Bruno Rouby, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Masahiro Tanaka time and time again has proven why he is the bonafide ace of this New York Yankees’ staff. 

It was a cold Fall night in the Bronx when the Astros came to town in a Wild Card showdown in the Bronx three years ago.

It was Oct. 6, 2015, and Masahiro Tanaka was coming off a year where he went 12-7 with the Yankees owning a 3.51 ERA. The buzz in the stadium was as anticipated, and it would soon become the first start for Tanaka in a playoff game.

He went on that to throw five innings of two-run ball striking out only three in the process that night. The Yankees offense did nothing in part to help him (due to the always dominant Dallas Keuchel) and those two runs were all the Astros would need on their way to a 3-0 victory.

Tanaka would go on for the next two seasons throwing above .500 ball and becoming the reliable commodity the New York Yankees invested in, in 2014.

Has He Always Been The Ace?

For the most part, I’d say yes. Aside from Severino’s emergence a season ago, Tanaka has maintained one of the hardest tasks in sports: consistency.

In Tanaka’s seasons with New York, he’s gone 66-33 with a 3.57 ERA and accumulated 783 strikeouts. He’s been what you call the true ace of the Yankees’ staff for the past four seasons (discounting the stretch he had in 2017).

This leads to a decision for Aaron Boone that must be made with no doubts; the American League Wild Card game starter. The starting pitcher for that game should be Masahiro Tanaka.

First The Cold Hard Facts:

This year, Tanaka has been back to the form witnessed in him from two seasons ago. He’s 11-5 with a 3.61 ERA and has given up just 23 homers. Those numbers rival very closely to the averages in his career, while the 23 homers are 12 less than he gave up a season ago.

It’s been the only knock on Tanaka — the home-run ball. And yes in a Wild Card game, at Yankee Stadium, it can make for a messy situation, but there is something else that he has shown us vividly in his five seasons in pinstripes.

That something else, that trait spoken of, is his flair for the dramatic and the big-game pitcher he’s known to become.

There are times Masahiro Tanaka won’t show emotion and plenty of times where he will. Pictured slightly above is his stellar 8-inning shutout performance against the Mariners on Sept 8, a showing he thought had a lot left to be desired. His season-high in strikeouts (10) came as if it were an afterthought to Tanaka who went on to mention he didn’t feel like all his stuff was there that night.

Your best game of the season with 10 strikeouts against a potential playoff team and it still wasn’t all working in harmony? I’d like to see when it is.

That point shows the standards and expectations he holds himself to on a start-to-start basis. And that’s not the real reason of why he deserves to start on Oct. 3, 2018.

One thing that separates him from the rest of the pitchers is the way he pitches when the lights are shining brightly; when frost hits the tips of the grass sheddings; when the sun is down by 5 p.m.; when the game is on the line, that’s when Tanaka is at his strongest.

What’s being referred to is the display he set forth in the 2017 A.L. playoffs.

In the three games he started last postseason, he was worth everything the Yankees invested in him and more. He showed why he had received the fifth largest contract for a pitcher in MLB history at the time of his signing.

A 2-1 record and three gritty performances.

First, was his seven-inning shutout while the Yankees trailed 2-0 in the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians. Their backs were pushed as far up the wall as imaginable and Tanaka lighted up the cold Bronx night with a 1-0, seven-strikeout showing.

Second, was a rematch of the 2015 WC game as he battled Dallas Keuchel in Houston in Game 1 of the 2017 ALCS. And like in 2015, Keuchel once again showed his dominance against the Yanks while Tanaka came up just a bit short in a 2-1 loss to the Astros.

Saving the best for last was Tanaka’s final pitched game of the 2017 postseason; a game that put the New York Yankees one step away from returning to their 41st World Series.

He went back up against Keuchel for Game 5 in Yankee Stadium. The third time the two had met in the playoffs but on this day Tanaka displayed the intangible sought out for in every pitcher.

Seven innings pitched once again, only three hits given up and eight strikeouts to go along with it, on his way to a shutout victory over the Astros. On his final strikeout, you saw him let out a roar. A roar like a lion he had been pitching as.

Now The Present

Tanaka, for the most part, hasn’t skipped a beat with the way he’s pitched in recent memory. Luis Severino had his run as the team’s ace for most of the regular season last year, but once again Masahiro Tanaka has risen to the top and taken the reigns of the Yankees’ bonafide ace.

The point made is what he brings to the table in a postseason setting. His resume has provided the reasons why he should be on the mound in the top of the first come three weeks from Wednesday.

The second half ineffectiveness from Severino will also play in part as to why Tanaka will be your Wild Card starter as well. A “night and day” image would be an understatement at this point because Sevy has taken himself from league-wide pitching royalty to just another right-handed flamethrower with an above average, inconsistently located slider.

In the second half alone, Masahiro has become stronger with his 2.30 ERA compared to that of 4.54 in the first half of the season. His WHIP has come down from 1.12 to 1.04 and he continues his strong K/9 with 9.4 in the second half.

In regards to the Yankees potential opponent, the Oakland Athletics, Tanaka has had a promising career when facing them.

3-2 all time, with a 2.53 ERA in 32 innings pitched, a 10.4 K/9 and has only given up five walks.

Good enough experience?

Safe to say, Masahiro Tanaka will be your 2018 American League Wild Card game starter.

I am currently enrolled at Montclair State University as a senior studying Sports Media and Journalism. I spend most of my days when I'm not at school; writing, podcasting, and preparing for my radio show. Thus meaning my life is sports. I spend almost all my time in and around sports because it is my life. I am an eternal, die-hard Yankees fan, along with Jets, Knicks and Rangers. I am 23 years of age and live in Central New Jersey (if people still consider a Central NJ).