ALCS Five Keys: Yankees-Rangers
Even last Thursday, when Yankees manager
For a non-strategy, Girardi's strategy has worked rather well. The Yankees required just four days to again dispatch the Twins and reach their ninth ALCS in 15 seasons. There, they'll still face the Rangers -- against whom they split the season series 4-4, but against whom they'd suffered a disheartening three-game sweep in mid-September ("Hell, yeah!" GM
New York, meanwhile, has its rotation set and rested, starting with
Entering the season, the Rangers appeared poised to be one of the great running teams of recent years, a good bet to become the first club since the 2007 Mets to steal 200 bases.
Now, though, everyone is more or less healthy, and the Rangers' six divisional series steals led all teams. Their speed was the central reason -- other than Lee -- why they were able to put away the Rays in Game 5 of the Division Series (twice Rangers runners scored from second on infield grounders, and even the cement-booted
You know, by now, that the Yankees' captain suffered through a brutal offensive year, and one that might mark the beginning of a precipitous decline for the 36-year-old. He set or tied career lows in batting average (.270), OPS (.710), and home runs (10), among other categories. In six games against the Rangers, though, Jeter looked to be better than even his former self, batting .385 with an OPS of 1.064, his best numbers against any AL club. He was also 4-for-9 against Lee, and somehow drew two walks against him -- the only hitter to accomplish that particular feat -- and that continued a career-long trend against the Rangers' new ace (in 36 at-bats, Jeter is hitting .417 with a 1.071 OPS against Lee).
In other words, Jeter's presence atop the lineup (instead of putting, say,
Apparently so -- for now. The Yankees on Wednesday announced that Burnett will start Game 4, on the same day that the scuffling righty beaned two of his own teammates in a simulated game. That continued a string of mostly terrible performances by Burnett, who lost a career-high 15 games and posted a career-worst 5.26 ERA, while making $16.5 million.
Still, fears about Girardi's decision to start Burnett -- thereby saving Sabathia, Hughes and Pettitte from pitching on short rest -- are likely overblown. For one thing, Burnett pitched quite well against the Rangers, even in the midst of his annus horribilis -- he went 1-0 with a 2.50 ERA and a .232 batting average against in three starts against Texas (the latter two of which came in his otherwise difficult August and September, when his cumulative monthly ERAs were 7.80 and 6.14). For another, he is playoff-tested. Three of his postseason starts last fall were quality starts (we won't mention the other two). And for another, we probably won't end up seeing Burnett during the ALCS -- as we didn't during the ALDS -- unless the Yankees enter Game 4 with either a 3-0 or a 2-1 series lead. If Burnett ultimately not only starts a game in this series, but wins it, then a World Series appearance for the Yankees will be assured, if not definitively then for all intents and purposes.
The 22-year-old Feliz will likely, and deservedly, be named the AL Rookie of the Year, after a season in which he was almost but not quite as good as Rivera, 17 years his senior. Feliz saved more games than the Yankees' closer (40 to 33) and had a better strikeout rate (9.22 K's/9 to 6.75), but trailed him in, among other things, ERA (2.73 to 1.80) and WHIP (0.88 to 0.83). Still, the closers' regular season numbers were comparable. That was the regular season.
In the ALDS, both of Feliz's outings were shaky -- he yielded two walks in a 20-pitch inning of work in Game 1, and a tie-breaking RBI single to
Lee, however, won't be available until Game 3, putting an enormous burden on Game 1 starter