Thursday, October 14, 2010

Playoff Preview: Yankees-Rangers

First off, let me say that I’m sorry to get this out so late in the day… I had an exam today, so the better part of the day was spent studying and mentally preparing myself to think about something other than baseball. With that said, let’s get on to our preview of the ALCS, which features the Yankees and the Rangers. 

As we detailed in the divisional series previews, the Yankees are the highest-scoring team in baseball, scoring 5.3 runs per game in the regular season and 5.66 so far in the playoffs. Their run prevention has been pretty much league-average this season (4.27 RPG, 13th in the league in the regular season). However, they held the Twins to 7 runs in 3 games in their divisional series sweep, so there’s a chance they’re getting hot at the right time. We’ll see. 

The Rangers, on the other hand, rely on offensive balance and a strong rotation and bullpen to get the job done. They were 5th in the league in runs scored in the regular season and 11th in run prevention, so while they stand out in neither category they’ve been pretty good in both. For comparison, they’ve allowed 4.24 runs per game and scored 4.86. While they’re a better run prevention team than the Yanks, the gap in runs scored is big, so the Rangers will need to do a great job suppressing they Yankees’ potent offense or have their own lineup catch fire. Especially with Josh Hamilton’s ribs not fully recovered (he went 2 for 18 against the Rays with six punchouts. Ouch), if the Rangers are going to win I’m guessing it’s going to have to be the former. Fortunately, the Rangers have the pitching to do it.

The first game of this series, in Arlington, will feature CC Sabathia, the Yankees ace and a 5.1 WAR player this season. Opposing Sabathia will be CJ Wilson, the Rangers second choice to lead off the series (Cliff Lee pitched game 5 of the Rays series to give the Rangers’ franchise their first ever playoff series victory). Wilson is no slouch, putting up 4.4 WAR and a 3.56 FIP. Wilson also pitched extremely well for the Rangers in the ALDS, going 6.1 scoreless innings and giving up only two hits while striking out 7 Rays for a game score of 74. I’d favor the Yankees to win this matchup, but I believe Wilson has a chance to come up huge for the Rangers and shut down the venerable Yankees offense. 

Game 2, again a home game for Texas, would match up Phil Hughes and Colby Lewis. Texas has the WAR advantage in this one, as Lewis is also a 4.4 WAR pitcher, while Hughes only amassed 2.4 WAR in 174.1 innings in the regular season. Hughes pitched extremely well against the Twins, going 7 scoreless innings and allowing only 4 hits while striking out 6. Lewis was also relatively good in his last start, going only 5 innings but giving up 2 hits and striking out 5. However, he did walk 5 Rays, with uncharacteristically bad control. Still, the Rangers have a pretty good shot to take this game. 

With the series moving to New York, the Rangers will pitch Cliff Lee, their true ace, as he will finally be rested after his game 7 start. Lee has dazzled this season, putting up 7 WAR between the Mariners and Rangers and ending the season with a FIP of 2.58, best in the AL. Lee’s control has been legendary, as he’s walked only 18 batters this season. The Yankees have dropped Andy Pettitte down to the third game to face him off with Lee. Pettitte has only been a 2.3 WAR guy this year, but he’s always been a good playoff performer and seems to step up in big games. As for the question of that as a repeatable skill, I’m not sure I believe it, but we’ll see what Pettitte can do. 

Game 4 will feature the Rangers’ Tommy Hunter and the Bronx Bombers’ AJ Burnett. Neither has been particularly impressive, with Hunter putting up 0.7 WAR in 128 innings and Burnett totaling 1.3 WAR in 186.2 frames.

After that, the rotations will turn back over, setting up Lee and Pettitte for a potential game 7 matchup. The Rangers will have a pretty good shot at winning any of these pitching matchups, so the question will be whether good pitching on the Rangers’ part can overcome the Yankees’ great hitting. I’m going to say it does and Lee clinches his second playoff series win of the year by throwing a strong 7th game. The Rangers win both of Lee’s starts and one each of Wilson and Lewis’.

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