As we head down the final weeks and look at who has the horses in the American League, should we also ask who has the horse? And will it make that big of a difference in October?
1. For starters, the Orioles are getting Jason Hammel back from the DL. Will he make that big a difference to their chances as they gun for No. 1 in the AL East? Frankly, does Baltimore even have a No. 1?
Eric Karabell (@karabellespn), ESPN Fantasy: Hammel's career year, if he keeps up the fancy strikeout rate, certainly appears sustainable. His ERA is actually higher than his FIP and xFIP. He didn't suffer an arm injury, so why can't he pick up where he left off? Just forget about Hammel's Colorado days -- I'm sure he has. Baltimore's starting pitching, although lacking a No. 1 starter, doesn't really have a weak link, either. This team is not going away.
Christina Kahrl (@ChristinaKahrl), ESPN.com: Where Hammel's concerned, I was a believer when I wrote about him in June, so if he's healthy, I'm a believer now. The change in his strikeout rate looks like one of those regression-beating things that go more fundamentally to what he's doing differently, changing what our expectations should be. If he's healthy and he's still showing off that improved slider, he's a fine front man. The tough call Buck Showalter will have is picking who's Nos. 2-4 in a postseason series.
Jason Wojciechowski (@jlwoj), BeaneBall.org: Their ERAs are quite similar, but FIP suggests that Hammel has pitched significantly better than Wei-Yin Chen or Chris Tillman (either or both of whose spots he'll be taking) this year. Hammel might not be an ace, but how many of those are there, anyway? Not to give away my answer to the next question, but the Rangers don't have one, either, and they're doing dandy.
2. The Rangers have the best record in the league, but do they have a top gun? Did getting to the World Series with Colby Lewis as their most reliable postseason starter last season tell us something about how important an ace is?
Karabell: The Rangers' three-year stretch kind of proves lacking a true ace is irrelevant. The reason the Rangers lost to the Cardinals last year wasn't because they lacked a Cliff Lee type leading the staff. Matt Harrison has playoff experience, and Yu Darvish has looked much better his past four starts. Having an ace can't hurt, but it's about who performs best in October. If Harrison, Darvish and Derek Holland step up, nobody will care if Texas doesn't have an ace.
Kahrl: It simply isn't as important. I suppose we could talk about the 2001 Diamondbacks as the exception that proves this current rule: Any night, even the best starter gets beat. The '86 Astros had Mike Scott, the closest thing to unbeatability I've ever seen -- and so what, they lost the NLCS against the drama of whether they could get to a Game 7. Simply put, depth in talent matters, even in the postseason, and the Rangers have it, again. That said, it'll be interesting to see what happens when they match up with an October opponent that kills left-handers because of the pressure that could put on the 'pen, the offense -- and Darvish.
Wojciechowski: Matt Harrison is working on his second straight year of a sub-3.40 ERA. That's pretty good! Still, leaguewide, his numbers probably mark him as a solid No. 2. Which is fine because the only particular characteristic a team needs to win in the playoffs is being good at baseball. The Rangers have depth in the bullpen, decent starters and a top-notch offense. They're good at baseball.
3. Outside of Justin Verlander, who are the guys you'd peg as the real "money" starters on AL contenders?
Karabell: I don't buy into the term "money" starters one bit for postseason play. CC Sabathia owns a 4.81 career postseason ERA. He was terrible last year in October. Verlander himself boasts a 5.57 postseason ERA, and it's hardly inflated by one outing -- it has been 5.00 or above in all five of his playoff series! History talks. Matt Moore, as he showed as a 22-year-old rookie a year ago, was no less money. I peg nobody as a real "money" starter, AL or NL.
Kahrl: It's a bit of a stretch to say anybody's a sure thing to deliver a shutdown game in October these days, which is sort of fun when you consider we're supposed to be back in pitcher-friendlier times -- especially in the American League. If I was going to tab a guy for a must-win assignment, I'd probably have to reach across the aisle and go with the Giants' Matt Cain.
Wojciechowski: CC Sabathia is paid serious money and earns every dime. David Price takes up less room on the payroll and on earth, but he's just as imposing. And do you know who's so money and he doesn't even know it? Brett Anderson. He won't have an 0.90 ERA forever, but his return from Tommy John surgery has been magnificent thus far.