Now that we know who the last 4 teams are this year, I thought I'd kind of preview the two series and talk about what I think are going to be important issues.
Today I'm going to talk about the ALCS.
Texas Rangers vs. New York Yankees
A lot of analysts seem to be thinking that the Rangers are nothing more than a speed-bump for the Yankees to get back to the World Series. I would argue that the Rangers deserve more respect than that. Yes, Cliff Lee will not be starting until game three, and yes he will only be able to start two games in the series, and that is assuming it goes to 7 games. But people seem to be overlooking C.J. Wilson, who put up stellar numbers this year (3.35 ERA, 7.5 K/9) that are in fact comparable to Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia (3.18 ERA, 7.5 K/9).
In other words, the Yankees will be facing a tough left-hander in games one, three, four, and six. The Yankees fair much worse against left handers (31-27 in the regular season) than they do against Right Handers (64-40).
It is also important to bring up the fact that the Rangers have home field advantage in this series, as the Yankees are the Wild Card entrant. Once again, the numbers do not favor the Yankees. The Yankees barely managed to stay above .500 on the Road, (43-38), while the Rangers are a dangerous team at home (51-30).
Further developing the argument that this series will be more evenly matched that most people seem to think is the fact that the Yankees and Rangers actually split their season series this year, going 4-4 against eachother.
Another thing that makes me like the Rangers in this series is the fact that the Rangers are pretty much loaded when it comes to Right-handed bats. This is important because Sabathia and Pettitte will likely start the most games for the Yankees, both of which are left handed. Hamilton, Cruz, and Kinsler all destroy left-handed pitching. And that's without even talking about Michael Young, who is no slouch.
Basically, what I am trying to argue is that the Rangers should put up a very good fight in the ALCS, and could even win it, despite what most people seem to have concluded. To conclude this thing, I will be talking about the biggest questions for each of these teams.
For the Rangers:
Can their bullpen get it together? - In the ALDS the Rangers bullpen was from the effective bullpen it was during the regular season. Even Neftali Feliz, a very good Rookie of the Year candidate, struggled. It does not seem impossible for the bullpen to get back to being effective in the ALCS, but many of the people in the Rangers bullpen do not have much postseason experience, and the bright lights at Yankee Stadium may cause them problem.
Can Ian Kinsler stay hot? - Ian Kinsler had an injury-riddled regular season, but was productive when he could play. He seems to have really turned it on for the post season, having hit .344 while bashing 3 Home Runs in five games. If he can stay hot, the Rangers will be in a very good place.
Will Cliff Lee pitch on short rest in an emergency situation? - So far it has been fairly clear that neither Lee nor Ron Washington are interested in having Lee pitch on short rest, something he has never done in his career. If a situation arises in this series where Lee is needed to get the Rangers back on the winning track, will they use him? My guess is the answer is probably no, which is something that does not bode well for the Rangers.
For the Yankees
Will the long layoff have done the Yankees harm? - The Yankees once against brutally swept the Twins, leading to a long lay-off for them as the Rays/Rangers series went to five games. There are examples of long layoffs being good for teams, and examples of them being completely horrible (2007 Rockies, for instance), which group will these Yankees fall into? Many commentators have stated that the veteran nature of the Yankees will make it hard for them to lose their focus, and this could very well be true.
Will A.J. Burnett pitch game 4? - At this point, Joe Girardi intends to use C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettite, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett in that order. A.J. Burnett had a year he would likely like to forget, but the Yankees really have no other option for a fourth starter, as their depth in this department is far from desirable. The question becomes, if the Yankees are down 2-1 before game four, will Burnett still be pitching it? My gut feeling is that the answer to this is "no", as C.C. Sabathia has proven throughout his career that he can pitch well on short rest. C.C. Sabathia with 3-days rest versus a well-rested, but gassed, A.J. Burnett seems like an easy choice to me. Especially if it means going down 3-1 or evening up the series. The answer to this question could very much end up determining how well the Yankees do in this series.
That's all I have for now, I will try to post a similar blog about the NLCS tomorrow.
Enjoy some post-season baseball!