Come October, there is nothing more valuable to a Major League Baseball team than having an ace-level starting pitcher on your staff. Of the four general managers with teams still in the American League playoffs, three decided in the middle of the season that they agreed with this assertion and wanted to acquire that veteran ace. Only Jeff Luhnow of the Houston Astros failed to secure his team a veteran ace midseason.
However, Luhnow’s Astros already had an ace, albeit a young and inexperienced one, in Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel’s development from a 7th round pick back in 2009 to one of the best pitchers in the game is incredible. He is living proof of the importance of patience and a strong farm system in MLB. Keuchel is having a historic season, especially at home, where he went 15-0 during the regular season.
In fact, his home-away splits are a source of worry for the Astros. Normally I don’t place much importance on stats like home-away splits. I tend to chalk them up to “ESPN stats.” You know, the random, quirky stats that SportsCenter anchors put up on the screen on slow Tuesday afternoons that don’t actually show anything meaningful about an athlete’s performance. But in Keuchel’s case, the home and away stats are so glaringly different that I get nervous thinking about him trying to win a road playoff game.
The Astros’ AL Division Series foe, the Kansas City Royals, traded for a veteran ace in July to fill out their staff. Johnny Cueto, formerly of the Cincinnati Reds, hasn’t been quite the guaranteed winner the Royals expected him to be. After posting a 2.62 ERA in 19 starts for the Reds this season, Cueto put up a 4.76 ERA in 13 starts for the Royals. All in all, his struggles prompted manager Ned Yost to call on youngster Yordana Ventura to start game one of the ALDS instead of Cueto. Still, Cueto’s postseason experience and veteran work ethic are invaluable to a relatively young and inexperienced Royals team.
In the other playoff matchup, both the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays also traded for veteran aces to anchor their staffs. In Texas’ case, that ace is Cole Hamels, who has filled in nicely for the Rangers in place of injured Yu Darvish. Although Hamels has had a bit of a bumpy road since coming over to the Rangers, he showed his best stuff in a pivotal late-season game against the Angels and more recently in an ALDS matchup against Toronto, going deep into both games and finishing with two wins. Whereas Cueto can boast some postseason experience, no AL playoff pitcher can tout Hamels’ credentials; he has a World Series MVP Award to his name, the crowning achievement of postseason play.
The Blue Jays are not to be forgotten in this year’s strong showing of pitching prowess. David Price, who came over in a trade with the Detroit Tigers, is a legitimate star. Besides being able to make hilarious commercials, the man can flat out throw a baseball. Since coming into the league seven years ago, Price has been among the American League’s top starters. His consistent success puts him on par with superstars like Felix Hernandez and has earned him a Cy Young Award. The one knock on his resume is that he doesn’t have a World Series ring. Price and the hard-hitting Blue Jays hope to change that this year.
The caliber of this year’s aces on American League playoff teams reminds me of how important it is to have an ace if you plan on making a deep playoff run. In the last six years, every World Series Champion has had a legitimate ace on their team: the Yankees had CC Sabathia, the Giants had Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, the Cardinals had Adam Wainwright and the Red Sox had Jon Lester. The way that this year’s aces play will make a huge difference in whether one of them can triumph over whichever team the National League sends to the World Series. One thing is for sure: the clash of the titans on the mound promises to provide a few weeks of very entertaining baseball.
Hugh Ramlow is a sophomore in the College. The Zone appears every other Tuesday.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.