Assume for a moment that the nightmare scenario that is keeping Yankee fans up at night comes true, and the Boston Red Sox maintain their slim lead over New York and win the AL East division outright. It's not too far-fetched a vision, considering Boston has beat the Yankees in eight of their nine meetings this season.
The question then turns to the wild card berth. Who could obstruct the Bronx Bombers' path?
New York currently leads the race for the American League wild card by three games over the Detroit Tigers and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Seattle Mariners follow at five games out, then the Toronto Blue Jays come next at six games out.
We can safely dismiss Tampa Bay. After David Price and James Shields, the Rays rotation falls off a cliff. The Blue Jays, too, suffer from weak pitching, with a staff that is 27th in Major League Baseball in walks-plus-hits per inning (WHIP).
Seattle could threaten the Yankees' wild-card bid, mostly because they play in the weak AL West. After all, they have the opportunity to feast on Oakland 12 more times this season. On the other hand, the Mariners as a team have a .343 slugging percentage and rank 28th in runs scored. Ichiro Suzuki is leading the team with a .277 batting average. Not particularly intimidating. If Seattle is going to steal the wild card away from New York, it will be done by the hands of King Felix Hernandez, rookie phenom Michael Pineda, and the rest of the Mariners pitching staff (team WHIP: 1.20).
It's Detroit the Yankees need to worry about.
The Tigers have a strong offense (.268 team BA, .418 SLG, .335 OBP), and the pitching is nearly as strong, led by one of the best hurlers in the game, Justin Verlander (9-3, 0.85 WHIP). He is supported by Max Scherzer (9-2), 22-year-old Rick Porcello, veteran Brad Penny, and Yankee castoff Phil Coke, and their starts are protected by closer Jose Valverde (16 saves, 1.20 WHIP).
Designated hitter Victor Martinez is batting .329 for the Tigers and he's arguable the third best batter on the team, behind Miguel Cabrera (1.026 OPS with 48 RBIs and 14 home runs) and the surprising Alex Avila (.915 OPS, 41 RBIs). Leadoff hitter Austin Jackson is surging, and manager Jim Leyland is one of the best skippers in the business.
Of course, Detroit is so good, they may not be the team New York needs to worry about, because they may overtake Cleveland for first place in the AL Central. And the Indians are a well-balanced team that has a history of tweaking the Yankees...but that's a nightmare for another night's pondering.