Scan the terrain as many times as you want, and you arrive at a simple conclusion:
There’s no Dallas Keuchel out there.
We are of course comparing the 2017 American League wild-card race with its predecessor from two years ago, the last time the Yankees occupied the catbird seat in the competition for best runner-up. The 2015 Yankees wobbled toward the finish line, 15-17 in September and October, knowing that the southpaw Keuchel, who had shut them out over 16 innings in two regular-season starts, likely loomed in the one-and-done wild-card game. Knowledge did not convert to power, as Keuchel sent those Yankees home with six shutout innings and a 3-0 victory and, for good measure, won the AL Cy Young Award in November.
This year’s race for the AL’s second wild-card spot feels more crowded than, and equally comical to, the street-fight scene in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” It’s a ragtag group of July sellers, premature developers, injury-ravaged survivors and over-the-hill ragers against the dying of the light. As The Post’s Joel Sherman contended on Aug. 15, shame on the Yankees, who acted so aggressively in July, if they don’t at least play host to the AL wild-card game October 3 given the weak field.
The packed, low-end race, with just three AL teams (White Sox, Tigers and A’s) truly done and the leader on pace for the 85-win neighborhood, creates the possible, if remote, scenario that the Yankees will fall out of the postseason altogether. But let’s focus on the discussion more likely to dominate this sprint to the playoffs: With the absence of a truly feared entity like Keuchel, which of these flawed entries presents the biggest threat to keeping the Yankees out of the Division Series for the fifth consecutive year?
Since the answer is far from obvious, let’s break it down by categories.
Most dangerous pitcher: Cole Hamels, Rangers
It has been easy to forget about him here in the Big Apple since he departed Philadelphia, and he has faced the Yankees just once since getting traded to the Rangers in July 2015, shutting out an underwhelming offensive group last year in seven innings at the Stadium. The 33-year-old has produced better results since the Rangers traded Yu Darvish at the July 31 deadline, propelling these guys back into the race. Nevertheless, he relies on contact far more and misses far fewer bats than he did in his Phillies days.
Most dangerous player: Mike Trout, Angels
Who else? Despite missing nearly seven weeks with a left thumb injury, he has played himself into the AL Most Valuable Player conversation, again. In Trout’s five prior seasons, his Angels have an 0-3 postseason record, having been swept by the Royals in the ’14 ALDS. Do you think the South Jersey native would be OK with registering his first postseason victory in The Bronx?
Most dangerous vibe: Royals
These guys are Warren Beatty in “Bulworth,” letting it fly with nothing left to lose. With an legendary shared history (the 2014 AL pennant and the 2015 World Series title over the Mets) a group of impending free agents (Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas) and a climb back from a 10-20 start that changed them from sellers to buyers, they are not a club you want to face in a one-and-done, their underwhelming run differential notwithstanding.
Most dangerous manager: Buck Showalter, Orioles
He is 0-1 in career matchups against his first employer, his O’s falling short to the Yankees in the 2012 ALDS. Just a hunch: He would derive particular pleasure from evening that record at 1-1, especially after such a challenging campaign in Baltimore. Another hunch: This time, he won’t hesitate to use his closer Zach Britton in a tie game on the road.
Most dangerous storyline: Mariners
Robinson Cano’s Mariners prevail, with Cano depositing two homers over the Stadium’s short right field porch just like the old days, thereby allowing Cano to advance to a Division Series before the Yankees do in the wake of their ugly December 2013 divorce. Scores of Yankees fans’ brains explode, as they don’t grasp how a team can do so well with a player who doesn’t run his hardest on obvious groundouts.
Best offensive team: Orioles
Manny Machado might be the hottest hitter in the game right now. Tim Beckham, acquired from the Rays in July, finally looks like the “1,1” (first round, first pick) the Rays popped all the way back in 2008. Welington Castillo, Matt Wieters’ replacement behind the plate, has been a huge upgrade.
Team with the best bullpen: Angels
While it’s an unconventional group, featuring converted starter Bud Norris as closer and New York castoffs Blake Parker (Yankees) and Yusmero Petit (Mets), they miss an awful lot of bats and don’t walk many.
Best defensive team: Angels
Starting to see why they have hung in there? Stud shortstop Andrelton Simmons sets the tone, with catcher Martin Maldonado quite able at stopping opponent’s running games.
Oldest team: Blue Jays
After losing the AL Championship Series the prior two seasons, they reside on the far periphery of this competition, with many of their older guys (Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, Kendrys Morales and Troy Tulowitzki) responsible for the disappointing overall results.
Youngest team: Rays
New guy Lucas Duda, 31, is older than every regular besides face of the franchise Evan Longoria. With the Mets, Duda ranked as the seventh-oldest position player. Thanks to Major League Baseball for the roster-age data.
Team with least pressure: Twins
They started the year as non-contenders and played so poorly in late July that they traded Jaime Garcia, whom they had just acquired from the Braves, to the Yankees. If they actually pull off a playoff berth, they’ll face zero expectations to do anything in October.
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