DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS – LEE’S BRILLIANCE, HAMILTON’S POP AND DARING STYLE MAKE RANGERS REAL
SCOUTING THE RANGERS
ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers began this postseason as the only
one of the current 30 teams never to win a playoff series and
entered the division series with an 0-12 road record against the
three AL playoff teams.
Naturally, Texas won all three road games in the division
series, eliminating the Rays at Tropicana Field on Tuesday
Now the Rangers have another monster to slay. They are 0-3 in
the playoffs against the
Yankees. Minnesota entered the
division series with the same 0-3 record and the belief that it had
graduated to a deeper roster capable of finally overcoming the
Yankees. But the Twins ultimately
could not handle the length of the
Yankees lineup and the reemergence
of Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes and are now winless in four
postseason series against New York.
Texas – full of confidence and Cliff Lee – believes it now can
Yankees. Here are five key scouting
areas that should be vital in the ALCS:
1. THE RANGERS REALLY HAVE A HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE
It is not just that Texas has the first two games at Rangers
Ballpark in Arlington. It is that when the series comes to New
York, Cliff Lee is pitching Game 3 and A.J. Burnett is scheduled
for Game 4. So there is instant pressure on the
Yankees to break through in Texas.
Which makes C.J. Wilson an intriguing figure.
Yankees won their games against
Twins lefty starters Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing, but
before that they had closed the regular season with nine straight
losses in games started by lefties.
That included an eight-inning, onerun masterpiece by Lee. But in
that streak, the only start by a lefty that was not at least five
innings and fewer than three runs was by Wilson (three innings,
In his first full major league season as a starter, Wilson did
not look as if he was working on fumes in shutting out the Rays
with seven strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings of Game 2. He is very
competitive and a good athlete with strong stuff, especially in
throwing his cutter to both sides of the plate and by – in the
words of an AL personnel man – “being fearless with his fastball.”
The key is the
Yankees must be the
Yankees on offense: Patient atbats,
which means putting together patient at-bats.
“Count the three-ball counts early,” one AL advance scout said.
“You can’t let him get cheap outs early, if he does, you look up he
is sailing in the seventh inning. You have to make him throw
strikes and build up that pitch count early.” Alex Rodriguez is
1-for-13 in his career off Wilson. Manager Joe Girardi will have to
decide if he wants to bench Curtis Granderson (0-for-6, 3 Ks) or
Brett Gardner (0-for-5, 2 Ks) and start Austin Kearns (3-for-7). In
general, Wilson defuses lefty power.
He has not allowed a lefty to homer in 276 regularseason
at-bats, dating to June 3, 2008, by Cleveland’s Shin-Soo Choo.
2. LEE HOVERS OVER THIS SERIES
A pitcher can win commanding one good pitch, dominate with two
and go to the Hall of Fame with three. So what do you call a guy
who has four pitches working: Cliff Lee in the postseason. Remember
how the Mets felt they had to win the 1986 NLCS in six games
because nemesis Mike Scott was sitting in Game 7. Well, Lee would
be the Rangers’ Game 7 starter. So the
Yankees are strongly compelled to
figure out how to get this done in six or less.
“Here is the problem when you face Lee,” an AL advance scout
said, “he can hit a dime with any of four pitches. So you want to
attack him early in the count because he is never walking you. But
if you don’t get hits, you fall right into his game of low-pitch
innings. And if that is not bad enough, he is better at pitching to
a scouting report than anyone in the majors.
(In Game 5 against Tampa Bay) Lee pitched backward from his norm
by going in hard early and then soft away. So he has no
But because he can throw any pitch wherever he wants, that means
if the most recent scouting report, for example, says throw Alex
Rodriguez hard in early, he can do that. He really can do
3. WILL RIGHTY RELIEF MATTER?
Unlike the Twins, the Rangers lean significantly to the right
aside from their main man, Josh Hamilton. Boone Logan is going to
get his opportunities against Hamilton, perhaps the best low
fastball hitter in the sport. Hamilton used to be susceptible to
off-speed stuff, but he has made adjustments using the whole field
with what one NL scout called “his extremely short, quick swing and
freakish strength.” But the rest of the Rangers’ main power
suppliers are righties. That would suggest a return to action for
Joba Chamberlain, a missing man in the division series.
Chamberlain’s numbers are worse against Texas (1.010 OPS against)
than any opponent. The main righties all have had success off Joba:
Ian Kinsler is 3-for-9 with a double, a triple and three walks.
Michael Young is 4-for-11 with a homer. Nelson Cruz, Jeff Francoeur
and Vladimir Guerrero have combined to go 5-for-12 with three
That means more work for Wood, except the free-swinging
Guerrero’s .533 average off Wood (8-for-15 with three walks) is the
best against the righty reliever for anyone who has faced him 15
A lot could fall to the curveballs of David Robertson because
not only are Young and Cruz a combined 0-for-8 with five
strikeouts, but he has handled Hamilton, as well (0-for-4, three
4. THEY CAN IMITATE TAMPA BAY
The Rays had a way of unnerving the
Yankees with their on-base
aggression. But in the decisive Game 5, Texas outTampa-ed Tampa Bay
by scoring three manufactured runs, including two when runners
scored from second on infield grounders in which David Price was
indecisive in covering first. Keep in mind that CC Sabathia is
perhaps worse than any other starter in the majors at covering
These Rangers are not the all-ornothing bashers that were
eliminated by the
Yankees in the late 1990s (think
Dean Palmer, Juan Gonzalez, Mickey Tettleton). These Rangers led
the AL in sacrifices, and Julio Borbon and Elvis Andrus will try to
bunt for hits.
These Rangers will not be like the Twins, who never attempted a
steal in the division series and, thus, did not probe a
Yankees weak spot. Texas stole 123
bases, going 8-for-8 against the
Yankees in the regular season.
Particularly against Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, Andrus and the
underrated Cruz will look to steal third.
“They will run, almost to a fault,” said an NL scout who covered
the Rangers. “They are very aggressive on the bases.
Players who shouldn’t run, do, especially Vlad Guerrero. He will
think double out of the box and get thrown out when he shouldn’t
have tried. They really have gotten away from the stationtostation
stuff. They play hard, they run with abandon, they go first to
5. WILL THE PEN WRITE A HAPPY ENDING?
Texas lacks what one AL personnel man called “a lefty mechanic”
– the kind of southpaw who matches up with the Robinson Canos or
Curtis Grandersons of the world. Darren Oliver is unflappable and
versatile and ageless – he was the ALDS Game 3 starter for the
Rangers vs. the
Yankees in 1996. But he is not an
uncomfortable at-bat for lefties.
Cano is 6-for-10 off of him in his career, and Granderson is
4-for-10 with a homer.
Conversely, Texas does have a righty killer, and now is the time
for Mets fans to cover their eyes because since they let him go in
April 2009 to get Nelson Figueroa on the roster, Darren O’Day has a
.192 batting average against, including.173 vs. righties, the best
for anyone who has faced 300 righties in that time. That includes
Rodriguez striking out in both at-bats vs. O’Day.
Neftali Feliz, the 22-year-old closer, did not look steady vs.
the Rays. His control was iffy. His curve is fine, but can get
sloppy. Mainly he trusts what one NL personnel man called “the
easiest 98-99 mph you will see.” He had a blown save against the
Yankees, but he also has nine
strikeouts in 24 batters vs. them and didn’t allow an extra-base