For the last decade, the American League has been dominated by a few powerhouse teams: the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, and the Detroit Tigers. Only the Yankees will play in the postseason this year, and if they can't beat the upstart Houston Astros in the Wild Card Game Tuesday night, the postseason will proceed with a new slate of American League stars from the Astros, Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers.
The Astros will send 20-game winner Dallas Keuchel to the mound in the Wild Card Game. The Yankees will counter with Masahiro Tanaka. Keuchel faced the Yankees twice this season — once at home and once at Yankee Stadium. He didn't allow a run in 16 innings. Tanaka is theoretically the Yankees' ace, but he's been hampered recently by a hamstring strain. He's also pitched the entire season with a slight tear in his right (pitching) elbow, the kind of tear that often leads to Tommy John surgery. If Tanaka can get the game to the Yankees' bullpen with a lead, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller will lock it down for the Bronx Bombers. Jose Altuve will do what he can to keep that from happening. The Astros' diminutive second baseman revs the team's offense. He just completed back-to-back seasons with 200 hits or more.
The Wild Card Game winner will face the Royals, who ran away with the AL Central to everyone's surprise. Kansas City doesn't have a big game ace or a big name power threat. The team's best offensive weapon is Lorenzo Cain, who'd mostly been known for his stellar outfield defense. But Cain put it all together at the plate this season, posting a .307/.361/.477 slash and 28 stolen bases. The Royals just lost their closer, Greg Holland, to a season-ending injury, but Wade Davis can easily fill that slot with his 0.94 ERA and 31 percent strikeout rate.
Expect offensive fireworks in the other Division Series between the Blue Jays and the Rangers. Toronto scored nearly 900 runs this season, led by MVP candidate Josh Donaldson, outfielder Jose Bautista and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion. The three combined for 120 home runs and 101 doubles — eye-popping numbers in a low run-scoring environment. On the mound, the star is David Price, who the Blue Jays acquired from the Tigers at the trade deadline. Price started 11 games for the Blue Jays down the stretch, won nine and posted a 2.30 ERA. And keep an eye on Marcus Stroman. The starter blew out the ACL on his left knee in spring training and then made a miraculous recovery to return to the Blue Jays in mid-September. He won all four games he started.
The Rangers were facing a lost season when their ace Yu Darvish tore his right elbow ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery in March. Advanced statistics projected Texas to win 74 games and fall far short in the AL West. But the Astros and Los Angeles Angels stumbled in August, and opened the door for a resurgent Rangers team, led on offense by the ageless Adrian Beltre and a rejuvenated Prince Fielder. Texas also won the trade sweepstakes for Cole Hamels, the lefty starter who compiled a 114-90 record and a 3.30 ERA in nine seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Rangers won nine of Hamels' 11 starts, including a complete game victory on Sunday to clinch the division title. And if last year's American League playoffs were any indicator, with the Wild Card Royals making it to the World Series, anything can happen.