez’ face that, as a Yankee fan, its been tough to even watch them play this year. He’s a fraud, a well-coached fraud, who says all the right things then hits on women from the dugout in the middle of the ALCS. His style is just as stale as his phony interviews, wearing the Nike Air MVP Pro cleats from like 4 years ago that were a dud as soon as they came out.
Gattis, on the other hand, has such an amazing story that he’s impossible not to like. And his gloveless lumberjack hack is always one of my favorite highlights.
This one’s personal, but its an easy call.
Final Tally: Astros 6, Yankees 3
It looks like A-Rod is right, the Yankees are the underdogs tonight. We should be in for a great couple of games these next two nights. Stay tuned to WPW for more updates—seems like some content is rolling in now that the postseason has begun.