2015 Wild Card Champions @ 2015 Wild Card Not-Champions
April 5-7, 2016
In the time leading up to both of my kids being born, I remember a combination of excitement and anxiety. When they finally arrived the excitement and anxiety remained, but there was also a slight sense of dread that there was no turning back from a huge investment of time, money, and emotion. It was definitely going to be worth it, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
Opening Day always feels the same way to me. Watching 162 games in six months is hardly a small investment of time, especially with the west coast games that are scientifically proven to be 1-1.5 hours longer. The long season also contains plenty of ups and downs, and it can take an emotional toll on you even when you try not to let it get to you (see also: the month of September 2015).
Of course the analogy is a little more appropriate this year: both of my kids had to be forcibly ejected from my wife after their due date, and the Astros and Yankees get a late start to the season after Opening Day 1.0 got The-Northeast-in-April’ed out. Even Michael Bloomberg’s Big Gulp thinks playing baseball in New York in still-slightly-winter is a bad idea.
On paper this season looks pretty promising, since this Opening Day roster is ostensibly much better than last year’s. The starting rotation, a sure weakness to start 2015, now figures to be one of baseball’s best, and I don’t envy the personnel decision Hinch/Luhnow have to make when Lance McCullers comes off the DL. Aside from the obvious top-of-the-rotation guys like Keuchel and McHugh, I think Scott Feldman is one of the team’s more underrated arms. Injuries aside, he was a pretty effective innings-eater in 2015 and pitched his ass off between DL stints. That he was a #2/#3 last year and is now a #5/#6 on this year’s staff – and that they’re not trotting out Straily, Oberholtzer, and Fausto Carmona every few days – shows that the water level has risen significantly.
The bullpen’s boat stands to rise with the tide, which will hopefully prevent them from wearing down late in the season like last year. Last year’s unexpectedly excellent pen is largely intact except for essentially swapping Ken Giles in for Chad Qualls. I’m not all that concerned about who closes as long as they do it well. Gregerson, currently slated to be the closer, did a pretty admirable job last year despite his propensity for the meatball early in the season. If this unit is anywhere near as solid as they were last year, we may see a lot of games that are basically over by the 6th-7th innings.
Offensively, with much of the lineup intact there are a lot of known quantities, but hopefully guys like Springer, Tucker, and Marisnick can develop even more with another year under their belts. Having a full season of Correa can, and probably will, make a huge difference and he is already getting some preseason run for AL MVP. Perhaps the only real unknown is Tyler White, who will be taking his first MLB at-bats this afternoon. Things may get interesting if he stumbles while AJ Reed tears up the PCL.
Many pundits I’ve seen have pegged the Astros at the mid/high 80s in wins. I’m a little more bullish; 92-93 wins feels about right to me.
Tuesday, April 5 – 12:05pm CDT
Dallas Keuchel (2015: 20-8, 2.48) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (2015: 12-7, 3.51)
It’s hard not to like any matchup that includes Keuchel, especially when he’s pitching against the pinstripes. Dude absolutely wrecked the Yankees in 2015: three games (two in the Bronx), 22 innings, zero runs allowed. He also had an outstanding spring with a .123 opposing average and 16 K’s in 17 scoreless innings. Here’s hoping 2016 is just a continuation of 2015.
The Astros didn’t have too much trouble in two outings against Tanaka last year, touching him up for six runs in five innings in June and then handing him the loss in the Wild Card Game. He also got hit hard this spring, for whatever that’s worth.
One equalizing factor in this game could be the weather: das, OWA’s resident meteorologist, is calling for cold temps, stiff winds, and an even more pronounced ill temper among New Yorkers.
Wednesday, April 6 – 6:05pm CDT
Collin McHugh (2015: 19-7, 3.89) vs. Michael Pineda (2015: 12-10, 4.37)
McHugh took a bit of a step back in 2015, particularly in that he gave up a lot more hits and got into trouble more often early in games before settling down. This still didn’t prevent him from having a very good year, and he also owned a sub-2 ERA against the Yankees last season. His spring stats have never been all that flashy and this year was no exception.
Pineda took two losses at the hands of the Astros last year, going eight pretty good innings in June and then getting chased in the 5th inning in August. His spring training yada yada yada.
Thursday, April 7 – 3:05pm CDT
Mike Fiers (2015: 7-10, 3.69) vs. Nathan Eovaldi (2015: 14-3, 4.20)
The No-No Guy finds himself in the #3 slot and, if things pan out, this could be the first season that he can stay locked in in the rotation. Despite a string of no-decisions to end 2015 there’s hardly anything to complain about regarding his tenure in Houston. Here’s hoping that spending a full season on a better team will allow him to shine. Fiers has never faced the Yankees.
Eovaldi led the Yanks in wins in 2015, including a streak of nine straight wins that lasted much of the season. He did not face the Astros in 2015, although historically he has whipped up on a bunch of scrubs that had the misfortune of wearing Astros jerseys.