If come October, the New York Yankees are still where they are in the standings, there’s a good chance they’re going to have to get through a major nemesis or two along the way to the World Series.
Chief among them is Houston Astros ace Dallas Keuchel, who beat them again on Thursday night, with nine strikeouts and one unearned run allowed in six innings. He now has a 1.41 ERA in 44 2/3 regular-season innings against them. And if you include his six innings in the 2015 AL wild-card game, Keuchel has thrown 50 2/3 innings against the Yankees without giving up a home run.
Keuchel’s slider has regularly bedeviled the Yankees. On Thursday night he threw 29, the Yankees swung at 15 and missed 11. They finished 0-for-6 with five strikeouts against the pitch. It was a highly similar effort to that wild-card game in which Keuchel used 16 sliders to get seven outs, including three strikeouts, without yielding a baserunner.
And it’s not only the slider. Fangraphs charts a pitch value stat that measures how much each pitch contributes to winning. Keuchel has the best pitch value numbers in baseball — he has four different pitches (fastball, cutter, slider and changeup) that rate above average — and they save at least one run compared to the average pitcher.
Back in the day, Keuchel would be known as a Yankee killer, a nickname bestowed upon Frank Lary, a Tigers pitcher during the 1950s and ’60s.
But Keuchel isn’t the only one who would fit that bill among current pitchers. He’s basically neck-and-neck for being this generation’s Yankee killer along with Red Sox ace Chris Sale.
Sale’s 1.31 ERA in 61 2/3 innings against the Yankees is the lowest among any active pitcher with at least five starts against them. But Keuchel has a leg up in that he has defeated the Yankees this season. Sale lost to them, 3-0 on April 27, despite striking out 10 in eight innings.
Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner wouldn’t be thrilled facing either pitcher. He’s 0-for-7 with three strikeouts against Keuchel and 1-for-10 with five strikeouts against Sale. Nor would Jacoby Ellsbury, who is 2-for-17 against Keuchel and 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts against Sale.
They can take consolation in this: Both of these pitchers rate as great against just about everyone. No one will want to face either in October.