HOUSTON -- It was difficult to determine whether Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel was entertained or exhausted by the number of times he was asked the same question on Thursday, a query seeking perspective on his career success against the New York Yankees.
"I've been asked that question like 10 times already," he said with an indecipherable smile.
Keuchel is 4-2 with a 1.41 ERA over six career starts against the Yankees, against whom he will start in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday at Minute Maid Park. He has totaled 45 strikeouts against only six walks over 44 2/3 innings vs. New York.
In his lone postseason start against the Yankees, Keuchel twirled six shutout innings with seven strikeouts in the 2015 AL wild-card game, a 3-0 Astros victory at Yankee Stadium.
On May 11, he limited the Yankees to five hits, one walk and one unearned run with nine strikeouts over six innings in a 3-2 victory.
Combine those performances with his routinely splendid work at home, and a picture develops as to why Astros manager A.J. Hinch is confident handing Keuchel the ball for the opener. Keuchel, meanwhile, boiled his consistency down to exceptional pitching unrelated to the opponent.
"It's not just because it's the Yankees," Keuchel said. "I think it's just been a culmination of command, location, maybe a little bit more confidence. And just because it's the Yankees you kind of get a little bit more amped and a little more jittery because it is the pinstripes and such a storied organization.
"But I think it's just a coincidence that my command and location have been better than what it usually is against them."
By winning the AL Division Series over the Boston Red Sox in four games, the Astros set the stage for their desired matchup. Keuchel was slated to start Game 5 before the Astros rallied to a 5-4 victory on Monday at Fenway Park. That result allowed Hinch to rejigger his rotation, flipping Keuchel and right-hander Justin Verlander, who started the opener against Boston.
"Dallas Keuchel has been remarkable as an Astro, he's been remarkable in my three years here," Hinch said. "We hand him the ball and the entire room knows we have a chance to win.
"So, we're well aware he's had success against the Yankees, we're very confident in this ballpark. He's pitched extraordinarily well."
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka will get the start for the Yankees in part due to his recent success and also as a reflection of some long-term planning by Yankees manager Joe Girardi. New York advanced to the ALCS by overcoming a 2-0 ALDS deficit against Cleveland Indians, taking the decisive Game 5 on Wednesday, 5-2.
Tanaka pitched the Yankees to a 1-0 win over the Indians in Game 3 by working seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and one walk with seven strikeouts. Tanaka also twirled seven shutout frames in his last start of the regular season, defeating the Toronto Blue Jays 4-0.
By scheduling Tanaka for the opener, Girardi can also slot him for Game 5 (if necessary) at Yankee Stadium. Tanaka was 9-5 with a 3.22 ERA over 15 regular-season home starts but 4-7 with a 6.48 ERA over 15 road starts in 2017. He is 0-2 with a 10.38 ERA over four career starts against Houston.
In his lone appearance vs. the Astros this year, Tanaka allowed eight runs on seven hits in 1 2/3 innings during a 10-7 loss on May 14.
"Just going into the big game tomorrow, you don't want to sort of have that negative feeling," Tanaka said Thursday of his past struggles against Houston. "So to be honest, I really don't want -- it's not something I really want to get into. But what I can say is that I feel like I'm a different pitcher from that particular game earlier in the season."
Somewhat negating the Keuchel Effect for the Yankees is their youth movement and subsequently surprise run to the ALCS. Of the nine Yankees to record double-digit at-bats in the ALDS, only four were in the lineup against Keuchel two postseasons ago: left fielder Brett Gardner, third baseman Chase Headley, first baseman Greg Bird and shortstop Didi Gregorius.
In the interim, the Yankees added twentysomethings Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Starlin Castro to positive results, though Judge struggled in the ALDS. The American League home run leader went 1-for-20 with 16 strikeouts in five games against the Indians.
"We went through some transition here where we have had an older club and ... we made some trades to improve the club, the talent level in the minor leagues," Girardi said. "And these kids have started to come up and make an impact."