Get ready to match the stars! That was the intro to the delightfully cheesy 70's game show Match Game hosted by the plaid clad Gene Rayburn. As we head into the final days of the regular season, the Yankees will be looking to play the match game with other top contenders in the American League. According to Fangraphs, the Yankees have better than a 97% chance at making the playoffs, so their spot in October is a near guarantee. However, they won't be trading barbs with the likes of D-list celebrities such as Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Richard Dawson. They'll likely be locking horns with at least one of four teams including the division leading Blue Jays, Royals, and Astros as well as the Rangers, who are in the lead for the other wild card berth. What would those matchups look like?
Toronto Blue Jays
If you put any stock in run differential, the Blue Jays are the best team in baseball. Their pythagorean record is four games better than the next best mark, which belongs to the Cardinals, who have had a significantly easier schedule. The Yankees have had a lot to brag about when it comes to their lineup this year, but in reality they're just a poor man's version of the Toronto lineup. The Yankees hit home runs in bunches, the Blue Jays hit more. The Yankees supplement those home runs with a ton of walks, the Blue Jays are even more patient and get on base at a higher clip. Combine that with a struggling Yankees rotation and a suddenly solid Blue Jay rotation that boasts David Price as its ace and this showdown would be bad news for New York.
Advantage: Blue Jays
Kansas City Royals
The Royals shocked the world by winning the pennant with an anemic offense last year and nothing has changed in 2015. Relying on contact and speed to generate runs, Kansas City sits in the bottom of the AL in both home runs and walks. While their offense does enough to win games, the Yankees are simply much better with the bat. With the addition of Johnny Cueto, the Royals have the clear edge when it comes to starting rotations. Both teams have two of the best bullpens in the big leagues, especially when it comes to their backend relievers. They also have the rare distinction of assigning their best bullpen arm with a setup role so that they're not strictly limited to the ninth inning. This is probably the most interesting of the potential matchups.
After years of dwelling in the gutter, the Astros have turned their young core into a contender a little bit ahead of schedule. What their lineup lacks in star power or explosiveness they make up for with consistency and depth. They have no glaring holes from one through nine in the lineup and have dealt with a number of injuries without missing a beat. Still, the Yankees can hit circles around them. The strength of the Astros is their strong rotation anchored by Cy Young candidate Dallas Keuchel and bolstered with deadline deals for Scott Kazmir and Mike Fiers. In a playoff series, the gap in starting rotation quality between the Astros and Yankees could mean the difference between moving on and going home.
The Rangers have a pretty good shot at being the only team in the MLB playoffs that surrendered more runs than they scored during the regular season. That doesn't bode well for their chances at a World Series run. On paper their offense looks decent enough, but when adjusted for park they are actually well below average. They did fortify their solid, if unspectacular, pitching staff with the Cole Hamels acquisition, but that alone IS likely not enough to be a difference maker. The Yankees' combination of high-powered offense and a lights out bullpen would probably be enough to take care of business against Texas.
The Yankees only have a distinct advantage in one of the four potential matchups above. Don't fret, though, Yankee fans. Predictions don't seal the fate of a baseball team. As John Sterling, our fearless broadcaster who was no doubt a huge fan of Match Game, says ad nauseam, "That's why they play the games!"