Tonight, the Yankees start the second leg of the Chase for 28 in Arlington, Texas. The game is on TBS and coverage begins at 8pm ET.
The Yankees got to this point by disposing of the Twins in 3 straight, while the Rangers are coming off a much more grueling 5 game victory over the Rays. The teams split their regular season series at 4 wins apiece – but this is the postseason, where the Yankees have historically owned the Rangers. But these aren’t your father’s Rangers. Those teams tried to club you into submission; this one features some pitching and speed in addition to the power.
During the regular season, the Rangers cruised to the AL West crown, finishing 9 games ahead of Oakland. Still, they would have finished third in the AL East, only one game ahead of Boston – and Boston was never really in the race after the All-Star break.
Let’s break it down.
Each team is planning on going with a four man rotation, although if either is down 3-0 the smart money is the game four starter will change.
Game 1: CC Sabathia vs. CJ Wilson
In the battle of Starters With Initials For Names, Sabathia is the Yankee ace and won 21 games this year. Wilson is the Rangers version of Phil Hughes, emerging from the bullpen to realize his potential this season. In their respective starts in the ALDS, Sabathia worked through 6 innings, demonstrating why he’s an ace: even without great command or life on his pitches, he kept the Yankees in the game until the team solved Francisco Liriano. The guy just finds a way to win, especially in prime-time. Wilson dominated the Rays in Game 2 of that series.
Game 2: Phil Hughes vs. Colby Lewis
Hughes gets the ball in Arlington, where he’s pitched well in the past. Lewis is a reclamation project, being rescued from Japan. Hughes went 18-8 while Lewis parked a 12-13 record. Each pitcher is relatively inexperienced in the postseason and will be making their second start, although Hughes also pitched out of the pen in last year’s postseason run to #27. In their previous starts, Hughes dominated the Twins in winning the clincher. Lewis was nearly as effective in game 3 against the Rays.
Game 3: Andy Pettite vs. Cliff Lee
The marquee matchup of this series pits Pettite, the all-time leader in starts and wins in the postseason against the Rangers ace – who has been dominant the past two years in October. Prepare for one of those classic 1-0 type games.
Game 4: AJ Burnett vs. Tommy Hunter
Burnett is basically like the lost lamb trying to find his way back, after a season in which he posted career highs in hit batters and ERA while posting a career worst WHIP. It was an ugly year for AJ and is pretty much getting the start only because the Yanks don’t want to burn out CC before the World Series. However, the Rangers may be the perfect team for AJ to get his groove back – the only teams he was statistically better against in 2010 were the Royals and Indians. Hunter posted career highs in wins, starts and innings pitched, but he’s very much a pitcher who relies on guile and command. Yankee Stadium in October isn’t exactly conducive to easing rattled nerves for opposing players (just ask the Angels from last year).
Because the Rangers had to go the distance with Tampa Bay, the Yankees catch a huge break: Rangers ace and Yankee-killer Cliff Lee will, at best, get 2 starts (games 3 & 7). But the odds are this series won’t go the full 7 games. Edge: Yankees
The Yankees have the ultimate post season weapon in closer Mariano Rivera, and set him up rather nicely with Kerry Wood, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and lefty Boone Logan. Despite the Rangers being primarily right-handed offensively, Logan still figures to be an important weapon out of the pen against Josh Hamilton.
The Rangers feature first-year closer Neftali Feliz and veteran lefty swing-man Darren Oliver. After that, it’s a hope, a prayer and somebody getting thrown to the wolves. The primary set-up man this year is Darren O’Day, but expect lefties Michael Kirkman and Derrek Holland to see plenty of action, as well. The Rangers also added another lefthander, Clay Rapada, to the roster for this series. Edge: Yankees
The Yankees led the league in scoring and the lineup is so deep that veteran All-Star Lance Berkman hits 8th. MVP candidate Robinson Cano is joined by perennial All-Stars Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira in the 100RBI club, and 5 Yankees went deep 25 or more times in 2010. When future Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter is the weakest link in your lineup, you’re pretty set offensively. The Yankees also have speed in Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner (3rd in steals). Marcus Thames adds a proven power bat off the bench. The key to holding the Yankees down is hoping that Joe Girardi goes insane and starts IF Ramiro Pena and OF Greg Golson.
The Rangers boast some serious offense with the likes of CF/LF Josh Hamilton (also an MVP candidate), RF Nelson Cruz, DH Vladimir Guerrero, 3B Michael Young and 2B Ian Kinsler. SS Elvis Andrus and CF Julio Borbon add speed, but not much pop and not much in the way of getting on base. OF Jeff Francouer was brought over from the Mets to add a RH bat off the bench and pair with lefty OF David Murphy. The Rangers are offensively challenged at C and 1B, although C Bengie Molina can turn on a mistake. Still, the Rangers are only a real force offensively in positions 2-6. Edge: Yankees
The Rangers are a solid team defensively, particularly in the outfield, where the speed of Hamilton, Cruz and Borbon lets them get to a lot of balls and both Hamilton and Cruz feature excellent throwing arms. On the infield, Kinsler and Young don’t make many mistakes, but both have been compared to statues in the past. Catcher Molina is a weapon against opponents running games, but more importantly works well with the pitching staff. Reserve C Matt Treanor also figures to get at least one start. SS Andrus has terrific range and a good arm, but can be erratic at times. Manager Ron Washington has done a terrific job in shoring up what was once one of the worst defenses in baseball, but the Rangers aren’t on par with 1976 Reds yet.
The Yankees feature Gold Glove defense at 1B, 2B and LF. The greatest weakness is behind the plate, where C Jorge Posada had a sub-par year both throwing and blocking balls. Reserve C Francisco Cervelli seems destined to get the game 4 start, but has only been marginally better. Edge: Yankees
On the whole, the Yankees are clearly the better team. Watch out if the Yankees win the first two in Texas – this series could be over before Cliff Lee even takes the hill in game 3. Pick: I was originally going to say Yankees in 5, but I talked myself into it…
Yankees in a sweep.
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