For the first time since 2012, it's looking like the Yankees are finally going to make it into the postseason. Of course, in what capacity has yet to be seen. They are currently 3.5 games out of first place with 17 games to go, so if New York can't find a way to win the division, they'll have to settle for the Wild Card one-game playoff instead. Potential opponents for such a game include the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, and Minnesota Twins. If it comes down to it, who would the Yankees want to face in an elimination game?
Right now the Rangers have a somewhat comfortable lead in the American League West, having dethroned the Astros with a four-game sweep this week. Texas was once a team that seemed to stand no chance this year as they started the season without Yu Darvish or Jurickson Profar and sat eight games back in the division on August 1. Since trading for Cole Hamels at the deadline, they've gone 29-17 and won their last five games, but also have a run differential of -7 and an expected W-L record of an under-.500 team.
If the Yankees were to meet the Rangers in a one-game playoff, Texas would likely send Hamels out to the mound. Unfortunately for them, since being traded, Hamels has had mixed results with a 4.04 ERA and 3.79 FIP in eight games. He still remains a threat over the course of a single game, and while he's historically struggled against the Yankees, he's mostly kept the current lineup in check. Brian McCann has hit .279/.353/.541 with three home runs against him and Carlos Beltran has hit .239/.271/.478, but he's mostly kept the rest of the offense quiet throughout his career.
As for the rest of the team, the Yankees would have to deal with the revitalized duo of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. Both players are having incredible seasons, with Fielder hitting 21 home runs and hitting .314/.383/.477 after undergoing neck surgery last year, and Choo hitting 18 home runs and hitting .261/.360/.443 after a disappointing 2014 season. They have also gotten good production from Rougned Odor and Mitch Moreland. The Bronx bats would also have to face the likes of Keona Kela (2.57 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 1.2 WAR) and closer Shawn Tolleson (2.71 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 1.3 WAR) in any kind of do-or-die situation.
The Astros, on the other hand, had a .562 winning percentage on August 1 and are now down to .524 after going 18-24 over that period. The Angels were once their biggest threat, but they have since fallen apart, and what should have been an easy coast to the playoffs is now turning into something a little less than comfortable. They've now lost four in a row and are just 2-8 over their last 10 games and with just over two weeks of the regular season left to go, Houston seems to be limping to the finish line.
Despite their recent struggles, they still have the likely American League Cy Young Award winner in Dallas Keuchel, who has a 2.56 ERA, 2.93 FIP, and has been worth 5.5 WAR in 211.1 innings this year. He's faced the Yankees twice this year and has yet to allow a run in 16 innings against them. Able to induce ground balls just as well as strikeouts, he might prove to be too much of a challenge for New York when the season comes down to just one game. The Yankees lineup has mostly done nothing against him, except for Chris Young .300/.333/.500 in 20 at-bats and Carlos Beltran .444/.500/.889 in nine. Overall, it wouldn't look too promising.
Other than Keuchel, the Astros have gotten a tremendous first season out of Carlos Correa, as well as key contributions from George Springer, Jose Altuve, Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, and others. They also have two solid bullpen pieces in Luke Gregerson and Chad Qualls, who have been very good in the second half of the season. If Masahiro Tanaka starts the wild card game, he would hopefully be able to neutralize their righty-heavy lineup, but players like Correa, Springer, and Gattis could still make him pay if his command is off even in the slightest.
The Twins are the team that somehow keeps finding a way to hang around somehow. They were comfortably seated in one of the two wild card spots by the All-Star break, but soon lost that lead and now sit just 1.5 games out. They could probably overtake the Astros at this point, if they hadn't just lost three in a row themselves. At just four games over .500, with a -7 run differential, the Twins would normally not stand a chance to be in the playoffs, but who knows what will happen this year.
If Minnesota somehow makes it into the wild card game, the Yankees would have to deal with the slugging rookie Miguel Sano, who has hit .281/.395/.571 with 16 home runs on the year, as well as Brian Dozier...and that's about it. The rest of the Twins lineup, including Joe Mauer, is pretty mediocre, while the bullpen, other than Glen Perkins, is nothing to write home about. They wouldn't even have anyone to send out there with the season on the line as both Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana have been bad. After last year's incredible season, Hughes has become a very bad pitcher with 4.58 ERA and 4.75 FIP and a home run rate through the roof, while Santana has a 4.55 ERA and 4.57 FIP since returning from a PED suspension. It would be fun to see either of them pitch in Yankee Stadium.
It turns out that we might all have to be Twins fans, since they aren't as hot as the Rangers are right now and they don't have the pitching that the Astros will surely bring to the table. It's also important that the Yankees face the Twins because the abuse over the last decade+ will never, ever, ever get old. What would be even sweeter, though, is to win the division so we don't have to deal with the heart attack that goes with a one-game playoff.