Saturday October 9th, 2010

Cliff Corcoran will break down each day's playoff games every day during the postseason.

Series: ALDS, Game 3, Rangers lead 2-0 Time: 5:00 p.m. EST TV: TBS Starters: Matt Garza (15-10, 3.91 ERA) vs. Colby Lewis (12-13, 3.72 ERA)

As it turns out, the Rays didn't lose Game 2 because Joe Maddon started James Shields, and they didn't lose it because of a questionable checked-swing call on Michael Young. They lost because they didn't score. The Rays scored just one run in the first two games of this series, and that came on a solo home run. As a team, they are hitting .125/.200/.203. Only Ben Zobrist, who hit that homer and has two of the Rays' three extra-base hits in the series, and Jason Bartlett have as many as two hits, and center fielder B.J. Upton is 0-for-8 with four strikeouts having failed to reach base in either game. Never mind Garza and the Rangers' lineup, if the Rays can't get their bats going against Lewis, this series is over, literally.

Oddly, the good news is that the Rays are getting out of Florida. Using a simple ratio of the total runs scored per game by both teams in the Rays home and road contests, Tropicana Field was the most difficult place to score a run in the major leagues in 2010. The Ballpark in Arlington, on the other hand, was the sixth-easiest of the 30 major league parks in which to score. During the regular season, the Rays scored 100 more runs on the road than at home, a difference of 1.23 runs per game, averaging a whopping 5.57 runs per game on the road.

Lewis, the pitcher they'll face in Arlington is a 31-year-old righty who was a first-supplemental-round pick of the Rangers way back in the 1999 amateur draft, but subsequently passed through four organizations then spent two years pitching for Japan's Hiroshima Carp before returning to the Rangers this season. Lewis pitched very well in his return to the states this year, a fact belied by his losing record, which had more to do with the mere 4.09 runs of support he relieved from the Rangers offense this year, than his own performance. A power pitcher with a strong strikeout rate, Lewis excelled in inducing poor contact this year, showing a particular penchant for inducing infield pop-ups. Coming down the stretch, Lewis went 3-1 with a 2.37 ERA over his final five starts with more than a strikeout per inning, just two home runs allowed, and a line drive rate of just 10 percent compared to a league average nearly double that. Looking only at their peripherals, Lewis pitched better than C.J. Wilson this year. Lewis also had a home ERA a half-run better than his road ERA. He hasn't faced the Rays since 2003, Carl Crawford's first full season in the major leagues.

As for Garza, he was the MVP of the 2008 ALCS, but in the Division and World Series that year he gave up nine runs in 12 innings across two starts. That largely sums him up. When he's good, he's great. When he's not, he can take his team out of a game in a hurry. The Rangers saw the former version of Garza at the Trop in August, when he held them scoreless for seven innings, striking out 10. He was less dominant in Arlington in June, but still kept his team in the game for 5 2/3 innings in an eventual win. As you might guess from those results, Garza's road ERA was a third of a run higher than his home mark this year, and his strikeout rate, curiously, was two Ks per nine innings lower outside of the Trop. The nightmare scenario for the Rays would see them finally pushing across some runs only to have Garza implode, costing them the game and the series.

Series: ALDS, Game 3, Yankees lead 2-0 Time: 8:30 p.m. EST TV: TBS Starters: Brian Duensing (10-3, 2.62 ERA) vs. Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19 ERA)

The key bit of history for both of these series is that only one major league team has ever lost the first two games of a best-of-five series at home and come back to win the series. That was the 2001 Yankees, who ultimately got within two outs of the franchise's fourth straight championship. With CC Sabathia lurking for Game 4 at Yankee Stadium, and Andy Pettitte set to pitch Game 5, having proven he's healthy and effective enough to contribute to his team's title defense, the Twins don't seem likely to become the second team to achieve that feat.

History is not the Twins' friend in this series. They are 18-56 (.243) against the Yankees under manager Ron Gardenhire, which is a rather extreme result in a fairly large sample, and they have lost their last 11 playoff games, eight of those coming against the Yankees. Adding to the frustration, they have held a lead in all eight of those losses to New York, and though he first three of those blown leads came way back in 2004, there are still a few Twins (Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Nick Punto, Jesse Crain, and the inactive Justin Morneau) who remain from that team.

The Twins' starter in this game, lefty Duensing, shares in that history. Because the Twins needed to use their top starters to catch and defeat the Tigers in the wild NL Central race last year, it was the rookie Duensing who drew the Game 1 start in the ALDS at the new Yankee Stadium. The Twins staked Duensing to a 2-0 lead in the top of the third of that game, but he gave it right back in the bottom of the frame and was bounced in the fifth with his team trailing in a game they would ultimately lose.

The Duensing the Yankees will face tonight is a better, more experienced version. After posting a 1.67 ERA out of the bullpen over the first four months of the 2010 season, Duesning moved into the rotation in late July and went 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 13 starts. However, much like last year, he struggled in his last two starts of the regular season, allowing nine runs in 11 2/3 innings on eight walks and 14 hits, three of which were home runs.

Opposing Duensing is Hughes, the former first-round pick and top prospect who has finally established himself in the Yankees rotation after three major league seasons lost to injury and an admittedly very successful stint in the bullpen. Hughes' overall numbers are very impressive for a 24-year-old in his first full season as a starter (add a 7.5 K/9 and 2.52 K/BB to the line above), but if you take out his first six starts, his line drops to 13-8 with a 4.98 ERA. What's more, his ERA at home was more than a run higher than his road mark, and 20 of the 25 home runs he allowed came in the Bronx. That led some, myself included, to disagree with Joe Girardi's decision to start Pettitte at Target Field in Game 2, as it forced Hughes to start at home.

Then again, with the weight of history on their shoulders, and a Yankee offense that scored 5.88 runs per game at home featuring six right-handed bats against the lefty Duensing, what Hughes does in this game may not matter all that much. The Yankees seem to always have a comeback in them against these Twins, and coming off an off-day with the prospect of having five days off should his team pull off the sweep tonight, Girardi is unlikely to be hesitant about going to his bullpen early and often in order to wrap up the series.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.