Comparing the Rangers & Yankees
Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers dropped the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the American League Division Series last night, setting up an enticing matchup with the defending World Series champions.
The Rangers and Yankees respective run prevention units profile similarly. Each features a dominant ace, capable depth rounding out their rotations, and good bullpens where all roads lead to their shut-down Closers. Defensively, both teams are good, too. The Yankees probably have the outfield advantage with Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner patrolling, while the Rangers enjoy the infield edge thanks to their stud middle infield of Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler.
Offensively, it’s an entirely different story. They’re both very good with the bats – the Yanks led the AL in runs and the Rangers were fourth – but they go about their work at the plate in different styles. Lineup anchors for Texas like Mike Young, Josh Hamilton and Kinsler all see fewer pitchers per plate appearance than the league average. And of course, one of the great all-time free swingers in baseball history is Vladimir Guerrero. He’s in the mix too, although he has struggled over the second half of the season. Only the Baltimore Orioles saw fewer pitchers per plate appearance than the AL West champions.
On the other hand, New York saw the most pitchers per plate appearances in the American League other than Boston or Tampa Bay. It’s really only Robinson Cano that will hack away for the Bombers, and it’s not like his approach needs tweaking. He makes it work to the tune of MVP candidacy. Even more troubling for Rangers pitching, not only can the Yanks get ahead in the count, but they hit better than any other team in baseball once there.
This contrast in hitting styles is where the ALCS will hinge. Right off the bat, the Yanks will have a chance to leverage their patience. C.J. Wilson had a nice year, but his traditional numbers outpace his peripherals. The biggest blemish on Wilson’s performance record is his high walk rate, 4.10 per 9 innings. He also throws his first pitch for a strike and induces swinging strikes on pitches outside the zone at a below average rate. Grooving the first one and forcing otherwise patient batters to chase bad balls are two tools the high-walk pitcher can turn to, but Wilson seems to have neither. The Yankees will be a test for him.
As you might imagine, Wilson struggled in three starts against New York this season, pitching just 14.1 innings and walking 5.65 guys per 9 innings. But Wilson’s smart (follow @str8edgeracer on twitter), and he doubtless knows his weakness and his opponent’s strength. In Tampa Bay for Game 2 of the ALDS, he limited his walk total to just two while facing a team even more patient than the Yankees. He’s a good pitcher with great make-up. I’m not counting him out by a long shot.
While Wilson could be a problem for Texas, Lee is the prototype to combat a patient offense. He walks nobody, and pounds the zone with pitches that move every which way. He goes in Game 3 for the Rangers at Yankee Stadium.
For the Yankees, their pitchers will have some latitude to expand the zone thanks to the Rangers’ approach. This is a risky game, however, because the Rangers righty-stacked lineup will crush mistakes from lefties. Vlad, Nelson Cruz, Kinsler and Young all murder southpaws, and if C.C. Sabathia or Andy Pettitte decide they want to get Texas to chase and they don’t bite, the Rangers’ righties should see some nice pitches to hit.
The pitcher-batter match-ups in this series should be terrific, a study in Game Theory from start to finish. I give the edge to the Yankees because of their superior approach at the plate. But it’s close, and if Sabathia and Pettitte are off even the slightest bit, it’s not hard to envision a scenario in which the Yankees head home to face Cliff Lee down 2-0. Watch individual pitches, match-ups, strategies and yes, umpiring within each plate appearance. It promises to be fascinating, and it's where this series will be won.