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All but one AL wild card contender lack a true "ace"

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Regardless of which team wins the second wild card, the Yankees will be facing a second-tier starter.

Kansas City Royals v Seattle Mariners Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

Several teams are still in play to match up against the Yankees for the AL Wild Card game. But fortunately for the Yankees, none of their potential opponents have a true ace. With the Yankees sweeping their three-game series against the Twins this week, it made it much more likely they will be hosting the one-and-done playoff "series" in the Bronx. A brief look at the contenders and their top pitchers demonstrates there is not a true SP threat on any of these teams.

The wild card game is a fickle event. A bad bounce, a questionable interpretation of the infield fly rule, or a battery that can’t control the running game can all lead to a season-ending crash. The Yankees themselves know this all too well, having run into human buzzsaw Dallas Keuchel in 2015. The dreaded possibility of having to face someone of Keuchel’s caliber makes winning the division all the more important.

This year, however, the Yankees can embrace their second-place position, and feel pretty good going into a winner-take-all wild card game. Scanning the American League starting pitching leaderboard, it becomes obvious quickly that the teams currently in the race for the orher Wild Card spot do not have a true ace. With Chris Sale and Corey Kluber on likely division-winning teams, we’re already looking at the second-tier AL aces, with most of those pitchers on teams that are already out of the hunt. Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander have pitched well all season, but that’s the Yankees’ potential LDS problem, not a wild card problem.

Of the top ten pitchers who lead the AL in fWAR, seven are on the likely division winners’ teams (not a surprise), and three are on non-contending playoff teams (the Rays Chris Archer, the Blue Jays Marcus Stroman, and the Tigers Michael Fulmer).

As it currently stands, there are five teams that are still contenders for the spot, although the Twins control their own fate, and the Angels are right on their heels. The Angels, Rangers, and Mariners are three games or fewer behind the Twins in the loss column and although the odds get lower with each passing day, they are possibilities to sneak into the slot.

Here’s a look at the likely starter for each of these teams in a do-or-die wild card game.

No Aces

AL Starting Pitcher fWAR Rank Name Team GS IP K% BB% HR BABIP LOB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR
AL Starting Pitcher fWAR Rank Name Team GS IP K% BB% HR BABIP LOB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR
14 Ervin Santana Twins 31 199.1 19.6 % 7.4 % 30 .243 79.3 % 3.34 4.53 4.78 2.6
20 Jason Hammel Royals 30 171 17.8 % 6.1 % 24 .314 69.6 % 5.05 4.35 5.01 2.1
21 Martin Perez Rangers 30 174.1 14.5 % 7.5 % 21 .332 71.0 % 4.7 4.53 4.64 2
24 Ricky Nolasco Angels 30 165.2 18.5 % 7.4 % 34 .307 75.6 % 5.11 5.23 4.75 0.5
25 Ariel Miranda Mariners 29 159 20.3 % 9.3 % 35 .234 74.7 % 4.87 5.57 5.39 0.3

You’d be hard-pressed to fear facing any one of these starters. Even the name topping the list, and the guy who is most likely (per playoff odds) to start the game in the Bronx is not exactly intimidating. Had the Rangers not traded Yu Darvish, there would be a case that the Rangers would actually be well-positioned for a wild card game, but in his absence, Martin Perez has been their best pitcher (with Andrew Cashner a close second).

There are a few striking characteristics about all of these pitchers. Every pitcher on this list is below the league-average 21.5 percent strikeout rate, has a worse than league average ERA (4.38) and with exception of Hammel, a worse than league-average FIP (4.42). On top of it all, these players all give up a significant number of home runs. Miranda is tied for the most home runs in the AL (35), with Nolasco only trailing by one. Santana has given up the sixth-most dingers in the league.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have a clear favorite in their rotation, with Luis Severino having taken a large step towards "ace-dom." With CC Sabathia a shadow of his former self and Masahiro Tanaka’s inconsistency, the 2017 playoffs can be where Severino earns his (pin)stripes.

Regardless of who New York hosts, they’ll enter the game as the odds-on favorites, though in one game, we all know that anything can happen. Regardless of who they play, it will make for must-watch tv. Whether or not this turns into a bullpen game early in the game will remain to be seen, but it has to be something the Yankees’ opponents are considering.

*All statistics and numbers based on September 20 stats

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times.