Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Heading To Texas

A big question around here since the Yankees advanced Saturday night has been who do you prefer between Texas and Tampa Bay. The biggest preference from a Yankees' fan perspective was for it to go 5 games and keep Lee/Price out of the ALCS until Game 2 on short rest or Game 3 on regular rest. When that came true Sunday, setting up a heavyweight Lee vs. Price Game 5, everyone was asking about and stating preferences, myself included.

I was mostly asking who people preferred. I got asked a bunch, but I learned after 2006 and 2007, when the Yankees got eliminated in the ALDS by teams that seemed like the smart "preference" that preferring one team to another when the teams are close is a waste of time in the playoffs. Anyone can beat anyone in these short series, and that is especially true when you are dealing with teams that are as good as Texas and Tampa Bay. Even if there was one that seemed like it should be the "preference", that team could end up being a tougher matchup over a particular short period of time.

With all of this said, if you had to pick a team that would be a slightly more comfortable matchup for the Yankees on paper, that's the Texas Rangers in my opinion. Not necessarily a better or easier matchup, just a more comfortable one. The main reason for this is that the Rangers play the same style as the Yankees. There is nothing tricky about them: they score runs (5th in the majors) by getting people on base (6th in OBP), hitting for average (1st), and hitting for power (9th in SLG). By contrast, the Rays scored even more runs (3rd in the majors) by getting on base at a decent clip (10th in OBP), but despite hitting for no average (27th) and middle of the pack power (14th in SLG). They did it by leading the majors in stolen bases, being scrappy, putting on all sorts of quirky plays, etc. The Rangers have better pitching right now, but offensively I'd much rather try to beat a team at our game than play a team that is going to throw the kitchen sink at you every inning.

The Rays are also totally comfortable against the Yankees. They know they are capable of beating them in any situation. I'm not saying the Rangers won't be comfortable and don't think they are capable of beating the Yankees, but they are far more likely to have a, "Whoa, maybe we are in over our heads against this team in October" moment when the Yankees deliver a blow than are the Rays. The Rays are going to get off the mat no matter what. Outside of Cliff Lee, I don't know if that is necessarily true for the Rangers, although last night was obviously really impressive from the entire club.

Related, there is an element of familiarity with the Rays. They know the Yankees inside and out. While the Yankees know them the same way, I don't think this helps either team. In a situation where the teams don't know each other as well, as is the case with the Yankees and Rangers, I think it helps the Yankees. They have more guys that can make you pay if you make mistakes.

On the flip side, the Rangers have Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson, and that's not going to be fun at all. Cliff Lee is locked into playoff starts as much as we've seen anyone get locked into playoff starts this generation. But the Yankees have some pretty good pitchers too, and again I'd rather match up playing our game than facing some of the gimmicky stuff the Rays do. It's a lot like when you'd rather play a better team in hoops because they play your game than play a team that might not be as good because they press from minute one and try to create chaos all game. That's loosely how I feel here.

At the same time, getting to play a team that plays their game in Texas over Tampa Bay is only a small victory here for the Yankees. Of the teams that play the same type of game as the Yankees, the Rangers are one of the best in baseball. They also have homefield advantage. And they also have Cliff Lee. The Yankees are going to have to play impeccable baseball to win this series. More to come in a series preview tomorrow.


The GM said...


This is a good post. Ball don't lie.

First of all, Cliff Lee has had perhaps one of the strangest major league baseball careers ever. This is beyond Chris Carpenter moving to the National League here. Here is a guy whose year-by-year ERA looks like that of a relief pitcher. One year he won 14 games with an ERA around five and a half. Then he finished fourth in CYA voting, had a Josh Beckett-level season, and then had a borderline major leaguer season. Then he won the Cy Young Award, got traded a couple times, and he's now throwing complete games in the playoffs against AL East teams. What the f?

My second point is the style of play the Rangers decided to bring to the table in Game 5. Channeling Tom Jackson in a tongue-in-cheek way, they were playing unafraid to get thrown out at the plate. And this worked for them, as they used their running to beat a somewhat-complacent Rays team.

The key word is "complacent." If you haven't noticed, that's a word that Pat has used all year to describe the Yankees.

I'm really pumped for both of these series.

Anonymous said...


The Yankees don't have home field advantage. But they didn't in the last series and it didn't matter.

The Rays would have been tougher for the Yankees for all the reasons you mentioned. Plus, I just don't think the Yankees are concerned about the Rangers. That extra confidence can certainly make things a lot easier, especially on guys with sketchy playoff track records (I.E. Alex Rodriguez--stud in the playoffs with Mariners, stud last year with the Yankees, absolutely horrific from 2004-2007).

But really, here's where the Yankees have their biggest advantage--Cliff Lee will likely only be able to pitch one of the first six games of this series. That's a HUGE benefit for the Yankees. It basically means that the Rangers, even though they have home field advantage, find themselves in a position where they need to actually steal a game at home. When have you ever heard of that? It's a first for me and it's not good for the Rangers.

--the Gunn